THE CITY'S rank-and-file cop union, the Portland Police Association (PPA), did something earlier this month that it hasn't done in years.

It dusted off its dormant and mostly forgotten political action committee, the Keep Portland Safe PAC, and used it to pour substantial amounts of cash into the campaigns of its chosen political candidates.

According to state campaign filings, the PAC dropped a $10,000 gift on city commissioner candidate Mary Nolan on May 1, blessed mayoral hopeful Jefferson Smith with another $10,000 on May 10, and then gave a (relatively more meager) $2,500 to attorney general candidate Dwight Holton on May 11.

The money came too late for Holton, who was pasted by retired state judge Ellen Rosenblum in the primary on May 15. But it will certainly be a big help for Nolan and Smith, who will need every cent of it as they work to clobber their respective opponents, Amanda Fritz and Charlie Hales, in November's runoff election.

Overall, they marked the union's first major contributions in years. Back in 2007, the PPA gave $25,000 to a labor umbrella group fighting Tom Potter's city government overhaul and then sent $500 over to Jeff Barker, a former Portland police lieutenant running for an Oregon House seat in Aloha. (In 2010, the PPA also gave Barker $5,000.)

The latest activity should be seen as an attention-grabbing display for a union that promised it would find its political voice, in the hopes of promoting candidates who will at least keep an ear open to the PPA agenda. (Which often isn't the same as the community's.)

But it's also something more than that.

Firing up the old PAC operation, after so many years of keeping quiet, strikes me as a tacit acknowledgement—two years after the tragic shooting of Aaron Campbell breathed new life into the city's police accountability movement—that the PPA really does have an image problem and needs friends in high places.

Fresh in the minds of union leaders, no doubt, is Mayor Sam Adams' unprecedented decision to defy an arbitrator and refuse to reinstate the officer who shot Campbell, Ron Frashour. They also saw rallies on the steps of city hall and talk of putting oversight in the city's charter. And in times of public opprobrium, the union has long turned to its political arm.

The PAC was actually created to help sink a 2002 ballot measure that would have created a strong civilian oversight system. Later, union leaders implored members to give to the PAC so it could, in turn, support "candidates who will give special interest anti-police groups their 15 minutes but won't let them dictate policy."

And why freeze "anti-police groups"? Presumably so the PPA could dictate policy instead.