By Emily Olsen, Chair
Utah State Democratic Progressive Caucus
On the agenda for the Utah Democratic Party’s (UDP) Central Committee Meeting on November 13, 2021, is the following resolution sponsored by the Utah State Democratic Progressive Caucus Progressive Caucus (Progressive Caucus):
The Utah State Democratic Progressive Caucus proposes the call of the Utah Democratic Party to vote to end fossil fuel and law enforcement contributions to the state party. We must end Democratic Party reliance on money from the production of energy that is destroying the earth and from the historical policing – now militarized – that targets black, brown and poor people.
Members of the Progressive Caucus’ Executive Committee voted to support the present effort of California Progressives who have proposed a similar resolution to their party. Contributions from fossil fuel and law enforcement unions pose a conflict of interest to the UDP, just as with California.
We, as a party, are desperately trying to reduce fossil fuel emissions that greatly contribute to climate change, which we are already experiencing. Companies that mine, refine, generate, or distribute – natural gas, methane, gasoline, diesel, etc. create a clear conflict of interest, when we should be supporting power generated by wind, solar, and other renewable resources.
The UDP is also trying to revise criminal justice and end police brutality, which have a particular bias towards the poor and people of color. A number of law enforcement-related bills passed the legislature during the 2021 session, which we view as excellent progress. The bills that passed, however, seem to have a common theme of making changes internally to police organizations without view to the public, such as training, reporting, and revisions to the use of force. Most police unions are affiliated with the Fraternal Order of Police, a very powerful national union, which supports protecting individual officers from criminal or civil penalties in response to police misconduct.
The Progressive Caucus would like to see at least the most egregious cases of police misconduct be eligible for individual criminal and civil penalties. We would also like to see the police engage more in public outreach campaigns, particularly regarding the development of legislation to reduce bias towards arrests of the poor and people of color. Will police unions support this? It would be nice to have their support, but the question we should be asking ourselves is whether it should be required. Law enforcement unions should be petitioning for our support – not the other way around. For a list of law enforcement bills that passed in the 2021 Legislative Session, click here.
In California, about $2.3 million, less than 5% of the California Democratic Party is funded by law enforcement and fossil fuel organizations, according to the Modesto Bee. Utah likely has similar figures. In other words, agreeing to this resolution is not going to hurt us financially. It is the principle of accepting donations from these groups that could hurt us more.
In contrast, the Progressive Caucus is not proposing that the UDP stop receiving all donations from corporations or SuperPACs, and oppose Citizens United.
In 2010, the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling on the Citizens United case dramatically changed campaign finance laws.
For the first time in more than a century, political campaigns could now receive unlimited donations from corporations. The court decision also permitted the creation of the nebulous and opaque SuperPACs. Campaign spending has grown exponentially ever since, increasing barriers to entry for candidates and reducing the amount of transparency about where funds are coming from.
Previously, the Federal Trade Commission (FEC) enforced a modest monetary limit for the amount that individuals and political action committees (PACs) could donate annually to one candidate. But now corporations and SuperPACs can donate endlessly and SuperPACs do not have to report their contributors, and neither do elected officials. Donations that cannot be traced are called dark money, or the blind potential for political donors to be heavy-handed with their elected official once in office – campaign funding in exchange for support of certain legislation.
In recent years, a number of progressive elected officials and candidates on all levels of government have committed to not accept donations from corporations or SuperPACs. The Progressive Caucus supports the Freedom to Vote Act and other forms of the legislation that may be forthcoming. The legislation would outlaw gerrymandering, protect voter access to the polls, and repeal Citizens United.
This resolution would be a great first step towards reducing UDP’s reliance on dark money. We should also hold ourselves to a higher standard if we ever expect the Republicans to follow suit.
Korte, Lara. “Some California Democrats want to stop taking fossil fuel money. Others say not so fast,” The Modesto Bee. Updated November 2, 2021. https://www.modbee.com/news/california/article255375756.html
Lau, Tim. “Citizens United explained” Brennan Center for Justice. December 12, 2019.
Weiser, Wendy; Daniel Weiner, and Emil Pablo. “Breaking down the Freedom to Vote Act,” Brennan Center for Justice. September 23, 2021. https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/breaking-down-freedom-vote-act