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Texas State Equipment and Employees Used for Private Prison Labor Lobbying

by Matthew T. Clarke

Republican State Representative Ray Allen of Grand Prairie, Texas, Chairman of the Texas House Corrections Committee, has been using his state employees and state equipment to operate a private firm that specializes in consulting and lobbying for the private prison industry. Allen's company, called Service House, has one client: the National Correctional Industries Association, a promoter of programs designed to use prisoner labor in private business.

Allen, 53, is known as a conservative Republican who is very pro-gun and anti-abortion. He took a leading role in passing the 1995 law that allowed Texans to carry concealed firearms.

Two government watchdog groups have criticized Allen for his practices of using state employees and equipment to further his private company. For instance, Scott Gilmore, Allen's top aide, was paid by the state while he was traveling around the U.S. doing paid consulting and lobbying for the prison factory industry. In another incident, a letter to a lobbying client was found stored on a state computer used by ex-Allen employee Tedrah Hutchins, who left Allen's office in June, 2004 for another state job. Hutchins also used the state computer system's email to send a to do" list to Gilmore that was almost exclusively Service House items.

Allen acknowledges that Hutchins erred in using state email and said the storing of the lobbying letter on the state computer was a violation of everything we do and know." However, he fully defended Gilmore's double (or triple) dipping, claiming that Gilmore's long hours when the legislature is in session more than make up for the weeks when he ran off to do consulting or lobbying in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. Gilmore earns the highest salary for House employees: $43,680, while being paid $22,000 by Service House and $600-a-month as a retainer by Allen's campaign. The Texas State Legislature meets in regular session for about six months every other year.

It's probably more unusual for somebody to use state staff in a private industry business, but campaign work would be very common," according to Allen. The question is not, Is it wrong to do this?,' the question is, How do you keep it separate?'

You shouldn't have state workers in the state capitol in state government offices doing private business because you can't keep it separate according to Suzie Woodford, director of Common Cause of Texas.

I do not believe you can keep everything that segmented," said Woodford.

Campaigns for People director Fred Lewis believes Allen should make his employees keep precise records of how many hours they spend working for the state, on the campaign and for Service House.

You have to document that no public funds were spent for a person on the legislative payroll to engage in either private business or campaign work," said Lewis.

Currently, Allen's staffers are paid as full-time state employees, but are not required to keep track of how many hours they actually work for the state. Furthermore, the House apparently does not have a standard for the minimum number of weekly hours an employee must put in to be considered full-time. Service House employees do report billable hours for Allen's lobbying practice, according to Allen.

Allen poo-poos the controversy. He says that he provides separate computers and phones for the separate purposes and periodically reimburses the costs of private long-distance phone calls. He claims that any use of state equipment was unintentional or incidental. He didn't address the use of a state office to conduct private business.

Allen makes a paltry $7,200 a year as a part-time Texas state legislator plus per diem payments when the legislature is in session. He claims to have made about $35,000 from Service House in 2003 and about $10,000 teaching gun safety courses.

I'm not a bit embarrassed to be doing the work I'm doing," said Allen. I am a bit embarrassed it doesn't pay better.

Allen says that he merely put the expertise he gained as Chairman of the House Corrections Committee to use to make an honest living" promoting the use of prison slave labor in private industry.

I didn't come to the Legislature with a big business or an insurance company or a law firm keeping me on retainer," said Allen by way of explanation.

No, instead Allen sought out a large industrythe private prison labor industry--to get himself put on retainer too. What does it say about Texas government, and Allen, when the legislators expect to be paid off by big business or other special interests? What does it say about Texas voters that they reelected Allen in. 2004? What does it say about the media that no one even discussed the obvious conflict of interest of the Chairman of the House Corrections Committee lobbying for the private prison slave labor industry?

Sources: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Morning News, Austin Chronicle.

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