Today, NPR aired a story on a profiteering plot that watchdog groups have watched unfold for months—private prison corporations, who stand to make hundreds of millions in profits from the detention of immigrants, not only had a hand in drafting Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law, SB1070, but contributed millions to the bill’s cosponsors and continue to push the legislation in other states. While there’s nothing illegal about private industries drafting legislation, there is something particularly vile about watching state legislators like Russell Pearce (sponsor of SB1070) accept campaign contributions from prison industry lobbyists and then turn around and sell the legislation to the public as though he’s doing what’s right for America.
Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce is no stranger to the prison industry. According to NPR, Pearce met with a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization consisting of state legislators and powerful corporations like Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), last December to talk about how to generate more revenue from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In the conference room, the group decided they would turn the immigration idea into a model bill. They discussed and debated language. Then, they voted on it. “There were no ‘no’ votes,” Pearce said. “I never had one person speak up in objection to this model legislation.”
And four months later, the model legislation ended up “almost word for word” as Arizona’s SB1070 for signature on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk. While Pearce and other legislators, like Michael Hough (who’s running for Maryland’s House of Delegates and also plans on supporting a similar SB1070 bill), apparently don’t mind the association with ALEC and private prison corporations, campaign contributions from said corporations have a way of just making you look bad, especially when you cosponsor SB1070.
As soon as Pearce’s bill hit the Arizona statehouse floor in January, there were signs of ALEC’s influence. Thirty-six co-sponsors jumped on, a number almost unheard of in the capitol. According to records obtained by NPR, two-thirds of them either went to that December meeting or are ALEC members.
Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.
The Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison corporations in the US, earned over $1.7 billion in revenue in 2009, 40% of which came from ICE, the US Marshalls Office and Federal Bureau of Prisons. In Arizona specifically, the Governor’s office proposed a budget that set aside $98 million for private prison corporations alone, mostly to accommodate the influx of undocumented immigrants with new private and state prison beds, according to the Arizona Education Network.
It would be helpful for the bandwagon of SB1070 supporters to pull back the curtain and take a look at the great and powerful Wizards of Arizona and their relationship with America’s private prison corporations. After all, politicians who take campaign contributions from corporations who blatantly exploit our broken immigration system as a money making opportunity clearly care less about legitimate solutions to our immigration problems and more about lining their yellow brick roads with more yellow bricks.
Photo by azgovernor.