October 1, 2011
In Arizona, prison profiteers have embedded themselves within the capital and have been influencing our elected state officials. Influencing laws that go before lawmakers and whether they pass. Influence that contributes to the historic budget crisis significantly going on in Arizona.
Duly elected by Arizona voters to represent them, create & enact laws for them and govern, State legislators and the governor are in highly important and trusted public office positions. Additionally, the governor appoints/hires other to closely work in the official and political campaign offices.
Arizona Governor Janice Brewer's close ties to the private prison industry were revealed in an October 28, 2010 investigation by the National Public Radio (NPR), as well as Arizona State Senator, Senate President Russell Pearce and a number of other state lawmakers.
Gov. Brewer's staff of lobbyists and former lobbyists have been allowed to shape our laws and control decisions that affect the lives of countless Arizonians.
Brewer's staff of special interest lobbyists run the show, while Arizona and its citizens suffer the consequences. Schools, teachers, students, the sick, disturbed and dying. Everybody and everything most of us were taught to care for and protect has been suffering the most. Brewer's staff are just a few lobbying quietly behind the scenes with ties to private prisons:
Chuck Coughlin, Brewer's campaign manager: Registered Lobbyist, President of Highground Public Affairs Consultants (who has represented Corrections Corporation of America-CCA)
Doug Cole, Brewer's campaign spokesman: Registered Lobbyist for Highground
Paul Senseman, Brewer's communications director: Former Lobbyist for Private Prison
Eileen Klein, Brewer's chief of staff: Former Lobbyist
Mark Genrich, Brewer's deputy communications director: Registered Lobbyist
Richard Bark, Brewer's deputy chief of staff: Former Lobbyist
Kevin Kinsall, Brewer's policy advisor: Former Lobbyist
Revealed in the wake of 3 Arizona Dept. of Corrections prisoners' escape from a CCA facility in Kingman, AZ and brutal murder of an elderly couple, Arizona's use of private prisons was not cheaper, nor safer. Yet, the Governor, legislators and ADOC continue to pursue the use of private prisons in Arizona.
One of Arizona's most controversial pieces of legislation that ignited fiery protests felt around the world was quietly drafted and passed from behind the scenes with the help of an industry that stood to benefit from it: the private prison industry. Senate Bill 1070 was the legislation.
Requiring police to lock up anyone they stop who cannot show proof that they entered the country legally, private prisons potentially could receive hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, meaning hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies. It's no surprise that the private prison industry was involved in the drafting of and passing of SB 1070.
Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, the self proclaimed creator of SB 1070, said that it's not about prisons, but what's best for the country. It's hard for most of us to believe Sen. Pearce on this, but even if his intentions weren't about money, appeasing his silent constituents (Big Business) or his racism, he has failed to show how this legislation is what's best for us as a country, rather than harmful. Strangely, Sen. Pearce took his "idea" first to a hotel conference room, instead of the Arizona statehouse floor.
In December, inside the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC, there was a meeting of a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). A membership organization of State legislators and powerful corporations and associations, there are numerous political players from Arizona that are members. Arizona State Senator, and Senate President Russell Pearce is just one. One of many. Tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc., Exxonmobil and the National Rifle Association are a few other members. Another member is the billion-dollar company, CCA. The largest private prison company in the country. ALEC member companies and organizations seem to have influence in the halls of the Arizona capital and legislative chambers. Or is it coincidence that they have seen laws adverse to them defeated and favorable passed?
"I did a presentation...went through the facts. I went through the impacts and they said, 'Yeah'." Pearse said about this presentation at the ALEC meeting of his immigration "idea". Sen. Pearce and CCA had been going to these meetings for years and both have seats on one of several ALEC boards.
According to CCA reports reviewed by NPR, during their investigations, executives believe immigrant detention is CCA's next big market. Expecting it to bring in a significant portion of their revenues from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
During the meeting, the group decided to turn Pearce's "idea" into a "model" legislative bill. Discussing and debating the appropriate language, they then voted on it. "There were no 'no' votes...never had one person speak up in objection to this model legislation." Pearce said.
About 4 months later, the model legislation became, almost verbatim, Arizona's immigration law. They named it the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act."
According to Michael Hough, ALEC's Staff director of the December meeting, "ALEC is the conservative, free-market oriented, limited government group," Mr. Hough was also running for State delegate in Maryland and said if elected he plans to support similar law to Arizona's SB 1070. When asked if private companies usually get to write model bills for the legislators, Mr. Hough responded, "Yeah, that's the way it's set up...businesses and lawmakers should be at the same table, together."
Arizona Sen. Pearce claimed he wasn't concerned that it could appear private prison companies have an opportunity to lobby for legislation at the ALEC meetings, and claims to go to meet with other legislators and not private prison companies. That may be so, but there are 200 private companies paying tens of thousands of dollars to meet with legislators, like Sen. Pearce, at these meetings.
When Pearce's bill hit the statehouse floor in January back in Phoenix, ALEC's influence was apparent too. Thirty six co-sponsors signed on. A number nearly unheard of in the capital. Revealed in NPR's investigations, two-thirds of them were also ALEC members or also attended the December meeting. The same week, CCA hired a powerful new lobbyist to work the AZ capital. CCA denied it has ever lobbied, nor had any outside consultants lobby on immigration law. CCA denies its lobbying on various issues relating to AZ laws, despite evidence indicating otherwise.
AZ politicians have received campaign donations from prison lobbyists and prison companies. 30 of the 36 co-sponsors of SB 1070 received donations over 6 months preceding the co-sponsoring. CCA, Management and Training Corp. and The Geo Group. SB 1070 hit the Governor's desk by April.
Gov. Brewer's own connections to private prison companies were already there. Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070, with the name Pearce, CCA and the others at the Hyatt gave it.
Within 60 days of Gov. Brewer signing SB 1070 into law, CCA and the Geo Group donated a combined $87,500 to the Republican Governor's Association (RGA). RGA has put significant resources into AZ to help elect Brewer.
Althoug SB 1070 continues to be challenged in courts, private prison companies are still capitalizing in Arizona. AZ lawmakerts authorized the ADOC to pay for 5,000 more private prison beds. Private prison companies submitted their bids on the contract from all over. The top three finalists for this contract worth millions of dollars? CCA, The Geo Group and Management and Training Corp. Yes, and if you find that disturbing, you'll find it even more disturbing to learn that even though 3 inmates escaped from a CA facility in Kingman AZ and murdered an elderly couple, as a result of security lapses, poor supervision and other failures by CCA staff, CCA was still a top finalist in the bid to get the contract. No company has been awarded the contract yet, but it's expected to be announced soon.
Sources: NPR; azdem.org ; Arizona Republic.