Thursday, October 28, 2010

Well, that took long enough - National media finally notices the SB1070/private prison lobbyists connection

...and in case that title makes me sound like a jerk, let me say this up front: NPR did a great and thorough job with this. 

NPR has released the results of its investigation into the behind-the-scenes machinations during the crafting and passage of Arizona's infamous SB1070.  And the relationship between Jan Brewer's staff, many of whom are lobbyists for private prison companies

From the report
Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law


NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry.

The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce says the bill was his idea. He says it's not about prisons. It's about what's best for the country.


It was last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Inside, there was a meeting of a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Insiders call it ALEC.

It's a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country.

It was there that Pearce's idea took shape.

"I did a presentation," Pearce said. "I went through the facts. I went through the impacts and they said, 'Yeah.'"

The 50 or so people in the room included officials of the Corrections Corporation of America, according to two sources who were there.

Pearce and the Corrections Corporation of America have been coming to these meetings for years. Both have seats on one of several of ALEC's boards.

To sum up: the seed of Pearce's SB1070 may have been planted by his unrelenting hatred for people with brown skin, but it was germinated in the hothouse of corporate ideology known as ALEC.

Still, the scheme needed to be nurtured before it could bloom.
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.

That same week, the Corrections Corporation of America hired a powerful new lobbyist to work the capitol.

The prison company declined requests for an interview. In a statement, a spokesman said the Corrections Corporation of America, "unequivocally has not at any time lobbied — nor have we had any outside consultants lobby – on immigration law."

At the state Capitol, campaign donations started to appear.

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.

By April, the bill was on Gov. Jan Brewer's desk.
The "powerful new lobbyist" hired by CCA in early January?  Highground Inc., operated by one J. Charles Coughlin.

As in J. Charles "Chuck" Coughlin, Jan Brewer's campaign manager and "former" policy adviser.

Consider it nurtured and bloomed.

Also on Brewer's staff and CCA's payroll?  Communications Director Paul Senseman.  He "used" to lobby for CCA; now, his wife is the Senseman household's "official" CCA lobbyist.

For his part, Russell Pearce has denied that ALEC or CCA played any part in the development of SB1070, claiming that he has proposed the bill many times before the ALEC conference late last year.

Granted, that *could* be interpreted to mean that he hatched his scheme free of undue or improper outside influence. 

It could also very reasonably be interpreted to mean that he has been in the pockets of the private prison industry for many years, or just that he is a shameless opportunist, using the corruption indicated by industry lobbyists running the governor's office as a catalyst for turning the darkest of his private hatred into the vilest of public policy.

It may take a federal investigation, indictment, and trial, and a few years, but something tells me that in a generation, Arizonans will snicker at the words "Jan Brewer" the same way they do when the hear the words "Ev Mecham."

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