by David Safier
Bob Ortega has written an excellent article about how Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) and other private prison corporations lobby for more private prisons and, directly and indirectly, more incarceration to boost their bottom lines.
Here's an extensive quote from the middle of the article, about the Arizona/ALEC/private prisons connection. Where the article says, "Lesko's e-mail, inviting lawmakers to the council's annual meeting in New Orleans, was leaked and posted online by a Tucson blogger," I'm that blogger. Here's the post he's referring to. Ortega interviewed me for the article.
CCA has other connections with legislators in Arizona and elsewhere, most notably as a longstanding corporate member of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
The council describes itself as a nonpartisan national association of state legislators; in fact, it is a partisan vehicle that brings together about 300 large corporations and 2,000 predominantly Republican legislators on task forces that produce model bills that lawmakers can introduce in their state legislatures.
Recent ALEC policy initiatives focused on an anti-regulatory, anti-union, anti-Obama health-care, pro-free-trade agenda.
The council doesn't release corporate or legislative membership lists. But a May 12 e-mail from Rep. Debbie Lesko, ALEC's public-sector Arizona chairwoman, lists 51 current Arizona legislative members, more than half of both the state Senate and state House. There are 50 Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Richard Miranda of Tolleson. Lesko's e-mail, inviting lawmakers to the council's annual meeting in New Orleans, was leaked and posted online by a Tucson blogger; Lesko confirmed its contents.
Corporations, from Walmart and Exxon Mobil to Koch Cos. and Salt River Project, provided 98 percent of the council's funding last year, according to a tax filing obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Lawmakers pay $50 a year to join; corporations pay from $7,000 to $25,000 a year for membership, plus more to sit on task forces, or to sponsor events hosting legislators and, often, their families. Corporations also fund ALEC "scholarships" that pay for lawmakers' travel and lodging.
CCA spokesman Steve Owen said his company left ALEC last year. But for the past two decades, a CCA executive has been a member of the council's Public Safety and Education Task Force as it produced more than 85 model bills and resolutions that required tougher criminal sentencing, expanded immigration enforcement and promoted prison privatization. Laurie Shanblum, CCA's senior director of business development, was the private-sector chair of the task force in the mid- to late '90s, when it produced a series of model bills promoting tough-on-crime measures that would send more people to prison for a longer time.
They included a "Truth in Sentencing Act" requiring that convicts serve at least 85 percent of any sentence, and 100 percent of a sentence for violent crimes; a "Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Act," imposing longer, mandatory sentences for all drug offenses; a "Third Strike" law mandating a life sentence for a third violent felony conviction; and dozens of other bills that called for violent juveniles to be tried and sentenced as adults, and for longer sentences for child-porn crimes, drunken driving, repeated retail theft and many other crimes.
Critics, many with ties to public-union or human-rights groups, have charged that such bills, by sending more people to prison longer, drove up demand for the prison space and services CCA sells.
Starting in the 1990s, the ALEC task force also produced model bills directly promoting prison privatization. These included bills to let private prisons house inmates from other states without permission of local governments, require privatization of prisons and correctional services and encourage contracting for prison labor.
Council members from Arizona, including Pearce, and a long list of former legislators going back to the early 1990s including Wes Marsh, John Verkamp, Jay Tibshraeny and Thayer Verschoor, subsequently introduced bills here that were near-duplicates of the ALEC model bills.
Here are a few more excerpts from the article.
CCA has spent about $17.6 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies over the past decade, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the effect of money on U.S. politics. The agencies include the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, which contract with private operators such as CCA for immigration-detention centers
Since 2000, the company has won $3.84 billion in federal contracts, including just under $546 million for federal contracts in Arizona, according to government records.
Since 2003, CCA employees and affiliates have given nearly $2 million in campaign contributions to state-level candidates and ballot issues across the U.S.
In Arizona, CCA associates and its political-action committee have reported giving about $35,000 in political donations over the past decade to Brewer, Pearce, former House Speaker Kirk Adams, House Speaker Andy Tobin and many others. A big chunk of that, $11,520, was given for last year's election campaigns.
"BLIND EYE" REGAINS SIGHT NOTE: In July, AZ Blue Meanie noted, rightly, that the Republic wasn't giving the AZ/ALEC connection nearly the attention it deserved (The Arizona Republic turns a blind eye to questions about ALEC). Ortega's article goes a long way toward correcting that problem. Here's hoping he and/or others at the paper stay on the story. My series on AZ legislation which began as ALEC model legislation should give them lots to work with.