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.
In 1990, there were 7,771 prisoners held in private prison facilities in the US. By 2009, that number had jumped to 129,336, a 1664 percent increase. Along the way, private prisons became a multi-billion dollar industry. This growth was fueled, in part, by the “pitch” that privatizing prisons would save tax dollars. As the ACLU documented in its new report, Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration, the private prison industry’s narrative is in need of serious revision.
Last spring, the myth of cost savings through prison privatization was shot down by the head of Texas prisons, Brad Livingston, who testified before the House Corrections Committee that non-salary operating costs of public and private facilities are almost identical (Texas House Committee on Corrections, 4/13/11, at 1:31:08). The ACLU report also found that private prisons may fail to save tax payer money, and furthermore, in order to maximize profits, they are strongly incentivized to cut corners which can result in poorly trained employees, and affect the wellbeing of prisoners.
So, if private prisons aren’t cheaper, aren’t more efficient, and aren’t run in a better manner why do we have them? A major reason, as the report documented, is that beginning in the 1990s the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that brings together state legislators and corporations to discuss public policy and draft model legislation, began to push legislation that would result in mass incarceration and promote private prisons. Some of this legislation, such as “truth in sentencing” and “three strikes” laws may sound familiar. During this time, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the leading private prison company, played a lead role on the ALEC task force developing some of this legislation. In addition to ALEC, the private prison industry employs an army of lobbyists throughout the country. CCA and The GEO Group, Inc., the two largest private prison corporations, hired 271 lobbyists in over 32 states between 2003-2011. Between 1999 and 2009, CCA alone spent over $18 million on lobbying, just at the federal level.
Mass incarceration is the natural by-product of a powerful industry whose bottom line requires incarcerating as many people as possible, regardless of the impact. And, the private prison companies don’t try to hide their goals. For example, this is what GEO stated in its filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (The report shows that CCA had a similar statement in its SEC filing):
“reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us.”
This model is broken because it is based on incarceration instead of crime prevention. For-profit private prisons are not the answer to making our streets safer and our society more productive. Instead, we must focus on creating a system that is less is harmful to our pocketbooks, protects our safety, and respects basic human dignity. Read the full ACLU report here.
Matt Pulle over at the Texas Watchdog has published a very interesting four-page expose on the GEO Group's connections to the state capitol. The report focuses on two personal connections between state legislators and the troubled private prison company. Here's an excerpt:
Two state lawmakers from South Texas have financial ties to a private prison firm that runs facilities for the Texas state prison system — at a time when lawmakers are debating sweeping new measures to clamp down on corrections companies.
State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, have financial links to the GEO Group, a Florida-based firm that runs 19 correctional facilities in Texas, including nine under contract for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The report then goes on to detail on a number of issues including,