January 7, 2020

Trump, Pence and Allies Get Money From Private Prisons As They Increase The Number




Incoming and outgoing immigration detainees are processed at the Krome Service Processing Center.
Incoming and outgoing immigration detainees are processed at the Krome Service Processing Center.
JACK GRUBER, USA TODAY




Since the 1990 election, for-profit prisons, their political action committees and employees have given $9.5 million to candidates and the groups that support them, according to a USA TODAY Network analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission and the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. Over that time, 78% of those funds backed Republican candidates or causes. 




Since the 1990 election, for-profit prisons, their political action committees, and employees have given $9.5 million to candidates and the groups that support them, according to a USA TODAY Network analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission and the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. Over that time, 78% of those funds backed Republican candidates or causes. 

GEO Group and CoreCivic each donated $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee that helped fund the festivities as he was sworn into office. Hininger of CoreCivic said the company supported inaugurations of Presidents George W. Bush and Obama but did not provide specifics on how much they donated to those committees.

GEO Group gave $225,000 to a super PAC that supported Trump. GEO Group’s PAC and its CEO gave a combined $225,000 to Trump Victory, a committee that collects money and distributes it among the Trump campaign and other Republican efforts.

A checklist is used to record the state of detainees every 15 minutes in the segregation unit at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Adelanto processing Center in Adelanto, California.
A checklist is used to record the state of detainees every 15 minutes in the segregation unit at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Adelanto processing Center in Adelanto, California.

JAY CALDERON, USA TODAY
The GEO Group has taken the controversial step of frequently using Trump properties for business events and trips.

In 2017, GEO moved its annual conference, normally held near its Boca Raton headquarters, to the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort 53 miles away. Venturella, the GEO Group vice president, said in court filings that he stayed at least 10 times at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. 

Speaking to the USA TODAY Network, Venturella did not rule out holding GEO events at Trump properties but said the company would take into account the publicity that would probably follow such a decision.

“Obviously, the negative attention we received would be discussed,” he said.

Two donations to a pro-Trump super PAC became the subjects of a lawsuit and Federal Election Commission complaint. 

RONALD W. ERDRICH, USA TODAY
Under Obama, the Justice Department, which oversees the Federal Bureau of Prisons, published a memo Aug. 18, 2016, stating it would wind down relationships with private prisons, either allowing contracts to expire or reducing the scope of the contracts. 

The next day, a subsidiary of GEO Group – GEO Corrections Holdings – gave $100,000 to Rebuilding America Now, a pro-Trump Super PAC led by two former Trump staffers. 

On August 29 of that year, then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ordered a review of ICE’s use of privately run detention centers. About a month later, GEO Corrections Holdings donated $125,000 to Rebuilding America Now.


In response, the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group based in Washington, filed a complaint with the FEC alleging that GEO Group violated the ban prohibiting government contractors from making contributions to political committees. GEO Group said the donation was made by a subsidiary that has not won any government contracts, so it did not break any campaign finance laws. The complaint is pending. 

“All of our political contributions to federal super PACs comply with all applicable federal laws and regulations,” said Paez of the GEO Group.

Hininger of CoreCivic said it doesn’t matter to him whether a candidate is liberal or conservative, even though the company and its employees gave to Republicans 78% of the time since 1990. Venturella of the GEO Group said part of that disparity is due to the increasing number of Democrats who refuse or return their contributions.

“We meet with members of both parties,” he said. “So while the records may show that some organizations accepted our contributions, we certainly provided contributions to other candidates. Some have kept them, and some have returned them.”

The scope of the private prisons’ donations to Republican causes was seen during an event Trump hosted at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club.

In August 2018, Trump held a meeting to discuss prison changes, reentry issues “and other subjects,” according to the president’s remarks at the event. Guests included five governors and two state attorneys general – all but one of whom had received donations from the private prison industry in their state elections, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in Politics. 

They included former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky ($2,000), Republican Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi ($6,000), former Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia ($78,000), Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana ($13,500), former Republican Florida Attorney General Bondi ($2,000) and Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ($15,000), according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in Politics. Perry and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, were among other guests at the table.

“It’s easy to see how they’ve been making money off this investment,” said Jordan Libowitz of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. 

Private prison companies hire immigration, Trump administration officials
In 2018, private prison companies spent $3.8 million on federal lobbying. Their lobbying efforts during the Obama administration peaked at $2.75 million in 2016, according to federal disclosure reports and data from the Center for Responsive Politics. 
Hininger said those contributions are necessary given the level of polarization in the country and falsehoods about how ICE detention centers are run.

“It’s hard to have a rational conversation” about the industry, he said.

GEO Group has traditionally spent the most on lobbying efforts. In 2018, it paid a total of $4.3 million to state and federal lobbyists, according to the company’s political engagement report.

“Yes, we have ratcheted up our efforts because the attacks and the rhetoric against our company have increased,” Venturella said.  

In October, CoreCivic, the GEO Group, and Management & Training Corp. formed an advocacy group called the Day 1 Alliance. Its national spokeswoman is Alexandra Wilkes, who worked for America Rising and a PAC with the same name that backed Republican candidates in part by digging up damaging information on their Democratic opponents. 

Wilkes said the alliance was formed to set the record straight on the private industry’s role in immigration detention. 

“We know that we’re up against incredibly well-funded special interests that will say anything and stop at nothing to distort the role we play,” she said.

The money involved in ICE detention can be seen in the close ties between the federal government, presidential campaigns, and private prison companies.

In 2017, the GEO Group tapped a firm founded by Ballard to lobby on its behalf in Washington. Ballard ran the Trump campaign’s Florida financing strategy, chaired Trump’s joint fundraising committee and was the finance vice chairman on Trump’s inaugural committee. Florida lobbying records show Ballard represented the GEO Group on the state level from 2011 to 2013 and again in 2019. Ballard did not respond to a request for comment.  

Alan Zibel, research director for good government group Public Citizen
It’s pretty clear that the private prison industry saw the Trump administration as an opportunity to expand its business and work with like-minded people.

Next came Bondi, the former Florida attorney general who also represented the GEO Group for Ballard Partners. Bondi came under scrutiny during her time as attorney general when a group called “And Justice for All” supporting her campaign accepted a $25,000 check from Trump’s charity. A month later, Bondi announced that her office would stop investigating fraud allegations against the now-defunct Trump University. Trump later paid a $2,500 fine for the donation because it violated tax laws, and Trump reimbursed the donation.

Bondi went on to serve on the president’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis worked on his transition team and was hired by the White House in November to work on “proactive impeachment messaging.”

In Louisiana, Scott Sutterfield left his position in September as acting director of ICE’s field office in New Orleans and immediately took an executive position at LaSalle Corrections. Sutterfield denied any impropriety in the move, arguing that he was not involved in policy setting at his previous job, which focused on overseeing the immigration deportation process and ensuring detention facilities in the region were in compliance with federal requirements. He said he recused himself from decisions involving LaSalle before applying for the new job.

When asked whether Sutterfield had made decisions affecting LaSalle’s business while working for ICE, Kevin Sumrall, the company’s director of operations, said, “Not extremely a lot.”

Alan Zibel, research director for Public Citizen, a public policy advocacy group based in Washington, condemned the close relationships between government and industry. 

“There are a lot of connections,” said Zibel, who wrote a report on private prison influence. “It’s pretty clear that the private prison industry saw the Trump administration as an opportunity to expand its business and work with like-minded people.”

Private prison companies donate to Vice President Pence, sheriffs
In central Louisiana, LaSalle Parish Sheriff Scott Franklin was up for reelection this year and received $5,000 in campaign donations from LaSalle Corrections and its affiliates, according to records filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics. The donation represented a quarter of his total fundraising haul of $20,000.

In nearby Catahoula Parish, Sheriff Toney Edwards was also up for reelection and received $2,500 in October from LaSalle. That was a quarter of his fundraising during that reporting period, ethics board records show.

The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, includes a courtroom for immigration cases.

COURTNEY SACCO, USA TODAY
Both counties started holding ICE detainees this year. Neither sheriff responded to requests for comment, but critics say the donations show how much influence private prison companies exert on the local level, where ICE pays for detainees to be housed in jails. In many cases, the local government agency contracts the detention work out to a private prison company, which gives the agency a cut of the profits.

In the past two decades, the industry has given at least $13 million to Republican state candidates and state political committees, according to a USA TODAY Network analysis of data compiled by the National Institute on Money in Politics. 

Those contributions have also ended up in the hands of state officials who have close ties to Trump or have a chance to bend his ear.


One deadly week reveals where the immigration crisis begins — and where it ends

Pence loves Private Prisons and the $money he gets from them!



Pence received about $36,000 from the industry for his 2016 campaign before ditching his reelection bid for Indiana governor to become Trump’s running mate, according to the data. He and his running mate collected $33,000 in donations in the 2012 gubernatorial election. 

Perry, the former governor of Texas and Trump’s former energy secretary, received at least $59,000 during campaigns from 1998 to 2010, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in Politics. 

Before Trump named her ambassador to the United Nations in 2016, Haley received at least $23,000 for her successful campaigns for governor of South Carolina in 2010 and 2014, according to the institute’s data. 

Immigration detention generates taxes, jobs for rural America
The lure of an ICE detention center for small, financially troubled towns can be irresistible.

In Adams County, Mississippi, the median household income is $30,359, less than half the national average, according to U.S. Census data. That partly explains why leaders embrace the Adams County Correctional Center, a private facility owned by CoreCivic that holds more than 1,200 ICE detainees.

The detention center is the largest taxpayer in the county, said Adams County Administrator Joe Murray. The facility generates more than $1.8 million in real and personal property taxes that help fund the county and the school district. ICE, which started placing detainees at Adams in June, promised to pay the county 50 cents per detainee per day, which could generate an additional $800,000 a year for the county.
An ICE officer walks by a cart of books meant for detainees in the segregation unit at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Adelanto processing Center in Adelanto, California.
An ICE officer walks by a cart of books meant for detainees in the segregation unit at the U.S. 


Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Adelanto processing Center in Adelanto, California.
An ICE officer walks by a cart of books meant for detainees in the segregation unit in the U.S.  

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