Monday, November 08, 2010

Purchasing Access: Examining the GEO Group's Texas political expenditures

National Public Radio recently ran a story about how private prison companies helped write Arizona's controversial statute (currently being litigated in federal court) requiring local police to arrest and detain illegal immigrants. Private prison companies' interest in immigration law should come as little surprise for Grits readers: Nearly five years ago I wrote that the potential for expanded detention of illegal immigrants appeared virtually "limitless,"and this blog has long lamented the extra costs to county jails from such policies.

The NPR story inspired me this a.m. to look more closely at private prisons' political influence in Texas, and I plan to follow up with additional, related posts in the coming weeks. A 2006 public policy report (pdf) from the Institute on Money in State Politics identified Texas pols as the second largest recipient of private prison political spending after Florida.

The three big players in Texas' market are the GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and a company called Management and Training Corporation (MTC) out of Utah. Of the three, only the GEO Group operates a state-level PAC in Texas. CCA and MTC's contributions appear to come mainly from individuals associated with the company, which are a bit more time consuming to track, so let's start with the Geo Group.

I went through the contribution reports for the Texas Geo Group Inc. PAC for this last election cycle and compiled a list of all Texas House and Senate members who both a) received contributions from GEO in 2009 and/or 2010 and b) won their elections and will be in the Legislature next year. Here's that list, with totals combined from multiple reports:
Byron Cook: $500
Charlie Geren: $500
Armando Martinez:$250
John Zerwas: $250
Phil King: $500
Rob Orr: $500
Sid Miller: $500
Doug Miller: $1,000
Drew Darby: $1,000
Rob Eissler: $1,000
Brandon Creighton: $1,000
Garnet Coleman: $1,000
Jim Pitts: $2,000
John Otto: $1,000
Mike Hamilton: $1,000
Ralph Sheffield: $250
Rene Oliveira: $1,000

John Whitmire: $3,000
Juan Hinojosa: $2,000
Judith Zaffirini: $2,000
Bob Deuell: $1,000
Steve Ogden: $1,000
Glenn Hegar: $500
Florence Shapiro: $500
Robert Nichols: $1,000
Tommy Williams: $2,000
Carlos Uresti: $1,250
In a pre-election post, Bob Libal at Texas Prison Bidness identified these additional donations from another entity, The GEO Group PAC, which I could not find on the Texas Ethics Commission website:
Gov. Rick Perry: $5,000
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst: $2,500
Sen. John Whitmire: $2,500
GEO also gave money to a number of Democratic incumbents who failed to win reelection, and spread money around liberally in local races in Montgomery, Webb, and Val Verde counties, where the company has pressed local politicians to partner on detention facilities.

Notably, reports Texas Prison Bidness, the GEO Group has lost six contracts in recent years with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, mostly to MTC.

In addition to campaign contributions, the GEO Group has hired a team of high-powered lobbyists in 2010 according to this list (xls) from the Ethics Commission:
  • Michelle Wittenberg ($25,000 - $49,999)
  • Lionel "Leo" Aguirre ($200,000 - $249,999)
  • Luis E. Gonzalez (less than $10,000)
  • Laura McPartland Matz (less than $10,000)
  • William J. Miller ($25,000 - $49,999)
  • Frank R. Santos ($50,000 - $99,999)
While certainly many companies hire more lobbyists than GEO every session, in the small pond of criminal justice politics this is significant: Certainly no reform group - and probably not all reform groups collectively - have six paid lobbyists opposing expansion of the prison-industrial complex.

Some of these lobbyists are themselves large donors. Bill Miller of Hillco Partners is a frequent campaign contributor, mostly to incumbent legislators, and Luis Gonzalez gave $50,000 to Rick Perry's reelection campaign, according to, dwarfing GEO's gubernatorial contribution. 

Whether these insider advocates and GEO's campaign contributions can stem the company's recent losing streak regarding TDCJ contracts remains to be seen. But in 2009, the company's lobbyists demonstrated their clout by getting the conference committee on the state budget to include funding for a mental health facility in Montgomery County that neither chamber had previously approved, so these folks definitely have stroke.

See prior, related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

I guess this is the liberal dogooder coming out in me, but I feel there is something inherently immoral about profit from misery. So I think for profit prisons are inherently immoral. Not for profit ones only slightly less so.

The Left Reverend from Tulia

Anonymous said...

Politics as usual so nothing new here, if it were lobbyist promoting an agenda you agree with they would be the salt of the Earth.

All states bordering Mexico have legitimate concerns regardless of where the campaign contributions come from or who hopes to benefit. To turn a blind eye to the fact that our borders are breached daily by anybody that wishes to come into our country is wrong on so many levels that I couldn’t see finding a reason to support anything to the contrary with a telescope.

At the same time I believe that the only answer to those already here is in documentation and amnesty but until that happens let the Border States do what they have to do, anyway they see fit to do it until the borders are sealed.

I have a much bigger problem with tax dollars supporting the left wing agenda of the NPR or being used to support any political agenda, it’s outrageous on its face and they lost credibility decades ago long before firing Juan Williams.

The knee buckling of defunding them over the threat of Big Bird in the 90’s is the scarlet letter that lawmakers should be made to wear until they are defunded.

If they or Acorn or any other tax funded entity wishes to promote a political agenda then do it on your own dime, go ask the Unions for support and even though many of their own membership will disagree and think the money would be better used for other things the Unions aren’t really all that interested in what their membership think anyway and will probably help support NPR if they aren’t already.

Political contributions go both ways and only prove that all (politicians) are in it for the money.

So while you’re looking up who to point fingers at don’t forget there are two sides to that coin and taxpayers are being made to pay up front and out in the open to support ideals they do not believe in; so which is worse private enterprise spending their own money to protect themselves or the government spending our money against our will?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:26 asks: "so which is worse private enterprise spending their own money to protect themselves or the government spending our money against our will?"

I'd say there's a third option that's worse, which is what's described by NPR: Private enterprise spending their money to convince the government to give them much, MUCH more of ours.

This is an excellent example of where Big Government Conservatism comes from.

Anonymous said...

Like I said, it works both ways.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:18, I'd say corporations lobbying for taxpayer handouts works mainly as a one-way ratchet.

texas maverick said...

This might be a place to start your research.

Anonymous said...

Call it what you will, in the much, MUCH more category, an epic proportion of tax dollars have been spent in the last two years so while you’re wearing that blind fold try pinning the tail on the donkey too.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

3:11, this blog only covers criminal justice topics, and mostly at the state level at that. It strikes me, though, that you seem to be selective about your criticism of overspending. If you're against Big Government, oppose it in all its forms, including lobbyist-driven corporate welfare.

Anonymous said...

I do agree, (whole heartedly) my beef is that it is all the same and I simply do not care for reporting by the NPR. They have no credibility in fact much less than I would give the National Inquirer, they are bias and have an agenda and I have no problem whatsoever with (that) either as long as they have no tax funding (none). If tax funding is a requirement then report fairly on both sides of issues. If Big Government is wrong then it’s wrong, and it is wrong so report it and here they did. I just wish they were the watchdogs for all so that my stomach wouldn’t turn and I didn’t feel like they hijacked Big Bird.

My preference is the reduction of all the above and in an ideal world all politicians would be limited both in campaign funding equally and in length of service, special interest should be taken completely out of the equation.

I see no need for private prisons unless undisputed proof shows they offer more for less.

As I stated in your blog “other states closing prisons” my personal belief is that a huge number of first and second offense non-violent misdemeanor and felony convictions should never see a prison door nor should they be subjected to treatment under government control, recidivism should be the only measuring stick provided that a court can reasonably determine that the convicted has the support of family and community to help them succeed.

Reduce prison population, cut spending on as much government bureaucracy as is possible on the front end and shift as much as possible toward rehabilitation in prison and real help in order to integrate back into society once released on the back end.

I do not care one bit for the politics of the GOP and even less for the politics of the Democrats and where criminal justice is concerned a huge input of “get real” needs to happen.

So I apologize if I let three letters send me off on a rant, I’ll try to control myself better.

Anonymous said...

In response to: "so which is worse private enterprise spending their own money to protect themselves or the government spending our money against our will?"

private prison corporations are actually spending government money to lobby the government, since they have no revenue that is not earned through government contracts.

Anonymous said...

Excellent point and one that I missed entirely, now I hate them and the NPR.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Excellent comments, 6:28, thanks for that. You too, 8:51.

BTW, can I please suggest that y'all (and all other regular commenters) who want to comment anonymously consider adopting some nom de plume (just pick the first silly thing that comes to mind, is how I came up with GFB) and, even if you don't want to set up a Google Account, use that in the "Name/URL" option under "Choose an Identity"? (You're not required to add a URL.)

It'd help me (and I'm sure others) to link trains of thought across multiple comment strings and makes these multiple anon strings a lot easier to follow. Just a non-binding request from the house. :)

titfortat said...

Ok, you got it here’s (the alias), and you’re welcome, you know I’m prone to rants on issues here so thanks for not using the veto.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Left Reverend. Notice Gov Perry is on that list? HMMMMMM
Can you say "special interest groups associated with gov perry?" How many different ways! Stooopid Texans!

Anonymous said...

Training Conference.

2010 Sheriffs Association of Texas Training Conference sponsors

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Anonymous said...

GEO group and C.C.A and other private prison corporations ain't crooks or criminals. They are business operating well within there rights of free enterprise. The state and federal governments simply can't house all the scum and piece of shit murderers and sex offenders and pimps and every other form of low life running around out there that don't deserve to walk free. So they jumped on it. you can't get mad at business men for taking advantage of business in a legal manner.