Lobbying and Influence

Top 10 Prison Industry Lobbyists in the Lonestar State, 2013 edition

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Last January, Piper revealed the top 5 private prison industry lobbyists in Texas in 2012: Lionel Aguirre, Michael Toomey, Frank R. Santos, Lara Laneri Keel, and Dean McWilliams. 

According to the Texas Ethics Commission's records for 2013, several of the aforementioned legislators have continued to lobby for the private prison industry, and several more names have come across our radar as well. 

1. Lionel Aguirre  

Aguirre received $25,000 from both Correctional Healthcare Companies, a private corrections healthcare company, and Correct Rx Pharmacy Services, which provides institutional pharmacy services. Aguirre also received $50,000 from GEO Group in 2013. Aguirre is registerd as a lobbyist for GEO Care, which claims to provide mental health services. He has served as a lawyer for GEO Group in the past and has and has received fat paychecks from them in recent years.

2. Tied: Lara Laneri Keel and Michael Toomey  

Keel and received $50,000 from the Corrections corporation of America (CCA) in 2013. In 2011 and 2012, Keel took $50,000-$100,000 from CCA. Keel is also a member of the Texas Lobby Group and the director of the Texas Conservative Coatlition Research Institute.

4. Michael Toomey 

Toomey received $50,000 from CCA in 2012, and is allegedly close to Rick Perry.

5. Frank R. Santos

Santos, who refers to himself as the top Hispanic lobbyist in Texas, received $50,000  from GEO Care, a division of GEO Group that operates state psychiatric hospitals for civil and forensic patients. GEO Group operates seven detention centers and twenty prisons in Texas.  

6. Dean R. McWilliams  

McWilliams received $25,000-$49,999.99 from Community Education Centers (CEC), the same company that operates the Polk County Detention Center in Livingston, TX. He held a contract with CEC in 2011 and 2012 for $50,000-$100,000, and is the co-founder of McWilliams Governmental Affairs Consultants. He is also proud of his service on the Legislative Budget Board Task Force on Health Care, as well as on the Lieutenant Governor's Task Force on Prison Overcrowding.

7. Allen Place 

Place, who is a newcomer to this list, received $25,000-$49,999.99 from Management and Training Corporation (MTC). According to the Texas Tribune Lobbyists Directory, Place has also received money from the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and the Texas Land Title Association. 

8. William J. Miller 

Miller received between $10,000 and $24,999.99 from GEO Care, a divison of GEO Group that provides mental health care. Williams is a government affairs consultant in Austin

9.  Gabriel G. Sepulveda 

Sepulveda, a consultant based in Austin, received less than $10,000 from the GEO Group in 2013. Goodman, also a consultant in Austin, also received less than $10,000. Goodman has also received money from the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas. 

10. Christie L. Goodman 

Goodman, also a consultant in Austin, also received less than $10,000 From GEO Group. Goodman has also received money from the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas, whose website is sponsored by Abraxas, a GEO Group company that operates juvenile facilties.

Gov. Chris Christie a long-time supporter of CEC, which runs the Polk County Detention Center

Salon Media reports today that New Jersey governor Chris Christie promotes Community Education Centers (CEC), a for-profit prison company. The facility is used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrant men who are seeking asylum in the United States ("Chris Christie's Texas Horror: Meet the Scandalous Prison Company he's Long Promoted," 1/24/14). 

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, visited Polk in 2012 and 2013 with other activists. Libal claims that "I've visited a bunch of detention facilities in Texas, and that's by far the worst." Libal's sentiments are reflected in a report released by the Detention Watch Network, a coalition comprised of the ACLU, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Grassroots Leadership, and others. The report alleges that those incarcerated at Polk receive inadequate medical care, poor nutrition, are neglected, and do not have access to legal services. An ICE spokesperson claims that these allegations, as well as similar ones reported during Grassroots Leadership's and Texans United for Families' visit to Polk in 2013, are based on "unsubstantiated allegations." 

Christie support of CEC harkens back to 2000 and 2001, when Christie was a registered lobbyist for the company. The state of New Jersey has also contributed financially to CEC. Former CEC employees told the New York Times "that the company had kept staffing levels very low" and "did a poor job delivering counseling and other services intended to help inmates make the transition to society." Christie vetoed improvements in New Jersey halfway houses operated by CEC, and is a close friend of Bill Patalucci, a CEC executive. Patalucci later served as chairman of Christie's 2013 re-election committee and he and Christie's brother co-chaired Christie's inaugural committee. 

Libal points out that CEC continues to use Christie's support for the company as a public relations tool. Governor Christie spoke at the ten-year anniversary of the Dleaney Hall New Jersey Halfway House two years prior to the facility became the subject of a New York Times investigation. Christie had this to say about the facility:

"Places like this are to be celebrated. A spotlight should be put on them as representing the very best of the human spirit. Because when you walk through here as I've done many times, what you see with your very eyes are miracles happening."

TPJ Files Ethics Complaint Against GEO PAC for Campaign Contribution Reporting

Last week, Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint (PDF) with the Texas Ethics Commission claiming irregularities in reporting by the Political Action Commission of private prison corporations GEO Group.  

The complaint alleges that GEO reported that it had given State Representative Harvey Hildebran and State Senator Troy Fraser campaign donations of $1,000 and $5,000 respectively.  However, neither donation showed up on the candidates filings, indicating that the donations may have been returned, a fact that GEO's PAC should have reported.

The donations occured in the midst of a heated fight over a bid to private the Kerrville State Hospital by GEO subsidiary GEO Care.  Kerrville is represented by both Hilderbran and Fraser, and both opposed privatization of the hospital.  After outrage from mental health and criminal justice organizations (including Grassroots Leadership, my organization), local residents, and elected officials, the privatization proposal was scrapped.

Can Texas Politicians Say No To Private Prison Money?

Students at Florida Atlantic University, where GEO Group tried to buy naming rights to the football stadium, have started a campaign to get Florida Democrats to pledge not to accept money from the for-profit prison company.  The Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Palm Beach County has put their support behind and released an official statement:

"Whereas, the GEO Group, a private prison contractor headquartered in Boca Raton, FL, has a history of human rights violations and abuses at its detention facilities in the U.S. and abroad, including sexual abuse, negligent deaths, and solitary confinement of minors [...]

Be it resolved, that the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Palm Beach County urges the Florida Democratic Party and Democratic Party elected officials and candidates to not accept any campaign donations from the GEO Group or its business and political affiliates."

Nearly half of GEO Group's lobbying dollars have gone to Florida candidates and PACs (about $2.1 million out of $4.5 million).  However, the lions share of that -- $1.9 million, to be exact -- have gone to the Republican Party of Florida, and about $80,700 to former governor Charles Crist.  The Florida Democratic Party has received $229,100; only one Democratic candidate, State Representative Bobby Powell, has received money from GEO Group, to the tune of $500.  The pledge would largely be a symbolic move for Florida Democrats, but as Michael Sotelo, Vice President of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Palm Beach County, said in a statement, the boycott would

"send a message to the Democratic Party that if they're serious about immigration reform and the Hispanic vote, they should not be taking money from a company that profits off the incarceration and persecution of immigrants."

Texas candidates have received much less -- a little over $100,000 since 2003 -- according to a search on FollowTheMoney.org.  Sixty seven candidates have taken money from GEO; Governor Rick Perry received the most, at $11,000.  Corrections Corporation of America, GEO's largest competitor, gave Perry $20,000 out of the $23,000 it's given to four Texas candidates (all Republicans) since 2004.  As we covered earlier this year, both GEO and CCA also have spent hundreds of thousands paying lobbyists to shill private prisons to Texas legislators.

As momentum behind the pledge picks up, we have to ask: if Florida politicians are willing to turn their back on private prison money, can Texans follow suit?

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