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.
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?
With the Texas legislative session underway, Texas Prison Bid’ness is shining the spotlight on five of the top private prison lobbyists in our state. As we’ve covered before, GEO Group, CCA, CEC, and MTC pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for lobbying services and campaign contributions for state and federal legislators. Here are five men and women who profit the most from peddling private prisons, jails, and detention centers in Texas:
1. LIONEL AGUIRRE
Leo is no stranger to the Texas Prison Bid’ness blog. He’s been earning top dollar as a GEO Group lawyer for years; his $200,000+ contracts with GEO are some of the fattest in the state. He reported a $100,000-$150,000 salary in 2011 and $50,000-$100,000 in 2012.
Aguirre was married to the late Lena Guerrero, a three-term state representative and the first Latina chair of the powerful Texas Railroad Commission, the agency in charge of regulating the oil and gas industry. Lionel himself was the executive of the state comptroller’s office before moving into the private sector.
2. MICHAEL TOOMEY
Last year, CCA paid Toomey $50,000-$100,000 to lobby for them in the Texas state government. He’s earned himself a lot of press as one of Rick Perry’s inner circle, including articles in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Mother Jones. Between 2008 and 2011, Toomey’s clients won $2 billion in state government contracts, according to a study by the NYT and the Texas Tribune.
3. FRANK R. SANTOS
Santos, the founder of Santos Alliances, calls himself the top Hispanic lobbyist in Texas, and was named the #3 Lobbyist in the State by the San Antonio Express-News in 2006. Santos is the chairman of the Board of Directors for the Senate Hispanic Research Council; the chief national consultant and strategist for the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. He is also one of GEO Group’s top paid lobbyists in Texas, earning $50,000-$100,000 in both 2011 and 2012. GEO Group operates seven detention centers and twenty prisons in Texas.
4. LARA LANERI KEEL
Ranked as the 2011 Top Female Hired-Gun Lobbyist in the state by Capitol Inside, Keel took in $50,000-$100,000 from Corrections Corporation of America in both 2011 and 2012. Keel is a member of the powerful Texas Lobby Group and director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. She’s married to John Keel, the State Auditor since 2004.
5. DEAN McWILLIAMS
Co-founder of McWilliams Governmental Affairs Consultants, McWilliams has earned a spot as a top grossing lobbyist in this state; he held a $50,000-$100,000 contract with Community Education Centers (CEC) in 2011 and 2012. On his website, Dean boasts of his close ties to the government, having served on the Legislative Budget Board Task Force on Health Care Reform and the Lieutenant Governor’s Task Force on Prison Overcrowding.
This week, Bob and I participated in a webinar hosted by Detention Watch Network and our respective organizations, The Sentencing Project and Grassroots Leadership. The webinar addressed the relationship between for-profit prisons and immigrant detention.
Cody Mason, with The Sentencing Project, presented on the recent report, Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention, where he discussed the growth in ICE and USMS contract capacity for immigrant detention. Bob discussed how Operation Streamline is driving growth in immigrant detention through the increased prosecutions of certain federal offenses that have moved immigration policy into the criminal justice system. Also, Emily Tucker with the Detention Watch Network focused her remarks on the problems with mandatory detention and the unjust federal and state policies that have expanding the government’s authority to detain people. The call also featured Hope Mustakim of Texas; her husband Nazry immigrated from Singapore several years ago and due to changes in immigration policy was detained in the South Texas Detention Center in 2011.
A few notable facts reported during the webinar are:
Nearly 200 people registered for the webinar, representing communities of faith, impacted communities, and organizers working towards immigration and criminal justice reform. Folks can download the webinar here until August 29th.