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Private prison, detention companies spending on Alabama politicians

Eddie Burkhalter

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Geo Group, the nation’s largest private prison and detention center company, is investing in Alabama’s lawmakers just as the company hopes to land a portion of the state’s nearly $1 billion contract to build three new prisons. 

Other players are also investing in lobbyists and lawmakers to compete for a share of the prize.

Geo Group gave at least $80,000 to Alabama lawmakers in 2017 and 2018, while CoreCivic spent just $4,500 those two years. (Figures taken from campaign finance reports and compiled by the Montana-based nonprofit National Institute on Money in State Politics.)

Gov Kay Ivey has received a combined $12,500 from Geo Group and CoreCivic in 2017 and 2018. 

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, received the most campaign contributions from private prison and detention center companies, taking in $22,500 since 2011, but his selection in 2011 to be chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security makes him an outlier. As chairman Aderholt headed the congressional committee that funded the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

The two largest private prison and immigrant detention center companies in the U.S. – Geo Group and CoreCivic (formerly called Corrections Corporation of America) – received a combined $358 million in ICE contracts in 2018. In 2011 and 2012, while serving as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, Aderholt received $12,500 from Geo Group and CoreCivic. 

The Center for Immigration Studies found that on a single day, Sept. 22, 2012, private prison and detention center companies housed 67 percent of all immigrant detainees in facilities those companies owned and/or operated. 

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Geo Group and CoreCivic gave Rep. Aderholt a combined $17,000 between 2011 and 2015. In 2017 and 2018, he brought in $5,500 from Geo Group. 

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Carla Crowder, Director of the Montgomery-based Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, in a message to APR on Saturday said the hefty campaign contributions are disappointing, but not surprising given the millions of dollars that private prison companies have poured into other states in order to keep their shameful business model afloat.

“Other states are moving to reduce their reliance on private prison companies.  More and more banks are refusing to provide financing to these corporations that profit off the incarceration of human beings, even children,” Crowder said. “Our elected leaders seem willing to embrace for-profit incarceration, even as other states have learned the hard way that its expensive, harmful, and not good policy.”

Crowder noted that politicians in other states are returning or refusing campaign contributions from Florida-based Geo Group over the company’s role in immigration detention centers. Ten members of Congress in 2018, either gave Geo Group’s donations back or refused it, according to Open Secrets. 

“I would love to see the same here in Alabama, especially given all that is at stake with prison reform in our state right now,” Crowder said. “The public-private partnerships being proposed would leave Alabama taxpayers and our children on the hook for close to $1 billion to our-of-state companies who are working feverishly to buy favor with state leaders.  It does not have to be this way.” 

Then-Gov. Robert Bentley in 2016, announced the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act, which called for construction of four new prisons through an $800 million bond issuance. That legislation failed, was brought back up in 2017, and failed again. 

Gov. Kay Ivey was appointed governor in April 2017, following Bentley’s resignation, and soon floated the idea of leasing new prisons from private companies, who’d build and finance them. Ivey announced in August the five companies in the running to build one or more of three planned new prisons are: GEO Group, Corvias, LLC, Corrections Consultants, CoreCivic and Alabama Prison Transformation Partners. The three prisons are to be built between two companies, according to ADOC’s request for qualifications. 

In 2017, records show Geo Group began spending on Alabama lawmakers in earnest, and the pace of that spending continued through 2018. 

All seven members of the legislative prison oversight committee received donations either directly from one of the two large private prison and immigrant detention center companies or the companies’ PACs, or from lobbyists who work for the companies. It’s important to note, however, that those lobbying firms represent many clients, so campaign donations don’t necessarily mean the money was given to politicians on behalf of the private prison and detention center companies. 

Members of the legislative prison oversight committee who received contributions

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster

2017 – $2,500 from Geo Group

2017  $3,500 from Swatek, Howe & Ross, which represents Geo Group. 

State Sen. Clyde Chambliss Jr., R-Prattville

2018 – $1,500 from Geo Group. 

2018 – $1,000 from Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, which represents Geo Group. 

State Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro

2018 – $2,500 (Geo Group)

2018 – $2,000 from Bradley Arant Boult Cummings (represents Geo Group) 

2017 – $1,000 from Swatek, Howe & Ross, (Geo Group)

State Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody

2018 – $2,000  from Geo Group

2017 – $1,000 from Swatek, Howe & Ross (Geo Group)

State Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Mount Hope

2018 – $1,000 from Bradley Arant Boult Cummings (Geo Group)

2018 – $500 from Swatek, Howe & Ross (Geo Group)

State Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook

2018 – $1,000 from Windom, Galliher & Associates, (lobbies for Corrections Consultants)

2018 – $500 from The Jones Group (Geo Group) 

State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa

2017 – $1,000 from Swatek, Howe & Ross (Geo Group)

 Other statewide politicians who received contributions in 2017,2018

Gov. Kay Ivey

2018 – $10,000  from Geo Group

2017 – $2,500 from CoreCivic  

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R – Haleyville

2011, 2012 – $5,000 from Geo Group $7,500  from CoreCivic

2013 – $1,000 from CoreCivic

2014 – $1,000  from Geo Group

2015 – $2,500 from CoreCivic

2017,2018 – $5,500 from Geo Group    

State Sen. Del Marsh, R- Anniston

2017 and 2018 – $7,500 from Geo Group 

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa

2016 – $2,000 from Geo Group

Former state Attorney General Luther Strange, R

2017 – $2,000 from CoreCivic

Lt. Gov. William Ainsworth, R

2017,2018 – $4,000 from Geo Group

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R, Montgomery

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

2016 – $2,500 from CoreCivic

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks

2018 – $2,500 from Geo Group

State Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper

2018 – $1,500 from Geo Group

State Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

State Rep. Mac Mccutcheon, R-Monrovia

2017 – $2,500 from Geo Group

State Rep. Corley Ellis, R-Columbiana

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

State Rep. Arnold Mooney III, R-Indian Springs

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

State Rep. William Poole, R-Tuscaloosa

2017, 2018 – $5,000 from Geo Group

Elaine Beech, D-Chatom (lost election)

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

State Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

State Rep. Artis McCampbell, D-Livingston

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

State Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

State Rep. Matthew Friday, R- Montevallo

2017, 2018 – $2,500 from Geo Group

State Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee

2018 – $500 from Geo Group

State Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

State Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

State Rep. Mike Jones Jr.,R-Andalusia

2017 – $2,000 from Geo Group

State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark

2017, 2018 – $5,000 from Geo Group

State Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence

2018 – $2,500 from Geo Group

State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur

2017 – $2,500 from Geo Group

State Sen. Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper

2018 – $2,500 from Geo Group

State Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

State. Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville

2018 – $2,500 from Geo Group

State Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range

2018 – $1,000 from Geo Group

John Knight, D-Montgomery (Lost election)

$1,000 from Geo Group

State Sen. Thomas Whatley, R-Auburn

2018 – $2,000 from Geo Group

Geo Group in April 2017, bought the Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility in Columbiana, the purchase part of the company’s  $360 million purchase of Community Education Centers, a string of in-custody and reentry treatment centers that owned or managed 12,000 beds nationwide. That acquisition was expected to bring in $250 million annually for Geo Group. 

Two months earlier, in February 2017, then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescended the Obama administration’s 2016 order to reduce the federal government’s use of private prison companies. 

In October 2016, Geo Group hired as lobbyists two former Sessions’ aides, David Stewart and Ryan Robichaux, of the Birmingham-based law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings. 

Geo Group has been an early and vigorous supporter of President Donald Trump. During the 2016 presidential election, Geo Group and a subsidiary gave a combined $500,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC and to the president’s inaugural committee, according to The Washington Post.  The paper also noted that Geo Group moved its annual leadership conference in 2017, at the Trump National Doral golf course in Florida. 

In January 2017, Geo Group began intake at its 780-bed Folkston ICE Processing Center in Georgia, which the company said it expected to expected to generate approximately $21 million in annual revenues.

Lobbying

In 2018, Geo Group paid $180,000 for lobbying to the Birmingham-based firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings. The company spent a total of $1.5 million on lobbying in 2018. 

Geo Group has spent $800,000 on lobbying so far this year, paying Bradley Arant Boult Cummings $70,000. 

CoreCivic spent $1.2 million to lobby lawmakers in 2018, and to date this year, the company has spent $790,000.

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