Why the Fraternal Order of Police Endorsed Trump
FOP executive director Jim Pasco is one of the most dangerous men in America, but no one seems to know it.
If you’re an organization seeking to bury your news release in the media cycle, it’s generally a good idea to put it out on Friday afternoon. So it was with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the largest police union in the country, when it announced its endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump last week. But then, flying under the media’s radar has always been the preferred course of FOP executive director Jim Pasco.
During the past four-plus decades, Pasco — one of the most corrupt and dangerous men in the United States — has done more damage to public safety than anyone in this country outside of National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre. And yet, while LaPierre is nationally known, Pasco is not even a well-recognized figure inside the Beltway.
There is one constituency that knows Pasco’s name well, however: longtime gun violence prevention (GVP) advocates like myself.
If the NRA’s turn to the hard right came in 1977 during the “Cincinnati Revolution,” then FOP’s came in 1995, when Pasco arrived there. GVP advocates have watched him spend the last 20 years undoing FOP support for a host of common-sense gun reforms.
So while the FOP’s endorsement of a candidate who embraces violence and the weapons that enable it is perverse, we can’t call it surprising.
A Marriage of Convenience
Hopefully, Friday’s announcement from FOP will wake more Americans up to the damage that Jim Pasco has done to the organization, and our country.
The endorsement statement issued by Pasco and FOP National President Chuck Canterbury is as bizarre as it is disturbing, with its overly punctuated title (“FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE ENDORSES TRUMP!!!”) and malapropism (“Donald Trump may not ever have been elected to public safety…”). The two men claim that Trump “has seriously looked at the issues facing law enforcement today” and add, “Our members believe he will make America safe again.” But FOP members had no say in the endorsement. It was made via a two-thirds vote of the FOP National Board, which consists of a single trustee from each of the organization’s State Lodges and executive leaders like Pasco.
According to Pasco, the National Board gave Trump the nod because he met with them and they liked his questionnaire results. The FOP questionnaire was full of loaded questions, like the following one at the top of the “Criminal Justice Issues” section:
Law enforcement is facing a high level of hostility from the communities we protect and serve. Hateful rhetoric and those calling for violence are having an impact — ambush attacks on law enforcement and police shootings have spiked tremendously in the past few years. Fringe organizations have been given a platform by the media to convey the message that police officers are a “militarized” enemy and it is time to attack that enemy. Social media accounts are full of hatred and calls to target and kill police officers. The vitriol, the hateful screeds and statements of those we are sworn to protect and defend, as well as public calls to kill and injure police officers, are horrifying. There is a very real and very deliberate campaign to terrorize our nation’s law enforcement officers and no one has come to our defense. How will you and your Administration demonstrate support and commitment to our nation’s law enforcement officers?
Trump’s answers were a prescription for anarchy.
First, he said let’s continue to make it easy for individuals with a history of violence to legally obtain (unlimited) firearms and ammunition, including semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15. In Trump’s estimation, “The Second Amendment is sacrosanct and will in no way be modified in my administration. Gun control laws are not the answer to gun violence.” [Just as an aside, this is a month in which the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund is reporting that gun-related officer homicides are up 43%.]
Second, Trump promised to rescind an executive order by President Obama which limits the transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement. It’s “an excellent program that enhances community safety,” he told FOP, apparently having warm and fuzzy thoughts about heavily militarized police departments pointing .50-caliber weapons at protesting U.S. citizens in Ferguson and elsewhere.
Finally, Trump has made it clear he has no interest in speaking out against abuses by police involving the use of excessive force. In August, Trump told a crowd in Wisconsin, “Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, the violent disruptor … Those peddling the narrative of cops as a racist force in our society…share directly in the responsibility for the unrest in Milwaukee, and many other places within our country.”
It’s a recipe for an escalating war between police and civilians, and for this Faustian bargain, Pasco was the perfect partner. You see, Trump also made it clear on his questionnaire that FOP would have a seat at the table in his administration, and that’s all Pasco needed to hear.
Revolving Door Lobbyist
The first thing to understand about Jim Pasco is that he is not a cop.
Pasco got his start with the then-Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) in 1970. But Pasco worked as an inspector for ATF, not as a badge- and gun-carrying special agent who actually has to go seize firearms from the dangerous individuals who obtain them with ease. Pasco eventually worked his way up to the legal liaison office at ATF, serving at their assistant director in charge of public and congressional affairs from 1983 to 1995.
As Pasco tells it, he had a pretty cozy relationship with the lead lobbyist for the NRA, James Baker, while serving as assistant director. “I’d say, ‘I need 200 more agents, 100 more inspectors’ to Baker,” Pasco recalled. Baker “would sign off” on these items only after Pasco assured him that ATF would not lobby Congress for additional regulation of the firearms industry.
But Pasco apparently didn’t ask Baker (or Congress) for much during his time in the job. Former ATF director John Magaw reported that when he came to the agency in 1993, it was a “bankrupt organization.” “You had good people, but they didn’t have the necessary equipment and training,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, Baker’s buddies at NRA headquarters were spending quite a bit of time demonizing the ATF. NRA fundraising letters and public statements routinely described ATF agents as murderous thugs bent on extinguishing all remaining individual freedoms in our country. Unfortunately, some very dangerous people took this type of rhetoric to heart, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
But Pasco was not concerned about ATF’s budget, reputation, or the security of the United States. He knew his alliance with the gun lobby would serve him well at his next career stop: the Fraternal Order of Police.
A Flip-Flop on Gun Policy
Up until 1995, FOP had been a politically moderate organization that supported strong gun policies like background checks on gun purchasers, waiting periods for handgun purchases, and a renewal of the assault weapons ban. Former Reagan press secretary James Brady, who was catastrophically injured during the assassination attempt on the 40th president, spoke at the FOP’s 50th annual convention in 1991, telling those assembled, “Without your lobbying, [the Brady Bill] would not have passed.”
FOP also opposed the NRA’s major federal legislative victory in the 1980s, the “Firearm Owners Protection Act,” warning that it would “pose an immediate and unwarranted threat to the law enforcement community and to the citizens we are sworn to protect” by rolling back critical provisions of the 1968 Gun Control Act.
It was not uncommon during the 1980s and 1990s to see FOP leaders like National President (and conservative Republican) Dewey Stokes campaigning with politicians who supported strong gun reform measures. This forced James Baker and the NRA to create a shell group, the so-called Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA), to repudiate the FOP position and “represent the line officer.”
Stokes would leave his position in 1995, the same year Pasco arrived as executive director. And things changed at FOP at that point.
For one thing, FOP became more politically conservative. Pasco served on the Bush-Cheney Transition Advisory Committee and was appointed by Bush to serve on the Federal Salary Council.
Pasco also wasted little time in aligning FOP with Baker and the NRA. In 1996, FOP opposed the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, otherwise known as the Lautenberg Amendment. The bill sought to prohibit individuals under active restraining orders and those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence from owning and buying firearms, and was enacted into law over FOP’s objections. FOP would take the matter to the federal appeals court of the District of Columbia, and lose again.
Reversing the FOP’s long-established positions on background checks and the assault weapons ban was a bit trickier, but by 2013 — just months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary — Pasco’s organization was offering no support for either a tepid expansion of background checks (the Manchin-Toomey amendment) or Senator Dianne Feinstein’s ban renewal.
When FOP mailed out its candidate questionnaires this year, they made the reversal of their past stance on firearms regulation explicit. The FOP now declares that it will “not support any additional ‘gun control’ measures until after a full evaluation of the effectiveness of the sweeping changes to firearms law which passed in 1994.” This is a reference to the Brady Law and the original Assault Weapons Ban, which expired twelve years ago. [One wonders what evidence Pasco’s FOP is looking for, given that the Brady Law has stopped more than 2.8 million felons, domestic abusers, fugitives of justice, and other prohibited parties from buying gun.]
In return, the gun lobby has provided Pasco with largesse. For example, in 2010, gun lobbyist and former NRA attorney Lawrence Keane contributed $100,000 to the FOP’s charitable arm on behalf of the Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which represents gun manufacturers.
NSSF made another contribution, of $25,000, to the FOP foundation in August 2015. The next month, Pasco wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch indicating FOP’s support for NSSF’s controversial “Project ChildSafe.” Pasco asked the Department of Justice to fund the program to the tune of $2.4 million over the next two years through a federal grant, with taxpayers picking up the expense.
Open for Business
To be fair to Pasco, the gun issue is far from the only one where he embraces a pay-to-play model.
Since coming to FOP, Pasco has been the principal at Jim Pasco & Associates, a lucrative legislative and media consulting firm that represents beer, cigarette and entertainment companies. FOP has allowed Pasco to run this side business right out of their Capitol Hill offices. Pasco even uses his FOP email, business address, and phone number while working for corporate interests.
“I’m allowed to have my own clients provided there is no conflict with the FOP,” Pasco bragged to the Washington Post. The Post reported that Pasco earned $4.5 million for this private lobbying work in a period of just ten years from 2000 to 2010.
Contrary to his assertion, Pasco’s private lobbying work has presented constant conflicts of interest with his leadership of FOP. James V. Grimaldi and Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post did a superb job of cataloging the following breaches of ethics during the period of 1998–2010:
· In 1998, the U.S. Congress was considering a bill that would have given the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco and raised the federal cigarette tax by $1.10 a pack (costing the tobacco industry approximately a half-trillion dollars over 25 years). The FOP wrote letters to Members of Congress and ran ads attacking the bill, saying it could create a black market in cigarettes. At the time, Pasco’s firm had Philip Morris as a client.
· In 2005, FOP joined a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the music industry in a Supreme Court case against the music-sharing website Grokster. During the same year, Sony paid Pasco $200,000 to lobby for the company on “Internet theft of intellectual property.”
· In 2006, Pasco’s wife, Cybele Daley, was investigated by the Department of Justice’s inspector general for participating in the process of awarding grants to businesses represented by Pasco. At the time, Daley was an official working in DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs. The inspector general’s ensuing report chided Daley for falling “significantly short” of ethical standards in government. Nonetheless, Pasco claimed to the Post that he and his wife “don’t even talk about business.”
· In April 2007, the FOP weighed in for the first time on the “Tiahrt Amendment,” an NRA legislative priority. The amendment serves to suppress crime gun trace data collected by the ATF, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to disseminate this information to key parties like Members of Congress, the media, researchers, and law enforcement. The end result is that the amendment has made it far harder for law enforcement to divine patterns of illegal gun trafficking in the United States. Pasco’s FOP nonetheless lobbied for the amendment and promoted the NRA’s lie that the release of crime gun trace data could compromise undercover investigations (it never had prior to the amendment’s original enactment in 2003).
· In 2009, FOP issued a statement calling for airwaves freed up by broadcasters’ move to digital television to be given exclusively to public safety for emergencies. At that time, Pasco’s wife, Cybele Daley, was working as a lobbyist for Motorola and AT&T, two companies stood to benefit from the move — Motorola as a vendor for police and fire radios and AT&T as a wireless company that would face increased competition if the airwaves were sold at auction instead of donated to public safety. Daley’s firm was paid $180,000 by Motorola in 2008 and $140,000 by AT&T in 2009. The following year, however, neither company hired Daley’s firm. In February 2010, FOP stunned the law enforcement community by reversing its position on the airwaves issue.
Despite this dubious record, Pasco still saw fit to lecture the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in 2012 when the organization accepted a donation from Taser International’s foundation after issuing guidelines to IACP members on the appropriate use of stun guns. By Pasco’s personal standard, this was a small infraction, but he was still quoted by USA Today as saying, “When you accept that kind of donation, you create an impression that you view the product favorably. There is an appearance issue here.”
A Potential Powder-Keg
The endorsement, by the largest police union in the country, of a presidential candidate who is overtly racist, unapologetically misogynist, pro-violence, and totally unqualified for office has enormous implications and should concern us all.
It certainly can’t be explained by the FOP’s statement: “He will make America safe again.” After all, Trump is the man who encourages his supporters to handle political rivals with violence; the man who boasted, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”; the man who repeatedly expresses admiration for a Russian dictator who kills his political opponents; the man who has told FOP he wants it to remain easy for violent individuals including criminals and terrorists to obtain firearms.
No, this endorsement is instead a culmination of Jim Pasco’s grand vision for the FOP. It’s what he’s wanted all along, really: A power base extending into the government, corporate and nonprofit sectors that allows him to play fast and loose with ethics while raking in millions in profit. After eight years in the wilderness during the Obama administration, there’s little doubt that Pasco looks at Trump — a man with a similar lack of ethics and drive for personal power, no matter the cost to others — and thinks, “Here’s a guy I can do business with.”
Pasco makes sure he always wins. Unfortunately, the FOP’s endorsement of Trump has tarred the overwhelming majority of rank and file police officers who have integrity and take their service to the public seriously. Their attempts to build relationships with communities across America just became far more difficult, during a time when olive branches are desperately needed (on both sides).
Our men and women in blue should ask themselves: Does Jim Pasco really have our best interests at heart? If peaceful communities are indeed what we seek, is he the best person to lead FOP at this critical juncture?
And the rest of us? The rest of us need to shine a spotlight on Jim Pasco and keep it there. He has been allowed to operate in the dark for far too long, and we need to say his name — shout it — until he becomes the object of scorn and condemnation that he should be. In an era of Trumpism, the health of our democracy might depend on it.