Corporate interests are funneling far more money to law enforcement than previously known — often with scant oversight.

by Katya Schwenk, The Lever

Private donors including big-box stores, fossil fuel companies, and tech giants are secretly giving hundreds of millions of dollars annually to law enforcement agencies and related foundations, allowing police to buy specialized weapons and technology with little public oversight.

Experts say this huge deluge of police “dark money” funding, detailed in a new University of Chicago working paper and in an additional analysis shared exclusively with The Lever, leaves law enforcement beholden to the companies and powerful donors bankrolling them, rather than the communities that officers are sworn to serve.

A black woman stands in front of a line of armed police at a protest against the killing of George Floyd.

“The big-picture finding is that the world of private donations to police is a lot bigger and more complex than previously estimated,” said Robert Vargas, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and a co-author of the study.

The study, which analyzed a database of nonprofit tax returns, found that from 2014 to 2019, more than 600 private donors and organizations collectively funneled $461 million to police and to other nonprofits supporting police — a figure that, Vargas said, was “without a doubt an undercount,” as it was based on organizations’ own disclosures about their giving.

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