by Marvin Mentor
Newly-elected Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who boasted during his campaign that he "couldn't be bought," accepted $53,000 in November, 2003 from Wackenhut Corrections Corp., a Boca Raton, Florida-based private prison contractor. Wackenhut recently changed its name to Geo Corporation.
Geo, which operates four minimum-security facilities in California for the California Department of Corrections (CDC), was on the verge of having a 224 bed prison it operates at McFarland, California closed on December 31. Wackenhut President Wayne Calabrese told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview that they had also given $5,000 to Schwarzenegger's recall campaign against former Governor Gray Davis. Wackenhut's $58,000 was the largest amount they had given to any California politician.
Former Governor Davis was widely criticized for his acceptance of over $3.4 million in donations from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the prison guards' union. "We were frustrated with the previous administration," Calabrese said. "We thought we should support a candidate and governor who has articulated support for public-private relationships.... We want to do everything we can to preserve our business base in California."
Geo's own Florida lobbyist, David Ericks, is close to Schwarzenegger's highly touted finance secretary Donna Arduin (recently imported from Florida to do "the dirty work" of balancing California's finances. Schwarzenegger spokesman H.D. Palmer said Arduin would have no impact on such an agency contract. But whether or not CDC closes the lockup in McFarland, it remains obligated to pay Wackenhut $5 million in annual lease payments
Schwarzenegger has a policy of refusing campaign donations from public employee unions, including the CCPOA, because, he stated, he must negotiate pay and labor issues with them. Lance Corcoran, executive vice-president of the CCPOA commented, "It sounds to me that Wackenhut is doing exactly what they accuse us of doing, getting involved in 'pay to play' .... I'm sure they are bringing that playbook [influence] to California." In actively pushing for cancellation of Geo's McFarland contract, Corcoran said that the CCPOA opposed private prisons [which do not employ union guards] because "corrections is a public function and should not be sold to the lowest bidder." Advocates of private prisons counter that the CCPOA fears lower cost prisons could reduce the need for state employed guards.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if the CCPOA will sponsor its annual "honorary" golf meet at the swank Pebble Beach, California golf course this year to "honor" Governor Schwarzenegger the same way it "honored" Gray Davis. The CCPOA donated $5,000 per head to Davis for every guard who attended the last annual event for a union-sponsored free play totaling $400,000.
Source: Los Angeles Times.
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