Campaign finance watchdog highlights money behind Florida prison privatization move

By | 01.31.12 | 8:27 am

Pic by Smithers7, via Wikimedia Commons

The National Institute on Money in State Politics released a report yesterday that highlights the money behind the state’s renewed plans to privatize state prisons.

Even though a judge struck down the state’s plans to privatize prisons in some regions of the state last year, the Legislature has fast-tracked bills this session to allow them to take another stab at last year’s plans. In just a few weeks the state’s plans have passed through two committees and are ready for a floor vote.

Since the bills were introduced, corrections officers, labor groups and public policy experts have expressed opposition to the state’s plans. They warned legislators that prison privatization would threaten public safety and put corrections employees out of work. Many who testified warned that private prison companies use inferior training and policies for their employees, and cut corners to save money.

The breakneck pace of the legislation and the surrounding questions about its impact have led some to say that the real impetus behind this move is to satisfy private prison companies that have donated thousands to state lawmakers.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said last week that the Legislature is “rushing” so that “private prison companies can add to their profits.”

According to the Institute, private prison groups have spent a lot of money to influence legislators:

Institute records show that donors from the private prison industry made nearly $1 million in contributions to Florida campaigns in 2010—the most the industry has given over the last decade, as illustrated by the Institute’s Industry Influence tool. The majority of the money came from five companies–Geo Group, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Global Tel* Link, Armor Correctional Health Services, and LCS Corrections Services, Inc.

Since the state’s contribution limits cap corporate donations at $500 per candidate per election, these private prison firms gave most of their money to the state Democratic and Republican parties, which can receive unlimited amounts from corporations. The private prison industry demonstrated a signal preference for the Florida Republican Party, giving $783,494 compared to just $143,000 to the Florida Democratic Party.

Last week, during the prison privatization bill’s last committee stop, dozens of individuals traveled to Tallahassee to speak against the bill. However, they were unable to appeal to legislators before lawmakers cast their votes for the bill.

“They are rushing a piece of legislation through a process without public input and 4,000 families are at risk of losing their jobs,” Fasano said. “They are doing this so that two major private prison companies can add to their profits.”

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