According to an independent expenditure report, the Berkeley Police Association’s political action committee spent about $18,000 on mailers for District 5 City Council candidate Stephen Murphy’s campaign, funded largely by small individual contributions from Berkeley police officers.
City of Berkeley election law dictates that an individual’s direct contribution to a candidate’s campaign cannot exceed $250. Independent expenditures, however — which are expenses made for a campaign that is not affiliated with the candidate — can exceed this, so local housing developer Patrick Kennedy and real estate investor Ali Kashani were able to donate $1,000 and $500, respectively, by contributing to the PAC.
The police association endorsed Stephen Murphy in August, citing his work as associate director of the Alameda County Family Justice Center, which supports survivors of domestic violence, in its press release on endorsements for the November election.
According to Rob Wrenn, who is part of the coordinating committee for the Berkeley Progressive Alliance, Sophie Hahn, who is Murphy’s opponent for the District 5 City Council seat, has received more individual donations than Stephen Murphy has. Hahn has raised almost twice what Murphy has raised in regular contributions this year’s campaign filings show, although this recent independent contribution from the police association PAC will help to close this gap.
Though endorsements of city candidates by public organizations are common, the size of this expenditure is more unusual, according to both Wrenn and Hahn. Wrenn said the police association’s PAC put thousands of dollars into the campaign of Sean Barry in 2014, who was up against incumbent Councilmember Kriss Worthington for the District 7 City Council seat.
“It’s kind of a way to get around the ($250) limit designed to (prevent) the influence of special interests in Berkeley politics,” Wrenn said.
Hahn filled out the police association’s endorsement questionnaire and was interviewed for an endorsement, but BPA ultimately endorsed Murphy. Both Wrenn and Hahn speculated that the police association may have been looking to endorse candidates who would advocate for its interests — such as obtaining equipment like Tasers — and support it when negotiating with the city for new contracts.
Hahn stated that she has a positive relationship with the police association, although she believes that the police department should be more transparent about the departmental changes it plans on making.
“My sense, but I have nothing to confirm this, is that they had their decision made before I stepped in the room,” Hahn said in an email.
Murphy said he was proud to receive the police association’s endorsement but was not aware that it had sent out mailers for his campaign. In terms of public safety, Murphy said he is concerned that too few officers are patrolling his district and said good communication between police and the community is important.
“I do have a focus on public safety,” Murphy said. “I want a lot of opportunities with police engagement in the community to dispel fears as it pertains to policing.”
The Berkeley Police Association could not be reached for comment.