“We have the receipts” is the first thing you see when you click on the Fresno based website WhoTakesCopMoney. Receipts are exactly what activist Emily Cameron, who launched the site, provides—“it’s a website that you can look through and easily find information about your local elected officials and how much money they’re receiving from various law enforcement groups.”
Cameron says the website is “a free community resource that showcases law enforcement donations to local political elected officials.” It's a privately funded website that hosts Cameron’s long-term mission of transparency between local politics and law enforcement.
Why should Fresno residents care about law enforcement groups spending money on local politics? Cameron asked herself this in 2020 when she first launched whotakescopmoney. Cameron says the idea was born after listening to local elected politicians address police brutality in May 2020 after the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. That month Fresno residents held a “We Can’t Breathe” protest where an estimated 3,000-3,500 people demanded Fresno leaders do more to change the system. That’s when Cameron started researching and collecting information about financial contributions made by law enforcement groups to local elected political officials— then she decided to make a website. “It’s one thing for me to just be tweeting about something and it’s another to be like, here you go, it’s plastered on something more tangible.”
For Cameron it’s clear that any budget or any expenditure that the public is making should be analyzed. “It’s important that we look at it and think, is this really the best use of our time and energy and resources, and are we really receiving the ideal outcome from this use of our funds?”
The City of Fresno’s general operating fund for 2023 is $750 million and the department with the largest share of those resources is the Fresno Police Department with a $236 million budget. Local conversations about law enforcement usually have to do with municipal police, whotakescopmoney.com includes other local law enforcement groups such as the Fresno Deputy Sheriffs Association, police associations, police unions, Political Action Committees, prison guard Unions, — “they're all part of the systems of carceral justice,” said Cameron. It’s also in Cameron’s belief that most people, regardless of where they are on the spectrum, understand that politicians who receive money from certain interest groups, whether that's police, pharmaceutical companies or oil—”that group is buying access to the politician, they’re just buying their way in the door," says Cameron.
During the recent City of Fresno budget hearings to determine the 2024 budget, Cameron reviewed the city council motions pertaining to the Fresno Police Department. Four motions to increase resources were made by three council members and seconded by an additional councilmember. 100% of the motions are from people who have received police money, police donations,” said Cameron.
Whotakescopymoney.com list’s Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chavez as the top recipient of law enforcement money, followed by Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi and Garry Bredefeld. In Fresno County, Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig tops the list of county politicians who received most of the law enforcement money, followed by Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes and Brian Pacheco.
The Fresno City Council unanimously approved the $1.87 billion budget for 2024, the largest in Fresno’s history. The Fresno police department was the third highest department to receive funds, followed by Public Utilities and Public works according to a Fresno Bee article breaking down budget funds.
The Fresno Police Department saw an increase of $25.8 million, a total of $261,905,400 for the 2024 fiscal year. In 2023 the Fresno Police Department’s total budget was $234,219,400, an increase of 5.3% or $11,812,700 from 2022’s amended budget. Mayor Jerry Dyer said the prior two budget cycles prioritized recruitment of sworn personnel, with the funds going towards creating Fresno’s largest police force in its history at 900 sworn positions by 2024.
An ally and supporter of whotakescopmoney.com is Free Fresno, a grassroots community organizing effort aimed at creating transparency and accountability around exploitative economies and the way in which power has monopolized resources in our region. Free Fresno calls whotakescopmoney.com a collaborative project aiming to, “enhance transparency and political literacy so the community can understand the way in which campaign finance and political funding impacts and influences the resources available in our community.”
“It's a transparency and political literacy so that folks can understand the way campaign finances translate into actual power and influence over elected officials,” and, “to understand why there's so much political buy-in, literally buy-in to law enforcement and law enforcement PACs have over local elections,” said the organizer behind Fresno Fresno who wishes to remain anonymous.
The largest voter block in Fresno County is Gen Z, more than any other age group. There were 154,000 Gen Z register voters back in 2020 according to a news report from ABC 30 Action News. Whether whottakescopmoney.com serves as a useful resource for Gen Z in their voting decision making process is yet to be seen. So far during the past Fresno County elections, Gen Z voter turnout has been low.
“If a politician is funded by law enforcement, by oil, by agriculture, by development, you will understand more why they [politicians] are not going to be responsive to the needs of the people. If we were doing what’s best for the community, we would’ve been responsive to the demand for rent control. We would've been responsive to the demand for broader, safe and affordable housing. We would've been responsive to the needs for access to healthcare, access to food, safe drinking water. If we really wanted to look at safety, we would have a completely different investment portfolio as a city.,” said Free Fresno.
uSpark reached out to the offices of Fresno City Council Members and Fresno County Board of Supervisors but none provided a comment by the time this story was published.