Some elected officials return law enforcement donations, while others stay silent despite activists’ push

Activists are calling for New York City politicians to return or repackage campaign contributions from law enforcement sources.
REUTERS/Mike Segar

As protests against police brutality continue nationwide, one New York City college student has compiled a comprehensive spreadsheet detailing campaign contributions from law enforcement sources to the city’s elected leaders throughout the 2020 fundraising cycle — and a growing chorus of voices have encouraged the politicos to return the money, according to the activist. 

“We’re still trying to get to that magic number where we have every New York City elected Democrat giving back their money,” said Aaron Narraph Fernando, a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 

So far, nearly two dozen elected officials have returned their contributions or vowed to do so, according to Fernando, who provides legislators’ contact information for constitutions to reach out, and keeps track of their responses.

“It’s a good start, but we’ve got to keep on going,” he said. 

In Brooklyn, just five legislators have pledged to return their donations — some going a step further to repackage the cash as a donation to a charitable organization or community bail funds for jailed protesters.

Flatbush Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, for example, donated the $1,000 her campaign received from the Correctional Officers’ Benevolent Association to an organization dedicated to ending solitary confinement.

“Solitary confinement is not restorative and police violence is killing us,” Richardson said on Twitter. “In the spirit of today’s movement and to ensure our voices are heard as we organize for justice, I am returning the $1,000 my campaign received from the COBA this cycle.”

North Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol also pledged to donate the $5,000 he received from police unions to the grassroots group Communities United for Police Reform. 

“We cannot abide a situation where those entrusted with lethal force are allowed to hold themselves above the law,” Lentol said in a statement. “It is time for real reform, real accountability, and a real return to community policing.”

Bay Ridge Councilman Justin Brannan, who had received $42,370 in total contributions during the most recent six month filing deadline, donated the $3,000 that he received from law enforcement to four different organizations — the Brooklyn NAACP, Communities United for Police Reform, the Halt Solitary campaign, and a community space for men of color.

Bushwick Assemblywoman Maritza Davila also agreed to return $2,500 in contributions from the Court Officers Association to the North Brooklyn Coalition Against Family Violence.

Borough President and mayoral candidate Eric Adams, himself a former transit cop, has $1,000 in contributions from the Police Benevolent Association in his account. After Brooklyn Paper reached out to his campaign, they said they would be returning the donation.

On the other hand, many Brooklyn lawmakers have been reluctant to part with their law enforcement dollars — and most are staying tight-lipped on their reasoning.

According to campaign filings, Sheepshead Bay Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein has over $7,000 in donations from police and corrections officers, and has not responded to calls for divestment. The same goes for Bushwick Assemblyman Erik Dilan, who has $3,000 in law enforcement contributions in his coffer. Neither responded to requests for comment.

Flatbush Councilwoman Farah Louis, Borough Park state Senator Simcha Felder, East New York state Senator Roxanne Persuad are each sitting on under $2,000 in law enforcement dollars. None responded to requests for comment. 

Bay Ridge state Senator Andrew Gounardes, facing a Republican challenger in November, has a substantial chunk of change from law enforcement sources in the bank. According to campaign filings, the southern Brooklyn state senator’s campaign clocks $21,500 in cop-adjacent donations — $16,000 of which comes from police officers, and $5,500 of which comes from corrections officers.

High-value law enforcement donations seem to be a trend in southern Brooklyn. Assemblyman Peter Abbate has a similarly high amount, boasting $20,450 from law enforcement groups, and state Senator Diane Savino tops Narraph’s list with over $60,000 in law enforcement-related donations. Neither Abbate nor Savino responded to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for Gounardes declined to say whether he planned on parting with the money, and pointed instead to the incremental police reforms passed recently by the New York State legislature, of which Gounardes voted in favor.

“Every time Senator Gounardes votes his sole focus is how the legislation will impact his constituents,” said Tori Kelly. “The bills advanced last week have the overwhelming support of Brooklyn residents, and Senator Gounardes was proud to help pass these reforms.”