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County, state Democrats send conflicting messages on police donations

REGION — Despite the San Diego County Democratic Party’s recent exhortation against receiving campaign donations from law enforcement groups, several state-level Democratic incumbents running for reelection have steadily taken contributions from police unions and associations.

On June 16, in the midst of nationwide protests after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, the party issued a “Resolution Demanding that San Diego Democrats Refuse Donations from Law Enforcement Unions.”

“Law enforcement in San Diego has a history of racial profiling, discrimination, and violence … for over 175 years,” the resolution says. It “demands” Democratic candidates “refuse all donations from law enforcement unions and associations … and reject the endorsement of such associations.” Candidates who’ve taken law enforcement money should give it away “to community organizations that work on issues such as racial justice, criminal justice reform, or the empowerment of [people of color].”

But when it comes to accepting police money, the party’s values don’t appear consistent or uniform.

According to The Coast News’ analysis of campaign finance data through Sept. 29 from the state’s Cal-Access database, certain Democratic state legislators representing San Diego County residents have long taken law enforcement money — a reality not lost on local party leaders.

“There are different elements of the Democratic Party — it’s not a monolith,” said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party. “Each of those parties has different jurisdictions.”

While the California Democratic Party did not issue the same prohibition, state-level Democratic candidates have overwhelmingly attracted larger sums of police dollars than their Republican counterparts.

The Coast News compiled all historical campaign contribution data we could find for 16 candidates in 8 state legislative races this year in S.D. County. We then searched for contributors whose names contain any of the following terms: police, sheriff, law enforcement, peace officer, highway patrol, correctional, public safety. Graphic by Dan Brendel

In aggregate from 2013 to 2020, State Sen. Toni Atkins (D-39) and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-80) received about $112,000 and $143,000, respectively. Assemblywoman Marie Waldron (R-75), the county’s only state-level Republican on November’s ballot with campaigning over the same period, received about $72,000.

The Coast News counted 19 law enforcement related organizations that have contributed over the years, within the scope of our analysis.

Since 2006, the Peace Officers Research Association of Ca. — described on its website as the state’s “largest law enforcement organization” — has contributed the most (about $153,000) to Democratic campaigns. The Ca. Association of Highway Patrolmen comes in second (about $65,000), the L.A. Police Protective League third (about $62,000).

Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, the 76th Assembly District’s Democratic incumbent, who spoke at a June 5 Black Lives Matter demonstration in Encinitas, has received more law enforcement donations (about $39,000) during the 2019-2020 election cycle than any other candidate in our analysis. Two donations totaling $14,000 occurred after the County Democratic party’s June 16 resolution.

“I value our law enforcement unions and I value our social justice organizations. Collaboration with these groups is not mutually exclusive,” Boerner Horvath told The Coast News. “It’s way more nuanced,” not a strict “dichotomy.”

Since the county party’s resolution, Boerner Horvath accepted at least two donations from law enforcement associations, including $9,300 from the California Association of Highway Patrolmen and $4,700 form the Los Angeles Police Protective League, according to campaign filings.

The Coast News analysis indicates Melanie Burkholder, Republican challenger for the 76th District seat, hasn’t received any contributions from law enforcement organizations.

“While I cannot speak for law enforcement agencies regarding their decision-making process in endorsements, I can speak for myself,” said Burkholder. “I am former law enforcement [Secret Service] and fully support the police.”

Rodriguez-Kennedy said in a written statement to The Coast News: “Our Party is interested in breaking the historical norms and systems that have discriminated against, and have cost the lives and livelihoods of marginalized communities via overuse of force, disproportionate enforcement and mass incarceration.  We are proud of the leadership of Senate President Pro-Tempore Toni Atkins who has contributed funds her committee has received to nonprofits in the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] community.”

Encinitas4Equality, which organized protests featuring several of North County’s Democratic elected officials following George Floyd’s death, declined to comment. The North County NAACP couldn’t be reached for comment.

Jordan P. Ingram contributed reporting to the article. 

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