Thanks to a boost from a progressive nonprofit, the police reform group that wants San Antonians to vote yes for Proposition B continues to raise significant financial support, campaign finance reports show.
Between Jan. 1 and March 22, Fix SAPD gathered more than $245,000 in contributions and spent about $145,000 on its campaign to persuade voters to repeal collective bargaining rights for San Antonio’s police union, according to the most recent report filed with the city clerk on Thursday. The grassroots organization that formed last year has more than $87,000 on hand to spend before the May 1 election.
Cash and in-kind donations from the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) Education Fund make up more than half of what Fix SAPD has raised so far this year.
Meanwhile, the police union’s political action committee (PAC) had more than $98,000 on hand, according to a report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission on Thursday. It spent $43,310 between Feb. 26 to March 25 and raised nearly $28,000 during that time period.
Union officials have said they are primarily focused on its “Back SA Blue” campaign to defeat Prop B.
“Our polling indicates that there’s a good portion of the population that’s undecided [on Prop B],” said Jason Sanchez, the union’s treasurer. “We feel that we’ve done a pretty good job of moving the needle in the right direction. … It’s a ground game to spread the word and help people understand the intricacies of what harm Prop B can do.”
Activists pushing for repeal say that the collective bargaining process is flawed and the resulting contract provisions allow cops fired for misconduct to get back on the force. If approved by voters, Prop B would repeal Chapter 174 of the Texas Local Government Code and halt current contract negotiations. Fix SAPD gathered enough petition signatures to place the proposition on the May ballot.
“When you tell [people] this is what’s going on and this is how you can fix it … the response is clear,” said Fix SAPD co-founder Ojiyoma Martin. “It starts with them voting yes for accountability, yes for Prop B.”
Union leaders say repeal would result in fewer protections and benefits for police officers that will lead to a reduction of the workforce and ultimately “defunding” of police.
“This campaign is about defunding the police, not necessarily about accountability,” Sanchez said.
If Prop B passes the City of San Antonio would no longer be required to negotiate a contract that stipulates health care, wages, disciplinary procedures, and other workplace terms including benefits. While funding for the department wouldn’t necessarily be affected, it would have a large impact on its ability to hire more diverse cadets, Sanchez said.
“Removing 174 completely paralyzes the city for hiring standards,” he said. Without Chapter 174, the department would have to default to rules outlined in Chapter 143. “They’re no longer allowed to seek diversity hiring, they’re no longer allowed to … [give] extra points for where people live or their education.”
Disciplinary procedures need to be updated, but that work should be done at the bargaining table, he said. “I get the intent, but it’s misguided, it’s misdirected. There’s better ways to solve what what they think the problem is.”
Substantial progress has been made on several disciplinary reforms, but the union and City negotiating teams remain deadlocked on disciplinary procedures regarding the appeals process for officers who violate the police department’s administrative and conduct rules.
“If Fix SAPD allows SAPOA to pin defund [the police] on their messaging and their story, [Fix SAPD] is going to lose because this race is not about people who’ve already made up their mind,” said Demonte Alexander, co-founder of the Black Equity PAC, which has not taken a position on Prop B. “This is going to be made up with those undecided voters.”
The ballot language is confusing for even well-informed voters, Alexander said, and educating undecided voters “will cost money for both sides,” be it through door-to-door outreach, mailers, or phone banking.
“At this point, going into early voting … that difference of cash is not going to give anybody a lead one way or another,” Alexander said. “Right now it’s about who’s the most organized.”
Alexander is also director of external affairs for Bexar Facts, an agency that partners with the San Antonio Report, KSAT, and a professional polling firm to produce quarterly, nonpartisan voter opinion surveys. Results from the latest survey, which asked voters how they would vote on Prop B, will be released on April 6.
Along with a $105,000 monetary contribution to Fix SAPD, TOP’s Education Fund provided more than $30,000 worth of staff time and other in-kind services.
By law, a 501(c)(3) public charity like the education fund does not have to disclose its donors. Fix SAPD also received $50,000 from Black Voters Matter Fund, a Georgia-based nonprofit.
“As a nonprofit, we fundraise year round to build the support necessary to pass policies, TOP members decide they want to prioritize,” TOP executive director Michelle Tremillo said, noting that those member are “predominantly black, Latino, and low income families – the people most likely to be the victim of a cop abusing their power.”
Police union officials have called TOP’s contributions to Fix SAPD “dark money,” a characterization that Tremillo rejects.
“The funds that we granted to Fix SAPD are not from any one source, but a collective of grants,” she said. “And to be perfectly clear, we have received no contribution from any individual or entity attempting to hide their identity. … When our members decided to join forces with Fix SAPD, it became part of our right to justice campaign platform.”
Both sides are collecting small-scale donations, too. San Antonio police officers often donate $25 to $50 to the local PAC. Fix SAPD has contributions as small as $1.50.
“Any campaign wants the community to feel – and other supporters to feel – like their movement is pushed by the community,” Alexander said.
On April 8, the KSAT/San Antonio Report/Bexar Facts partnership will host a discussion about Proposition B with leaders of the union, Fix SAPD, and City of San Antonio attorney.
This article has been updated to correct the voting outcome that would end the City’s requirement to negotiate a police union contract.