Who Runs Philly Part 12: The FOP Conundrum
Who Runs Philly? is an ongoing project from Philly Power Research focused on highlighting the powerful people, organizations, businesses, and interest groups that shape Philadelphia. This week, we take a look at the Fraternal Order of Police, a political powerhouse that lobbies on behalf of the city’s bloated and corrupt police force. From private bars to six figure salaries, Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police has been working to preserve Philadelphia’s history of state violence and white supremacy through its related organizations since its founding in 1939. Contributions to all local candidates can be found on our campaign finance dashboard.
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), commonly referred to as the “police union,” was founded in 1915 in Pittsburgh. Nationally it reports a membership of over 346,000 members organized in 2,100 local chapters (lodges), state lodges, and the national Grand Lodge. Here in Philadelphia, FOP Lodge 5 represents 14,000 active and retired members of the police force. Like a union, the FOP negotiates with the Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations to ensure the benefits of its members.
The city’s budget is currently up for negotiation in early and late May of 2019. Philadelphia’s police force represents some $741 million dollars of a total city budget of $5 billion, nearly 14% of the entire budget. By comparison, the city’s Human Services will receive only $116m.
However, despite its reputation as the union for Philadelphia’s rank and file police officers, one thing should be made clear: The FOP is not a labor union. Labor unions are classified as 501(c)5 tax exempt organizations. 501(c)5s must meet strict reporting and disclosure requirements per the IRS. The FOP is not classified this way and does not have to make these disclosures.
So what is the FOP? It’s in the name: a fraternal organization. Fraternal organizations, like the familiar Elks and Lions, are 501(c)8 organizations. They have much looser reporting requirements that don’t enforce standard disclosures like staff salaries. Instead of negotiating a standard union contract, the FOP negotiates what’s called an “arbitration agreement” with the city which has left traditional labor union members scratching their heads.
How can a group that’s not a labor union negotiate the wages, benefits, and pensions of a police force? Rather than the traditional method of using a National Labor Relations Board election that each and every other union is required to go through, the FOP gets a special carve-out in state law. Pennsylvania’s Act 111 designates that organizations such as the FOP have a special mandate that enables them to act like a traditional labor union so long as 50% of a city’s police force maintains membership.
Indeed, a single paragraph of the act supplants the numerous legal hoops that nearly every other labor union must jump through as part of a Trump-lead board that has been stacked against workers for decades.
The FOP is quite active in giving money to Philadelphia elected officials. Since the beginning of 2018, FOP has given nearly $20,000 to city officials and candidates.
Top recipients include Bobby Henon ($6,000), who in early 2019 was indicted by the FBI on corruption charges in connection with Electricians Local 98.
Other recipients of the FOP’s campaign cash include City Councilor Republican Brian O’Neill and Sheriff Jewell Williams. Jewell Williams has had multiple claims of sexual abuse levied against him. Even the local Democratic Party apparatus dropped their endorsement of him.
Looking back even further, the list of those who have taken the FOP’s money expands to include Mayor Kenney, who took a whopping $16,000 since the beginning of the 2015 election season. In total, the FOP has thrown over $54,000 at city elected officials and candidates since the last election season.
Making political donations may be a good way to ensure favorable relations with city budget makers- especially during budget negotiations and an upcoming election.
It must be nice for the FOP to pay only a sliver of one officer’s annual salary in political contributions in order to ensure the continual expansion of the police department and annual raises. Despite not being an actual labor union, the FOP was able to wrest more than 10.5% in annual raises for the city’s rank and file police force from 2017 to 2020.
Mayor Kenney’s proposed budget is recommending an additional $30m for the police department for this year.
Leadership of the FOP
Speaking of salaries, the FOP’s leadership makes a hefty chunk of change off their members’ backs. Lodge President John McNesby raked in $180,000 in annual salary in 2015. Since then, McNesby has defended Philly police officers with Nazi tattoos, referred to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality activists at “a pack of rabid animals” and defended Ryan Pownall, a police officer who murdered David Jones in 2017. In 2015, the FOP drew in $5.5m in revenue from membership dues and operates with a budget of $7m.
The board’s total salary eclipsed $1.3m during 2015, the latest IRS filings available show. No financial filings for the lodge have been publicly posted for the most recent fiscal years.
Bars, Ballrooms, and Back Rooms
The FOP’s lodge is located at 11630 Caroline Road in far Northeast Philadelphia. It boasts a number of attractions for members and the public. Within the 45,000+ square foot FOP compound is a ballroom that is available for rent as well as a private members-only bar. The compound, worth an estimated $6m, is an abated property with nearly half of its market value of improvements exempt from city property taxes. The owner of the lodge is another tax-exempt organization called 11630 Caroline Acquisition. Guidestar, an online charity research and evaluation firm, has noted that 11630 Caroline Road has had its tax-exempt status revoked for failing to file appropriate disclosures with the IRS.
The private bar’s website proudly boasts “Every Hero Needs a Hideout!” on its home banner.
Bringing it Full Circle
The FOP’s delinquent non-profit isn’t the only affiliated organization that has political ties. The Philadelphia Police Foundation, a related non-profit which John McNesby sits on the board of, describes itself in its IRS filings as “a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the men and women of the Philadelphia Police Department by funding projects that are beyond the scope of the city budget. The foundation engages business, professional and civic communities in advancing the mission of the Philadelphia Police Department through collaborative initiatives, in-kind resources, training, and funding for the department.”
In other words, it raises funds for an already bloated police department independent of the city. The Foundation’s board of directors has given more than $100,000 to “domestic organizations or governments” as detailed in their most recent IRS filings. Its board consists of both McNesby as well as Police Commissioner Rick Ross- the rank and file’s boss. To complete the circle, the board includes John K Binswanger, chairman of Binswanger real estate.
Binswanger has given nearly $10k to city council and mayoral candidates since 2014.
Philadelphia falls within the top ten officer-to-resident cities in America. With an opaque organization protecting an ever increasing police force, the FOP has continually stood in the way of ending the city’s long and storied instances of state violence. From the MOVE bombing, to the constant use of deadly force against against community members like Kaleb Belay, to the increased cooperation of local police forces with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FOP maintains an active and vibrant relationship with the city’s elected officials in securing both economic and administrative gains. Its leadership helps maintain the “blue wall of silence” so often deployed around police shootings and police brutality cases.
This spring, Mayor Kenney requested an additional $29m for the police department in his proposed budget, and city council will be tasked with figuring out how much to allot to a department that has received huge budget increases year after year. These crucial budget discussions are happening just as campaign season is heating up in Philadelphia in the lead up to the city’s Democratic primary on May 21st.
Per state law, the bargaining for the next police contract will begin in fall of 2019.
Stay tuned to Philly Power Research for more analysis of the city’s power brokers as the final campaign contribution disclosures are released in the lead up to the city’s Democratic Primary on May 21.