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Senator Judith Zaffarini Accepts GEO Group Money for Re-Election Campaign

The Laredo Morning Times reported last week that State Senator Judith Zaffarini, a state Democratic powerhouse, accepted $500 from the GEO Group's PAC in the last half of 2007. GEO Group is of course the company behind the controversial federal detention center in Laredo.

The Raba-Kistner PAC contributed $5,000, and the Texas GEO Group Inc. PAC contributed $500. In December, the Webb County Commissioners Court authorized payment of an invoice to Raba-Kistner of more than $150,000 for services the San Antonio-based company provided to the county for work on the county's presidential permit application for the proposed rail bridge in northwest Webb County.

The county also recently entered into a contract with the GEO Group to provide water and sewer services for the company's new 1,500-bed detention facility under construction near the city of Rio Bravo.

Zaffirini's husband, Carlos Zaffirini, represents the GEO Group in local negotiations with the county.

Of course, a $500 contribution is not an incredible amount of money - it certainly must pale in comparison to the amount of money that Carlos Zaffirini has taken in from the GEO Group as their local counsel for the past 5 years - and numerous other Texas politicians have accepted similar donations from private prison corporations.

Still, one has to be concerned by the close relationship between a private prison corporation and one of the most powerful political families in south Texas. Zaffirini is facing a campaign challenge from former Webb County Judge Louis Bruni (who interestingly was an initial proponent of the GEO Group prison), who lost his re-election campaign by getting fourth of four candidates. His fund-raising numbers don't make it seem like his base of support has increased much. Despite spending $96,000 of his own money, his only campaign contribution in this reporting period came from his sister.

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