Controversial Prison Companies and Their Political Spending

Of the three global private prison companies discussed in this New York Times story, GEO Group and Serco have spent large sums regularly in recent years on campaign contributions and lobbying to influence immigration policy in the U.S. (G4S spent $100,000 on lobbying expenses in 2007 when they hired Duane Morris Government Affairs to lobby on immigration and appropriations issues.) The following initial findings are based on quick research and analysis of data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and the Sunlight Foundation.

GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida, is a global provider of government-outsourced correctional and detention services. Their U.S. Detention & Corrections division accounts for 68 percent of their total revenues. They work with three federal agencies (the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and have 13 state clients. 

  • GEO Group’s PAC and executives have spent at least $541,000 to influence federal campaigns since 2005. In Senate races, top recipients include former Florida governor Charlie Crist ($80,700) and Sen. Marco Rubio ($27,300). On the House side, top recipients include former Florida member Ron Klein ($17,000) and former Texas member Henry Bonilla ($15,500). 
  • In 2011, their most notable federal campaign spending went to Mike Haridopolos, who received $24,500 entirely from GEO executives, including $5000 from George Zoley (chairmen and CEO) and $5000 from John Hurley (president of their U.S. corrections and detention work). Haridopolos is president of the Florida Senate, and until July 18, he was running for U.S. Senate. He has also been the driver behind Florida’s "Arizona-style" immigration bill (SB 2040), which he tried to pass in early May. All $24,500 in donations were made on May 28, 2011. In 2010, Haridopolos pled guilty/no contest to ethics violation charges over unreported income and investments. 
  • GEO has spent $2.3 million on lobbying at the federal level. 
  • GEO is also very active in state campaigns, giving at least $724,770 since 2005 to state candidates. GEO has also given parties significant amounts, particularly the Florida Republican Party, which has received $1,155,625 since 2005. 

While Serco, which The Guardian says is “probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of,” is based in the United Kingdom, it has a North American base in Reston, VA.

  • Serco’s PAC has given at least $353,775 to federal candidates since 2005. Sen. Mitch McConnell is a favorite of Serco’s and of their North American CEO Edward Casey in particular. Serco's PAC has given $12,500 to McConnell's campaigns since 2005, and Casey has given McConnell $3500 since 2007. 
  • Serco has spent $300,000 lobbying on federal issues since 2005.

We have often said that the private campaign finance system creates perverse incentives for corporate interests to seek profits by manipulating the decisions of governmental officials, including those we elect to serve us and to serve America’s ideals. Too few among us have the financial resources to influence policy-makers. But these executives and companies do. It has to be said: there is something morally repugnant about anyone getting wealthy from the incarceration and/or detainment of immigrants (or any others). It’s truly unconscionable, and it’s an issue we intend to continue to explore.