Correctional Officers Ask for Money Back From Controversial Ballot Measure

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A California Department of Corrections officer speaks to inmates at the California Institution for Men in Chino. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The state union representing correctional officers is asking for the return of a $2 million donation to a ballot measure committee that is trying to roll back many of the criminal justice reforms championed by Democrats in recent years.

The unusual request, dated January 14, comes as the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, or CCPOA, is gearing up for contract negotiations with the new Gavin Newsom administration.

The CCPOA donation to the "Keep California Safe Issues Campaign" is the ballot measure's largest contribution to date, and accounts for about half of their donations so far. The measure is slated to appear on California's 2020 ballot after proponents qualified the proposal last summer.

"As you aware, during the last week of December 2018, CCPOA contributed two million dollars to your Issues Committee," the letter from CCPOA president Kurt Stoetzl states. "As you may not be aware, this contribution was made by our past president in the final hours of his term. This contribution was made without the new leadership of CCPOA having the opportunity to evaluate the proposed initiative, to determine if the goals of your Issues Committee, and the initiative, are in step in the goals of CCPOA."

The letter goes on to ask the campaign to return the money "so that we can evaluate your positions and determine whether or not we are in support."

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In the 1990's and early 2000's, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association was a big player in the state's political scene, helping fund numerous tough-on-crime ballot measures that contributed to the state's ballooning prison population.

But in recent years, the union has not been as politically active as California leaders and voters rolled back many of those laws. In general, California has worked to lower its prison population and embraced a more rehabilitation based approach to criminal justice.

Governor Jerry Brown and other powerful Democrats have helped lead the way on those changes, many of which are still opposed by law enforcement groups.

The ballot measure would make it more difficult for some inmates to get out of state prison, and make it easier for prosecutors to lock up some offenders. Brown has already made clear his opposition, and in December sued to have it taken off the November 2020 ballot.

But it's not just Brown who the ballot measure could anger. Newsom has been very progressive on criminal justice, and made continuing the policies of his predecessor a key part of his budget proposal.

The new governor also specifically mentioned CCPOA's contract during his budget news conference on January 10 — four days before the letter was dated.

"Please don't take it the wrong way but just a 1 percent increase in the CCPOA budget is about a $50 million impact to the general fund — it just puts it in perspective," Newsom said. "That's just something we're in the process of negotiating so between now and, we hope, the May revise, that contract will be complete and will allow us to adjust appropriately."

Officials at the ballot measure campaign and the CCPOA did not respond to requests for comment.

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