Police officers argue for right to make political contributions

Should Philly police officers be allowed to make political contributions?

The city’s police union argued in federal court today that a decades-old rule barring them from political contributions is a violation of their free speech rights. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 sued the city and the Board of Ethics last year seeking to overturn the rule, which doesn’t apply to other city workers.

According to the city's Home Rule Charter, cops and firefighters are specifically forbidden to contribute "whether voluntary or involuntary, for any political purpose." But Fire Fighters Union Local 22 successfully sued the city in 2003 for the right to make political contributions.

Before U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez, an attorney for the city argued that the ban was set up to prevent corruption and that it should only be altered through a charter change. But FOP attorney Marc Gelman said the ban was a violation of police officers’ civil rights.

“Every public employee employed by the city of Philadelphia has the right to exercise such spending and there’s no rational basis for the city to discriminate,” Gelman said.

Sanchez has not yet issued a ruling.

The FOP has a political action committee that currently has a small amount of funding. But if they can start getting contributions from the city’s 6,500 active police officers, the PAC could become a serious force in the city.

City Council in 2006 approved legislation that would permit payroll deductions from cops into the FOP PAC. But the city has not implemented the law on the grounds that the cops can’t contribute.