Private Prison Firms Use Revolving Door Lobbying, Generous Campaign Donations
by Steve Horn
It’s an even-numbered year, which makes sense because, as is the norm, what’s going on in our nation’s capital is anything but odd. That is, big money once again is flowing into Congressional campaign coffers from corporate interests, aiming to influence the 2018 midterm elections. And as usual, well-compensated federal lobbying continues apace. Of course that happens in the odd-numbered years too, perhaps even more so because federal lawmakers are not as busy on the campaign trail.
A review and analysis of federal lobbying disclosure records by Prison Legal News revealed that private prison companies GEO Group, CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and Management & Training Corporation (MTC) spent at least $812,500 to lobby federal officials during the first quarter of 2018. And they’ve hired a cast of lobbyists who have passed through the government-industry revolving door – many of them former senior-level congressional staffers, White House staffers, members of Congress and officials with close ties to President Donald Trump – to get the job done.
Private prison firms have also showered Congressional candidates with campaign donations in the run-up to the November midterm elections, giving more than $360,000 thus far through their political action committees (PACs), according to campaign finance data obtained from the Center for Responsive Politics and crunched by PLN. The most robust giver of the three companies, to date, has been GEO Group – which has doled out nearly $230,000 in campaign contributions, with $59,000 going to Democrats and the rest to Republicans. Coming in second place was CoreCivic, which has given $94,325 to congressional candidates so far this election season via its PAC, while MTC donated $36,795.
Many analysts believe the 2018 midterms may be a “wave election,” in which Democrats could take a majority in the House and Senate, making donations to that side of the political aisle particularly noteworthy.
GEO Group focused particularly on Texas’ congressional delegation, with about half of its total contributions – or $117,500 – going to candidates seeking to represent the Lone Star State on Capitol Hill. GEO has over a dozen facilities in Texas.
CoreCivic, which is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, has given generously to congressional candidates from its home state. More precisely, $42,700 in campaign donations from the company’s PAC went to Tennessee candidates running for Congress, all of them Republicans.
Lobbying and the Revolving Door
In the lobbying industry, private prison firms have actively hired bipartisan-affiliated teams of lobbyists to represent their interests and curry influence in Washington, D.C. Their business ambitions, of course, center around incarcerating people for the purpose of generating corporate profit, which extend far beyond the Beltway.
Often, the companies failed to explain in their disclosure statements exactly what bills or issues they were lobbying for or against. Instead, they provided vague or broad descriptions, such as “Promoting the benefits of public-private partnership in the delivery of secure residential care in correctional and detention facilities,” as stated by GEO Group, or “Issues pertaining to the construction and management of privately-operated prisons and detention facilities,” as reported by CoreCivic on one disclosure form. MTC was even more terse and vague in one of its filings, writing that it was lobbying on “Issues related to private prisons.”
CoreCivic did disclose that its lobbyists were discussing the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act with both the U.S. House and Senate; that bill would prohibit federal agencies and contactors from asking job applicants to disclose their criminal records before they have received a conditional offer of employment.
And in at least several cases, GEO and CoreCivic used more exact language to describe their lobbying efforts, including particular appropriation or budget bills.
So while it often remains unclear exactly what policies and topics the private prison companies were lobbying for or against, it is abundantly clear that their hired guns on the Hill have extensive, high-level experience working with members of Congress and the White House, which are where many of those same lobbyists used to work.
GEO Group paid State Federal Strategies $20,000 in the first quarter of 2018. Richard Sullivan, who served as National Co-Finance Chairman during Hillary Clinton’s 2016 and 2008 campaigns, was the sole lobbyist listed on the company’s disclosure form.
A former senior-level congressional staffer himself, Sullivan also worked on President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, serving as the Democratic National Committee’s national finance director at that time. And he was a senior adviser during Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.
On the Republican side of the aisle, GEO Group has hired both Christopher Cox and Andy Keiser with the firm Navigators Global LLC to lobby on its behalf. Cox formerly served as special assistant for legislative affairs for President George W. Bush, and before that worked as a senior-level staffer for U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss and U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers. Keiser also worked for Rep. Rogers as a senior-level staffer for the House Intelligence Committee, and was employed by the Trump administration’s Presidential Transition Team as Deputy National Security Senior Advisor. Navigators Global received $90,000 from GEO for lobbying work during the first quarter of 2018.
Another company with connections to the Trump administration, Ballard Partners, also represents GEO Group. The lobbying firm is the namesake of Brian Ballard, who previously served as Trump’s Florida finance chairman during his 2016 presidential campaign. Also on the Ballard lobbying team is Dan McFaul, who worked for Trump’s transition team with a focus on nominating appointees for the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies. Ballard Partners received $150,000 during the first quarter to lobby for GEO Group on issues related to “labor policy” and “immigration regulation.”
Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, hired to lobby for GEO, has David Stewart, a former staffer from the office of U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions – currently the U.S. Attorney General who oversees the Department of Justice, including the federal Bureau of Prisons – on its payroll. GEO paid the firm $30,000 for lobbying work.
The private prison company also paid $30,000 to retain a former member of Congress to lobby on its behalf through Mack Strategies – former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, who has lobbied for GEO Group to advocate “for the continued use of privately operated facilities.”
Aaron Cohen with Capitol Counsel, LLC received $30,000 from GEO to lobby on “Issues related to Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) as part of the greater Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program” and “monitoring issues related to criminal justice reform.” Cohen served as Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator John Ensign and as a state liaison and policy advisor for U.S. Senator Richard H. Bryan.
GEO also retained an individual lobbyist, Lionel “Leo” Aguirre – a former executive with the Texas Comptroller’s Office who was paid $30,000 during the first quarter of 2018 to lobby the U.S. House on issues concerning “Criminal Justice, development, operation and management of prison and detention facilities,” and “Issues relating to deportation of federal prisoners.”
Management & Training Corp.
MTC, the lesser-known competitor to CoreCivic and GEO Group, has also been a prolific user of the government-industry revolving door.
One key case in point is Marc Lampkin, who formerly worked as a senior-level staffer for U.S. Rep. and Speaker of the House John Boehner, and also served as the deputy campaign manager for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. MTC paid the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, where Lampkin is employed as a lobbyist, $80,000 during the first quarter of 2018.
Lampkin was joined in those lobbying efforts by Elizabeth Maier, a former senior aide to U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, and by Brian Wild, a former Deputy Assistant for Legislative Affairs for then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Wild also worked as a senior advisor for former U.S. Reps. Boehner and Kevin McCarthy.
MTC does not exclusively hire former Republican staffers, however. Brian McKeon, previously a senior aide to U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Barbara Boxer, is also a member of the lobbying team.
MTC has also retained John “Jack” Kingston, probably better known as an outspoken surrogate for the Trump presidential campaign during 2016 who often appears on cable news to defend the president.
Kingston, a former U.S. Representative for the state of Georgia, is joined on the MTC lobbying team by his former senior policy adviser, Meg Gilley, and Genevieve Bresnahan, a former staff assistant and legislative correspondent to U.S. Rep. Pete Session. All three are on the payroll of the lobbying and law firm giant Squire Patton Boggs. Kingston, Gilley and the Patton Boggs team were hired by MTC in April 2017 during the first 100 days of the Trump administration, according to a lobbying registration form reviewed by PLN. During the first quarter of 2018, MTC paid the firm $70,000 for lobbying related to “Funding and reform for federal Job Corps training programs.”
MTC also paid Upstream Consulting, Inc. $30,000 to lobby on the Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization bill in both chambers of Congress. John M. Haddow and C. McClain Haddow, who both claim over three decades of experience in the “Washington political scene” and “public policy arena,” and held various positions in federal agencies, were GEO’s lobbyists with Upstream Consulting.
CoreCivic, the nation’s largest for-profit prison firm, which has extensive political connections, has also utilized the government-industry revolving door for its lobbying efforts.
Most symbolic has been the company’s hiring of Jeffrey Miller, who runs Miller Strategies LLC, in January 2018. Jeff Miller is known by close observers of Texas politics as a staunch ally of former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who now serves as U.S. Secretary of Energy in the Trump administration. For his work during the first quarter of 2018, in which Miller’s lobbying focused exclusively on the Executive Office of the President, CoreCivic paid his company $60,000 according to lobbying disclosure forms.
CoreCivic also retained Thomas O’Donnell, formerly a senior aide to President Bill Clinton, to lobby on its behalf through the firm Gephardt Group Government Affairs. O’Donnell was joined by Christine Hamilton, former Chief of Staff for U.S. Rep. David Obey. Gephardt Group received $30,000 from CoreCivic, reportedly for lobbying “In support of a range of government policies that will help former inmates successfully reenter society and stay out of prison.”
In addition, the private prison company hired Robert A. Russell with Simmons & Russell Group LLC, and paid that firm $20,000 to lobby the U.S. Senate. According to his bio, Russell “had a distinguished career of more than 20 years in public service and government affairs, highlighted by his 8 year service as Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Mark Pryor.”
Two other CoreCivic lobbyists included Robert Hobart, who served as “deputy chief of staff, Appropriations associate staff and legislative director for three members of Congress,” and Rashid Hallaway, a former legislative staffer for U.S. Senator Evan Bayh. Both were employed by Hobart Hallaway & Quayle Ventures LLC, which received $80,000 from CoreCivic to lobby the U.S. House and Senate on issues related to various appropriations acts, as well as funding for the Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Marshals, Office of the Federal Detention Trustee and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Finally, CoreCivic paid $60,000 to lobbying powerhouse Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld during the first quarter of 2018. Akin Gump partner James Tucker, who served as legislative counsel to U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis and was an aide to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, lobbied on behalf of the private prison firm.
Drain the Swamp?
Federal lobbying is extremely important to private prison companies. Based on its 2017 annual report, CoreCivic received 51 percent of its total revenue from contracts with federal agencies, including the Bureau of Prisons, ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service. GEO Group reported receiving 42 percent of its gross revenue (including international operations) from federal agencies in 2017. As a privately-held company, MTC does not publicly report its financial data.
While President Trump may have run on an anti-corruption platform to “drain the swamp” of special interests running the show in Washington, D.C. during his 2016 campaign, in the area of private prisons, at least, it appears the industry remains firmly entrenched.
And that is just on the federal level; for-profit prison firms lobby on the state and local levels, too. For example, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, “In 2016 and 2017, private prisons and the companies that provided services to them contributed $2 million to state campaigns, in addition to spending $10.4 million lobbying state lawmakers. Private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCivic led the spending with $3 million and $2.1 million, respectively.”
Of the amount spent on state-level campaign contributions in 2016 and 2017, GEO Group gave the most at $1,092,435, followed by CoreCivic at $533,569 and MTC a distant third at $37,600. A majority of those funds went to Republican party committees and candidates, though around 25 percent went to Democrats.
If money in fact talks, then presumably both state and federal lawmakers are listening closely to the for-profit prison industry.