Lobbying and Influence

Superdelegate Has Ties to CCA

Tracie McMillan over at the Huffington Post has profiled Superdelegate Joseph F. Johnson, a former Corrections Corporation of America board member. He is a member-at-large of the Democratic National Committee from Chantilliy, Virginia - a suburb of Washington D.C.

Reports indicate that he is supporting Senator Hillary Clinton. However, he has not publicly committed to either Clinton nor Senator Barack Obama. In fact, Johnson has donated to both campaigns:

  • Records show that he and Sharron Johnson (of the same address) each donated a legal maximum of $2300 to Senator Clinton's campaign in late 2007; and
  • In the summer of 2007, Johnson gave $1,000 to Senator Obama.

Johnson was appointed to the board of Corrections Corporation of America, the largest operator of private prisons in the country. While serving in that position from 1996 to 1999, Johnson earned accolades and handsome rewards from CCA for convincing Washington, D.C. to send prisoners to CCA's Youngstown, Ohio prison. Johnson also has a history of lobbying for private prison companies in Texas and around the nation.

The private prison in Ohio had a notorious reputation for violence and escapes. By 1998, there had been two fatal stabbings, 44 assaults, and six escapes at the prison. Despite the egregiousness of the incidents, Johnson claims that no one's was to blame. According to McMillan's article:

Mr. Johnson nonetheless profited from the deal, receiving $2.6 million in stock options for his work linking CCA with officials in Washington, D.C. Calling his work "instrumental" to their receipt of the contract, CCA said that Mr. Johnson had "exceeded his duties and obligations" to the company and also paid him $382,000 for his "consulting services" in helping to arrange the deal, and $991,000 for NCRC's services in another CCA prison in Texas.

What an interesting development in the presidential campaign that keeps on going. As potential president-makers, the Superdelegates continue to face scrutiny. It will be interesting to see if any others are linked to private prison companies.

Inexperienced CCA insider nominated for a federal judgeship

PuryearPuryearIn June 2007, President Bush nominated Gustavus A. Puryear IV, a Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) lawyer, for a federal judgeship in the Middle District of Tennessee-- the same U.S. District Court where CCA is headquartered and where much of the litigation against the company takes place.

Puryear's nomination has not been approved by the US Senate (his nomination hearing was held February 12th), but if it is, a troubling conflict of interests will arise. The former CCA lobbyist would work in the same district that most lawsuits against against his old company and its executives are filed. According to Tennesseans Against Puryear, a grassroots organization opposing Puryear's nomination, the Middle District of Tennessee has handled over 260 cases naming CCA or CCA executives or staff since 2000.

CCA has put millions in Puryear's pockets, and allowing him to preside over cases in the district where his old company is headquartered may threaten the foundation of of fairness and impartiality that is central to our judicial system.

Puryear said he would recuse himself from cases involving CCA, which slightly mitigates the conflict of interest that would inherit his federal judgeship, but it still doesn't smell right. Having a wealthy corporate lawyer preside over cases in the district where his old corporation is based makes me cringe.

Puryear inexperienced

In addition to a conflict of interest inherent in a Puryear's judgeship, it seems that Puryear may not even have the proper legal qualifications to take on the role of a federal judge. Puryear has never served as a judge, he has little trial experience, and his last six years of work have been spent as a corporate lawyer.

According to Tenneseans Against Puryear, "Puryear has been actively involved in just five federal cases and only one trial in Tennessee, most recently 10 years ago." The Gannette News Service wrote about Puryear's experience problem in the end of February:

"Puryear's lack of trial experience is a greater concern than his role as a corporate lawyer and his lack of judicial service, said Professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Michigan Law School.

Puryear's lack of trial experience is likely why he received a 'qualified' rating by the American Bar Association, instead of the higher "well qualified," Laycock said.

Of the 67 judges nominated by President Bush since January 2007, 14 received a unanimous or majority 'qualified' rating. The rest had unanimous or majority 'well-qualified' ratings."

Puryear's position as general counsel and lobbyist for CCA didn't net him any trial experience, and it certainly has not prepared him for the federal bench. As the top attorney and a top executive for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Puryear spent much of his time at the company's Nashville headquarters stemming a tide of inmates' civil rights lawsuits, finding legal niches to shield CCA from public scrutiny, negotiating new private prison contracts, lobbying the federal government to pass pro-CCA legislation, and fighting off a slew of lawsuits brought by sharholders angered by the company's shady financial practices in 2001.

More information

CCA Spent $2.5 million on Lobbying Federal Government in 2007

Via the T. Don Hutto blog, Forbes has an article detailing that Corrections Corporation of America, operator of many private prisons in Texas including the T. Don Hutto family prison, spent a whopping $2.5 million lobbying the federal government in 2007. This amount is on top of the $180,000-$235,000 that CCA spent lobbying in Texas in 2007.

According to the article, the lobbying came in three major areas: 1) lobbying to privatize the Bureau of Indian Affairs prison system, 2) lobbying against the Public Safety Act which would outlaw private prisons, and 3) lobbying against the Private Prison Information Act which would give the public the same access to private prison information as public prisons.

In addition to lobbying Congress, CCA lobbied the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and other federal agencies. Homeland Security and DOJ are big targets for private prison corporations because they hand out lucrative federal detention contracts, which have become a boom industry for private prisons as the immigration law becomes more punitive.

The article goes on to list some of CCA's lobbyists who include such well-heeled folks as:

  • Bart VerHulst, previously chief of staff for former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.;
  • Mike Quinlan, former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; and
  • Gus Puryear, previously counsel to Frist and an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Followers of private prison news may know that Gus Puryear, in addition to being a former CCA lawyer and lobbyist and aid to Frist and Cheney, is a current nominee for the federal judgeship in Nashville. His nomination has drawn considerable opposition.

One of the ironies of the private prison industry is that, because the company's profit is all garnered through government contracts, all $2.5 million spent by CCA on lobbying was originally government money that CCA made off previous government contracts. We'll keep you updated on further news about private prison corporations lobbying.

The New Yorker features Hutto

The New Yorker magazine features the T. Don Hutton facility its latest edition. The article entitled "The Lost Children," by Margaret Talbot offers a comprehensive analysis of the policy issues that led to family detention at Hutto. The article is available in the March 3rd edition of the magazine and should be available online over the next few weeks.

The article charts the flawed policy changes undertaken by the Department of Homeland Security. Specifically, Talbot mentions that immigrant detention increased by 79% in 2006 from the previous year due to the end of "catch-and-release" in 2005.

Yet, the article also mentions that the government recommended several alternatives to incarceration for undocumented immigrants and their children including the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program which allows people waiting for their cases to be decided to be released to the community provided they are tracked by:

  • electronic monitoring bracelets;
  • curefews; and
  • regular contact with a caseworker.

The government established several pilot programs and determined the community supervision of undocumented immigrants is effective; 90% of the people enrolled in these programs show up for their court dates.

The article also features a comments by our Judy Greene who emphasizes that clear problems with private prison facilities include their ability to circumvent the release of information regarding their facilties such as use of force against prisoners.

The article provides a wealth of information regarding Hutto and the policy changes that created it. We invite you to obtain the last copy of the New Yorker to add to your library. We will update the post with the link when it becomes available.

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