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October 2010

NPR on ALEC and State Legislature Influence

On Friday,

NPR's Laura Sullivan followed up on Thursday's investigative piece with more intel into how the American Legislative Exchange Council influences state policymakers

According to NPR:

ALEC is a membership organization. State legislators pay $50 a year to belong. Private corporations can join, too. The tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp. and drug-maker Pfizer Inc. are among the members. They pay tens of thousands of dollars a year. Tax records show that corporations collectively pay as much as $6 million a year.

As we reported in our post Thursday several state policymakers have current relationships with ALEC and are looking to introduce legislation similar to Arizona's SB 1070 in addition to other measures.   Those lawmakers include:

  • Rep. Joe Driver: If re-elected, Driver expects to support a bill — similar to SB 1070 — that Reps. Debbie Riddle and Leo Berman plan to introduce next session in Texas;
  • Rep. Jerry Madden: Has attempted to pass immigration-related bill, but would not support a bill identical to Arizona's SB 1070.

As Bob documented yesterday, money in Texas politics is not new and we have documented how private prison companies attempt to influence state legislators is problematic.  When the 82nd Legislative Session opens next January it will be interesting to assess what influence private prison companies have.

Related stories:

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Which Texas campaigns are receiving money from the private prison industry?

As Nicole posted earlie

r today, the private prison industry's backing of the controversial anti-immigrant law in Arizona received scrutiny from NPR and other sources today.

We thought I'd take a look to see which campaigns the private prison companies were donating to this campaign cycle.  Interestingly, over at the Texas Ethics Commission site, I could find no record of Corrections Corporation of America, the big giver in Arizona, donating any money Texas candidates this year. However, The GEO Group, perhaps the most troubled private prison corporation in Texas in recent years, donated plenty and spread its money around. The company has spent $23,000 total on Texas races, and $18,750 or more than 80% of that spending on Republican candidates.  Here's a breakdown:

Recipient Contributor Date Party Amount
Sen. Glenn A. Hegar Texas GEO Group Inc PAC 4/20/2010 Republican $500
Sen. Florence Shapiro Texas GEO Group Inc. 4/26/2010 Republican $500
Friends of Rep. John Zerwas Texas GEO Group Inc. PAC 5/06/2010 Republican $500
Texas House Leadership Fund Texas GEO Group Inc. PAC 2/22/2010 Republican $1,500
Rep. Phillip S. King Texas GEO Group Inc. PAC 3/01/2010 Republican $5,000
Sen. Stephen E. Ogden Texas Geo Group Inc. PAC 3/01/2010 Republican $1,000
Rep. Byron Curtis Cook Texas Geo Group Inc. PAC 2/10/2010 Republican $500
Rep. Armando A. Martinez Texas GEO Group Inc. PAC 2/25/2010 Democrat $250
Rep. Delwin Jones Texas Geo Group Inc. PAC 3/22/2010 Republican $250
Rep. Edmund P. Kuempel Texas Geo Group Inc. PAC 3/04/2010 Republican $500
David Sibley Texas Geo Group Inc. PAC 4/15/2010 Republican $1,000
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst Committee The GEO Group Inc. PAC 9/13/2010 Republican $2,500
Sen. John Whitmire Texas GEO Group Inc. PAC 1/25/2010 Democrat $1,500
Sen. John Whitmire The Geo Group Inc. PAC 10/21/2010 Democrat $2,500
Texans For Rick Perry The Geo Group PAC 9/03/2010 Republican $5,000

The only other private prison corporation to spend money on campaign contributions was Houston-based Cornell Companies, which was recently bought by GEO.  Cornell donated a total of $7,500 in 2010 to Texas candidates, with $5,000 or 66% of that going to Democratic candidates or Democratically-leaning caucuses:

Recipient Contributor Name Date Party Amount
TX Leg. Black Caucus Cornell Companies 6/09/2010 Leans Dem.
James M. McReynolds Cornell Employees PAC 8/02/2010 Democrat $1,500
James R Pitts Cornell Employees PAC 5/20/2010 Republican $2,000
Eduardo A. Lucio Cornell Employees PAC 6/29/2010 Democrat $1,500
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NPR: Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law

NPR In the aftermath of Arizona's racist immigration law SB 1070, NPR has exposed links between private prison companies and Arizona lawmakers.  This story is the latest from mainstream news organizations working to document connections between the for-profit prison industry and policymaking.  Earlier this year, Rachel Maddow and a local news organization in Arizona ran a similar story.

This report has implications for Texas since it highlights the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to ALEC's website, several state lawmakers participate in ALEC public sector committees. State Reps Joe Driver and Jerry Madden sit on the Public Safety and Elections committee while company officials from the American Bail Coalition and prison profiteer Corrections Corporation of America sit on the committee's private sector counter part. 

And several years ago, former State Rep. Ray Allen who was reported to have ties to ALEC and preceded Rep. Madden as chairman of the House Corrections committee, was caught in a scandal.  Allen was reported to be lobbying in other state legislatures on behalf of a private corrections company

According to NPR, additional reports will be published on ALEC's influence in state legislatures.  We will update this story as more information becomes available. 

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Nominee for U.S. Marshals director has ties to GEO


hile I'm admittedly not a regular Washington Times reader by any measure, this story ("Marshals Service nominee may have a client conflict," October 25) did jump out at me.  According to the story,

Between leaving her post as federal detention trustee and her recent nomination as the next U.S. marshal, Justice Department veteran Stacia Hylton got a consulting contract with one of the largest private correctional companies in the country, records show.

The arrangement with the Florida-based GEO Group Inc., which has carried out tens of millions of dollars in contracts for the U.S. Marshals Service, was disclosed in a recent financial report obtained by The Washington Times through the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

One prominent prison industry observer said the ties raise concerns about conflicts of interest.

"The massive conflicts of interest with Ms. Hylton having been employed by GEO Group typify the revolving door of corporate lobbyists and government employees that President Obama promised to end if elected," said Paul Wright, editor and co-founder of Prison Legal News, which covers the prison industry.

Mr. Wright said he was concerned that Ms. Hylton would "be in a position to further reward the GEO Group with taxpayer money and little accountability or oversight." "The real and apparent conflict of interest is as massive as it is obvious," he said.

I tend to agree with Paul Wright.  The U.S. Marshals are one of the biggest contractors with the private prison industry, out-sourcing nearly all of their beds in Texas and around the country.  As the story notes,

In a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company noted that about 13 percent of its consolidated revenues for the fiscal year that ended Jan. 3 came from U.S. marshals. The company reported consolidated revenues for the year of $1.1 billion.

Here in Texas, the U.S. Marshals have contracts with at least 15 private lock-ups, including GEO's massive Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo.  Dubbed the Laredo "superjail" in the local media, this facility was constructed, despite local and statewide opposition (including by my organization, Grassroots Leadership, after a ramp-up in criminal prosecutions of non-violent border-crossers. 

A report by Grassroots Leadership this summer entitled Operation Streamline: Drowning Justice and Draining Dollars Along the Rio Grande, demonstrates how criminal prosecutions of border-crossers, a relatively new phenomena expanded by a policy called Operation Streamline.  The report estimates that the policy has been a $1 billion give-away to the private prison industry in Texas alone. 

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America's Program covers rise of private immigrant detention system

Peter Cervantes-Gautschi at the America's Program ("Wall Street and the Criminalization of Immigrants," October 6) has an in-depth look at the way that criminalization of immigration is benefiting the private prison industry.  Here's an exceprt:

Over the past four years roughly a million immigrants have been incarcerated in dangerous detention facilities in our taxpayer-financed private prison system. A growing number of news reports and investigations confirm that for many of the people funneled into this system, it is a living nightmare. Children were abused, women were raped, and men died from lack of basic medical attention.

These facilities are run by two Wall Street-backed companies that actively promote the criminalization and incarceration of immigrants in the United States -the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group.

The article also traces the rise of the well-connected private prison lobby in Washington:

GEO CEO, George Zoley, was a Bush “Pioneer” who bundled more than $100,000 in contributions for the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, GEO was successful in securing the contract to run the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

GEO hired the services of lobbyists who had held influential positions in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Prisons, Office of the Attorney General, and the office of then-Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell, to lobby their former employers and Congress. Throughout 2005 and leading up to the largest immigration raid in U.S. history in December 2006, GEO and CCA spent a combined total of over $6 million on lobbying efforts.

On May 1, 2006, while millions of people marched in favor of immigrant rights in 102 cities across the country, GEO and CCA were lobbying the federal government for more business. The marchers, despite their historic turnout and broad citizen base, could not block the growing wave of government support of GEO’s and CCA’s business plans.

And, the article covers the industry's ties to Arizona's harsh new immigraiton law:

The result of this shift in business focus is exemplified by CCA’s role in Arizona’s SB 1070 and both CCA’s and GEO’s roles in other legislative efforts aimed at dramatically increased numbers arrests of undocumented immigrants in over 20 states. Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer, who received substantial campaign financing from top CCA executives in Tennessee and employs two former CCA lobbyists Chuck Coughlin and Paul Sensman, as top aides, signed SB 1070 into law on April 23.

On Friday, July 30, 2010 the Republican Governors Association, which so far this year has received over $160,000 in contributions from CCA and GEO, and their respective lobbyists, sent out a nationwide solicitation written by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer requesting contributions to fund an appeal of the partial injunction issued by a judge against SB 1070.

In addition to funds raised by the partisan appeal, Brewer’s legal effort has been bolstered by supporting briefs filed with the appeals court by three states– Florida, Texas and Virginia–that have contracts with GEO or with both GEO and CCA. The two prison companies are currently ramping up their political involvement in these states and in several others that have anti-immigrant bills moving through their respective legislatures. In all, twenty states are considering SB 1070-inspired bills, which have been endorsed by their respective Republican gubernatorial candidates, financed in large part by the Republican Governor’s Association.

The entire article is worth a read.  Check it out here.

Harris County to Study Privatizating Entire Jail System

Harris County
Harris County
The Harris County Commission has voted to open study on privatizing the entirity of that county's massive jail system (Kevin Reece, "Harris County to study privatizing Harris County Jail", KHOU, September 28,)

In a budget debate that included discussion of possibly raising Harris County taxes by 2012, ending take-home car privileges for county employees and closing county parks one day each week, Harris County Commissioners agreed to study the idea of handing over the Harris County Detention System to a private company.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack proposed the jail privatization idea as one of several ways for the county to trim its budget. The county’s budget officer told commissioners that, at the present mid-year review, the county has $34 million less to work with than expected and could have as much as $51 million less by the end of the fiscal year.

Harris County's jail system, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, had 9,074 pre-trial detainees as of September 1st and a capacity of 11,006.  Privatization of that system would make it the largest private jail or prison in the nation.  Harris already sends 1,500 inmates to private jails. 

According to the Houston Chronicle (Chris Moran, "Garcia endures rough day at court; County leaders strike back at call to fill vacancies," Sept. 28), Sheriff Adrian Garcia, appears to be lukewarm on the idea of privatization,

Garcia said he is not opposed to privatization, but pointed out that state law puts the sheriff in charge of the county jail. Even if the county contracted jailers, he said, "The law holds me accountable for the inmates. It holds me accountable for the treatment of those inmates."

Then there are the employees who work in the jail. "I don't know if that (privatization) is code for firing employees," Garcia said.

Clearly, privatization is a huge decision, and one that Harris County Commissioners must make carefully.  We will be covering this issue in earnest.