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Lobbyists, Guns and Money: March 25, 2012, NYTimes columnist Paul Kruman takes them on.
Private prison company’s growth went hand-in-hand with political influence: Jon Collins September 26, 2011 Minnesota Independent
"Publicopoly: ALEC and the bid to make private all that is public." An exhaustive DBA Press analysis of thousands of pages of documents obtained through public records requests over the past several months has revealed the source of many suddenly-wildly-popular bills aimed at weakening public employee unions to be ‘model legislation’ disseminated primarily through one entity, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). July 11, 2011
NPR expose on the for-profits role in the AZ immigration law

September 16, 2010 Think Progress
In December 2009, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a powerful front group that helps corporate representatives craft template legislation for state lawmakers, funded partially by the private prison industry — hosted Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce (R) and began debate on legislation that would provide broad powers to local police to arrest anyone who might look like an immigrant. ALEC then distributed the template legislation to its members. The January/February 2010 edition of ALEC’s magazine highlights the draft version of SB1070 — the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” — as model legislation. In April of this year, Pearce then introduced ALEC’s template as the infamous SB1070 law. Notably, the ALEC task force which helped Pearce devise his racial profiling law included Laurie Shanblum, a lobbyist from the mega-private prison corporation Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) which previously played a role in privatizing many of Texas’ prisons. An investigation from Arizona’s KPHO-TV found more ties between SB1070 and the private prison industry: Paul Senseman, Gov. Janet Brewer’s (R-AZ) deputy chief of staff was a former lobbyist for CCA (his wife is still a lobbyist for CCA) and Chuck Coughlin, Brewer’s campaign chairman, runs the lobbying firm in Arizona that represents CCA. In These Times reporter Beau Hodai, who also reported much of SB1070’s connections to the private prison industry, has a chart to explain the relationship. CCA is set to receive well over $74 million in tax dollars in FY2010 for running immigration detention centers. In a presentation given earlier this year, Pershing Square Capital, a hedge fund with a large financial stake in CCA, suggested that CCA’s profitability depends on increasing numbers of immigrants sent to prison. Many of the legislators helping to earn CCA more profits with radical anti-immigrant bills mirroring SB1070 have been recipients of private prison industry cash or have worked closely with the CCA-funded ALEC organization: – TENNESSEE: Earlier this year, legislators in Tennessee passed an immigration bill with provisions “similar to, but less harsh than, those of SB 1070, including requiring city and county jails in the state to report any person who may be in violation of immigration laws to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” But that wasn’t enough: right-wing local lawmakers also passed a resolution honoring Arizona’s SB1070, and a delegation of state lawmakers promised to introduce an anti-immigrant bill even “broader” than SB1070 in 2011. Many of the leading local lawmakers who voted for the anti-immigrant bill and resolution received thousands of dollars from CCA’s political action committee in the past two years, including State Reps. Gerald McCormick ($250), Barrett Rich ($500), Eric Watson ($250) and State Sens. Bill Ketron ($1,000), Jim Tracy ($500), Dolores Gresham ($1,000), Bo Watson ($500), and Jack Johnson ($500). Tracy, who sponsored the resolution honoring Arizona’s SB1070, also received $2,000 directly from CCA founder Tom Beasley, reports the Nashville City Paper. CCA retains five lobbyists in the state and spent at least $50,000 this year to lobby on immigration and other issues. – OKLAHOMA: Rep. Mary Fallin (R-OK), who won her party’s nomination to run for governor this year, received the maximum donation permitted by law from CCA. State Rep. Randy Terrill (R-OK), who announced that he was planning an “Arizona-Plus” immigration bill that would be harsher than SB1070, is a proud member of the CCA-funded American Legislative Exchange Council. – COLORADO: A group of Republican lawmakers in Colorado, after a research trip to Arizona this summer, have stated that they plan on passing a SB1070 law in Colorado next year. CCA’s lobbyists in Colorado have raised funds for many of the lawmakers in the group. CCA lobbyist Margy Christiansen raised $400 State Rep. Randy Baumgardner, one of the leaders of Colorado’s Arizona expedition, and CCA lobbyist Jason Dunn raised $150 for State Sen. Mike Kopp, the Republican minority leader who is promising to promote an SB1070 bill next session. – FLORIDA: During the gubernatorial primary campaign between disgraced businessman Rick Scott and Attorney General Bill McCollum (R-FL), the prospect of importing Arizona’s SB1070 became a prominent issue in the race, with both candidates promising to bring a version of the law to the state. While many Florida Republicans recoiled at the idea, which stands to alienate many Hispanic voters, a cadre of state lawmakers and candidates for the state legislature, most funded by the prison industry, announced their support for an SB1070-type law. State Rep. Bill Snyder, who has received $500 from CCA, pledged to introduce a bill more draconian than SB1070. State House candidate Ben Albritton, another outspoken supporter of SB1070, took $500 from CCA, and State Rep. Joe Negron, who has been working with Snyder to sponsor the bill, received $1,000 from the Geo Group, another major private prison contractor which operates immigrant detention centers. Overall, the Republican Party of Florida has been the biggest recipient of prison industry cash in the past two years: $37,000 from CCA and $145,000 from the Geo Group. – PENNSYLVANIA: In the Key State, State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-PA) introduced the ALEC-drafted “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” one month before State Sen. Russell Pearce (R-AZ) introduced his version of the bill in Arizona. Metcalfe is a highly active member of ALEC. He was paid $1,500 by ALEC just to attend its meetings with CCA lobbyists on how to draft the law. In Tennessee, the average daily number of immigration detainees sank to 40 in FY2009, down from 95 in FY2008. This may change with CCA’s aggressive lobbying for more laws encouraging aggressive arrests of immigrants or people who look like immigrants. Charles Maldonado, who has reported on CCA’s corrupting influence at the Nashville City Paper, notes that CCA may see new business at its West Tennessee Detention Facility with the passage of more SB1070-related laws. ALEC, with funds from several private prison companies, helped sponsor “truth-in-sentencing” and “three-strikes-you’re-out” laws all over the country for the past two decades. These laws have greatly increased incarceration rates, and have contributed to America’s distinction of having the largest prison population in the world.

October 29, 2007 Governing
In recent years, the American Legislative Exchange Council has been one of the most formidable actors on the state policy stage, crafting and helping to enact new laws by the hundreds. But massive staff turnover and managerial complaints have led to questions about whether the effectiveness of ALEC, as the group is commonly known, may diminish. Twenty-two members of the staff, plus one part-timer and two consultants, have left since the beginning of last year, when ALEC hired Lori Roman as its new executive director. That's a considerable percentage of ALEC's total staff, which at press time numbered 29, with three vacancies. Some of the ALEC activists out in the country are beginning to raise questions about all this. "What the hell's going on?" asks Mississippi state Rep. Bill Denny, an ALEC state chair. "We just lost all of those people, and they couldn't all have been bad." Numerous former staff members describe a work environment that grew hostile and "toxic" over the past 18 months. ALEC recently settled a lawsuit brought by one former staffer and faces two pending complaints lodged with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Roman says the departures were neither surprising nor alarming, noting that a change in management, particularly when the new leader comes in with a different style, is often unsettling. Some people in such a situation are bound to leave, she suggests. Roman, who previously ran faith-based programs in the federal Department of Education, declined to speak to many of the complaints on the record. She handed Governing a statement that says, "ALEC's new management team carries out the mission of ALEC with a focus on ethics, accountability and high performance. Some people may not like that style of management, but the facts show that it has made ALEC stronger. In 2006, we went from a $6 million organization to a $7 million organization, with no increase in turnover." Published staff reports appear to contradict the turnover claim. They show that the organization lost only five staff members in 2005 and just three in 2004, compared with the more than 20 who have left since the start of 2006. ALEC's staff serves as the conduit between legislators and representatives from private-sector companies, who meet together on eight task forces that draft model legislation and policy statements. ALEC's conservative policies have been widely translated into actual legislation. In recent years, the group has averaged 1,500 bill introductions per year, with about 200 of those bills becoming law. ALEC's influence has been felt across a wide range of issues, from environmental and prison policy to gun owners' rights and digital-rights management. Turmoil on the inside is bound to limit this kind of influence, and in a few of ALEC's strongest states, affect the dynamics of the legislative process. Perhaps for this reason, not all the top ALEC officials are willing to acknowledge that serious turmoil exists. "I can assure you the supermajority of the board is very excited about where ALEC is going," says Kansas state Sen. Susan Wagle, the organization's immediate past chair. Georgia state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, who chaired ALEC's board when it hired Roman, calls the complaints "lying, crying garbage without any facts to back up what they say." But based on a series of interviews conducted by Governing, these defenders appear to be in the minority. "I have deep concerns about it," says Iowa state Rep. Dolores Mertz, ALEC's national chair. "Right now, it's going through a trying timse." Other legislators, some speaking on a not-for-attribution basis, have made complaints about arbitrariness, sloppy mistakes and a lack of responsiveness. Some private-sector members, who are the group's financial mainstay, also have expressed concern, with members from the oil and pharmaceutical industries, for example, saying they are reconsidering their contributions. Even if some of the most serious allegations prove false, the loss of so much institutional knowledge is bound to have an effect on ALEC, if only in the near term. "It's always jarring if there's new staff, because they have to start from scratch," says Iowa state Sen. Jeff Angelo, a member of ALEC's criminal-justice task force. "Most of the model legislation you're working on, it takes time."

December 9, 2006 Arizona Republic
Hundreds of state lawmakers from around the country will work with industry lobbyists in the Valley today to craft model legislation on tort reform, corporate tax policy and industry regulations. The task force meetings cap the three-day States & Nation Policy Summit at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that wields significant influence on state legislation but is virtually unknown to average citizens. Dozens of Arizona legislators belong to ALEC, at a rate that the state chairman says is higher than in most states. And its influence in Arizona has been seen in recent years on legislation ranging from private prisons and school choice to tax policy and environmental regulations. Model legislation and policy positions adopted at the local summit could lead to new laws proposed in Arizona and statehouses across the country. Nationwide ALEC boasts membership from about one-third of all state legislators in the nation and bills itself as a non-partisan but conservative group that promotes Jeffersonian principles of individual liberty, free markets and limited government. But it is the group's connections to corporate America and its strategy of developing industry-approved model legislation for its members around the country that distinguish it from other legislative groups. That also has generated a lot of criticism, especially from environmental organizations. Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria, Arizona's state chairman for ALEC, says the criticism of corporations' role in the organization is unfounded. "Are we supposed to lock the private sector out of the legislative process?" he asked. But critics believe many in the public would be concerned if they knew the role that corporate interests play in developing ALEC's model legislation and policy positions. Last year, ALEC says, more than 1,000 ALEC bills were introduced in state legislatures, including Arizona's. About 20 percent of the total went into law. "If you are all for corporate America controlling the agenda in America's statehouses, there is nothing wrong with it," says Adam Schafer, executive director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. "But if you think elected officials should be the ones writing the laws, you may find problems with the way they do their model legislation." Corporations and industry groups almost completely finance the group's activities through membership dues and donations, and pay for sometimes extravagant trips for many legislators and their families to conference destinations at resorts around the country. Companies spend thousands of additional dollars to buy seats at the table during task force meetings where the group's model legislation is crafted. ALEC officials say industry representatives pay the task force dues starting at around $2,500 annually to gain a seat on each task force in their areas of interest. The dues for some task forces are higher, but ALEC officials wouldn't say how high the dues for industry members can go. The task forces are structured with two chambers: one consisting of legislators, the other of industry representatives, ALEC officials say. In task force meetings, which are not open to the media, industry lobbyists can push their own pet legislation or block bills they oppose. To become model legislation, both the public sector and private sector sides must approve the bill. Lori Roman, ALEC's executive director, points out that task force legislation must be approved by legislative board members before it becomes model legislation. And Michael Bowman, director of policy and strategic initiatives, says it would be "almost criminal" not to consult industry representatives and notes that companies sometimes have competing interests anyway. "We have so many special-interest groups or so many business interests or corporations here that they don't even agree," he said. "You can't pass something that favors your own company because another company is going to say, 'We're not going to vote for that.' " Russell Smoldon, a lobbyist for SRP and ALEC's private-sector chairman in Arizona, says corporate influence on public policy shouldn't be viewed any differently than union influence or the influence of environmental groups. But critics say that the industry lobbyists may have huge economic incentives to push legislation they favor that may not be in the public good. A representative for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is the co-chair of the tax and fiscal policy task force, for example, and the group has pushed model legislation and policy papers critical of tobacco taxes. Robert Dewey, a vice president for Defenders of Wildlife, which has issued a scathing report on the group, calls ALEC a "Trojan horse" that allows "corporate America to exercise significant influence over state legislation in almost every statehouse around the country." Others, like Tim Delaney of the Phoenix-based Center for Leadership, Ethics & Public Service, question how close they adhere to Jeffersonian principles. "I'm not sure Thomas Jefferson wanted to have Big Tobacco or Big Pharmacy companies in the backroom writing legislation," he said.

August 14, 2006 In These Times
While New Mexico’s landscape may make the state the Land of Enchantment, its rapidly growing rates of incarceration have been utterly disenchanting. What’s worse, New Mexico is at the top of the nation’s list for privatizing prisons; nearly one-half of the state’s prisons and jails are run by corporations. Supposedly, states turn to private companies to cope better with chronic overcrowding and for low-cost management. However, a closer look suggests a different rationale. A recent report from the Montana-based Institute on Money in State Politics reveals that during the 2002 and 2004 election cycles, private prison companies, directors, executives and lobbyists gave $3.3 million to candidates and state political parties across 44 states. According to Edwin Bender, executive director of the Institute on Money in State Politics, private prison companies strongly favor giving to states with the toughest sentencing laws—in essence, the ones that are more likely to come up with the bodies to fill prison beds. Those states, adds Bender, are also the ones most likely to have passed “three-strikes” laws. Those laws, first passed by Washington state voters in 1993 and then California voters in 1994, quickly swept the nation. They were largely based on “cookie-cutter legislation” pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), some of whose members come from the ranks of private prison companies. Florida leads the pack in terms of private prison dollars, with its candidates and political parties receiving almost 20 percent of their total contributions from private prison companies and their affiliates. Florida already has five privately owned and operated prisons, with a sixth on the way. It’s also privatized the bulk of its juvenile detention system. Texas and New Jersey are close behind. But in Florida, some of the influence peddling finally seems to be backfiring. Florida State Corrections Secretary James McDonough alarmed private prison companies with a comment during an Aug. 2 morning call-in radio show. “I actually think the state is better at running the prisons,” McDonough told an interviewer. His comments followed an internal audit last year by the state’s Department of Management Services, which demonstrated that Florida overpaid private prison operators by $1.3 million. Things may no longer be quite as sunny as they once were in Florida for the likes of Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the former Wackenhut, now known as the GEO Group of Boca Raton, Fla. But with a little bit of spiel-tinkering—and a shift of attention to other states—the prison privatizers are likely to keep going. The key shift, Bender explains, is that “the prison industry has gone from a we-can-save-you-money pitch to an economic-development model pitch.” In other words, says Bender, “you need [their] prisons for jobs.” If political donations are any measure, economically challenged and poverty-stricken states like New Mexico are a great target. In this campaign cycle, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson has already received more contributions from a private prison company than any other politician campaigning for state office in the United States. The Institute of Money in State Politics, which traced the donations, reported that GEO has contributed $42,750 to Richardson since 2005—and another $8,000 to his running mate, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. Another $30,000 went from GEO to the Richardson-headed Democratic Governors Association this past March. Richardson’s PAC, Moving America Forward, was another prominent recipient of GEO donations. Now, its former head, prominent state capitol lobbyist Joe Velasquez, is a registered lobbyist for GEO Care Inc., a healthcare subsidiary that runs a hospital in New Mexico. But don’t get the idea that GEO has any particular love for Democrats: $95,000 from the corporation went to the Republican Governors Association last year alone. What companies like GEO do love are the millions of dollars rolling in from lucrative New Mexico contracts to run the Lea County Correctional Facility (operating budget: $25 million/year), and the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility ($13 million/year), among others. CCA also owns and operates the state’s only women’s facility in Grants ($11 million per year). To make sure that those dollars keep flowing, GEO and CCA have perfected the art of the “very tight revolving door,” says Bender, which involves snapping up former corrections administrators, PAC lobbyists and state officials to serve as consultants to private prison companies. In fact, the current New Mexico Corrections Department Secretary Joe Williams was once on GEO’s payroll as their warden of the Lea County Correctional Facility. Earlier this year, Williams was placed on unpaid administrative leave after accusations surfaced that he spent state travel and phone funds to pursue a very close relationship with Ann Casey. Casey is a registered lobbyist in New Mexico for Wexford Health Sources, which provides health care for prisoners at Grants, and Aramark, which provides most of the state’s inmate meals. In her non-lobbying hours, it turns out that Casey is also an assistant warden at a state prison in Centralia, Ill. It appears that even for a prison industry enchanted by public-private partnership, Williams and Casey may have gone too far.

May 2, 2006 Progressive State Network
The Institute on Money in State Politics, a tireless group of people who compile campaign finance data for all fifty states and regularly report national trends, have a new report "Policy Lock-Down: Prison Interests Court Political Players" looking at the $3.3 million private prison companies have donated to state-level actors in the last two election cycles. The report specifically notes: Analysis of campaign contributions made to state-level candidates and political parties also reveals that private-prison interests: Concentrated their giving on legislative candidates who, if elected, act on state budgets and sentencing laws. These candidates received almost half of the money given to candidates — slightly more than $1 million. So the priority is budgets and people who determine sentencing? This will come as no shock to anyone who has studied the origin of strict sentencing laws in America. As Nathan Newman noted in "Governing the Nation From the Statehouses: ": For two decades, ALEC has been a driving force in lobbying for legislation to hand over prisons to corporate management, with 95,000 inmates in at least 31 states or 6.5% of all prisoners in private prisons, two-thirds of them in prisons run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), one of ALEC's leading corporate sponsors. Seven states place more than one-fifth of their prison population in corporate-run prisons. A 2000 report by the Western States Center, "The Prison Payoff: The Role of Politics and Private Prisons in the Incarceration Boom," traced the rise of private prisons to "tough on crime" legislation sponsored by ALEC and its allies that extended sentences and pushed prison populations beyond the capacities of existing state facilities. And conservatives who pushed budget-busting sentencing laws then turned around and blamed guard salaries for the resulting funding crisis. With tight fiscal budgets, privatization was sold as the solution. State prison guards, who had often supported many of the tougher sentencing laws, have found their jobs disappearing to privatization through this two-step process. In Wisconsin, for example, more than 3000 inmates are sent out of state to CCA facilities, leaving the remaining state guards in overcrowded prisons subject to riots and other threats. CCA isn't just one of ALEC's leading sponsors. For a time, they chaired the task force that authors model legislation on sentencing issues for ALEC. Humorously, when Wyoming's Casper Star-Tribune reported on this fact, they drew a quick response from CCA, claiming that CCA does not believe that mandatory sentencing laws help their business. No word yet on how private prison companies are responding to the new Institute report.

Wyoming Legislature
March 13, 2006 Star-Tribune
Wyoming’s legislators form a citizen’s legislature ordinary people, who like yourself and your neighbors, work for a living and strive to do what’s best for the people of Wyoming, within the confines of the state and United States Constitutions. Because Wyoming legislators put on their pants (or pantyhose) one leg at a time, they don’t necessarily come up with ideas for legislation all on their own, out of their own fertile imaginations. Sometimes they get help, from local and national sources, some of which might surprise Wyoming citizens. According to Wyoming legislators and legislative staff, there are several organizations out there that provide research, data and even model legislation to legislatures and legislators throughout the country. • The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a bipartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers, to advance the “Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty.” Headquarters is in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, who also helped found the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, the Moral Majority and the Council for National Policy. ALEC, which claims 2,400 legislator members, charges legislators $100 per biennium to join (constituting less than 2 percent of the annual budget), but then charges corporations (over 300) and associations graduated memberships at $5,000; $10,000; $25,000 and $50,000 to sit at the table with legislators and craft “model” legislation. Corporate funds underwrite travel scholarships, by which legislators and their families can attend national meetings. ALEC’s corporate members have a keen interest in the bills that they craft. For example, model legislation for "three strikes" and "minimum sentencing" -- laws to keep convicted criminals in prison longer was partially crafted by the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison organization, when it sat on ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force. The odds are fairly even, that if you ask your state legislator whether he or she is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the answer will be “Yes.” (Of course, every member of the Wyoming Legislature and Legislative Service Office is a member of the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments, by virtue of being elected to or employed by the Wyoming Legislature.) The trouble is, ALEC itself and Rep. Pete Illoway, R-Cheyenne (a member of ALEC’s national board of directors) won’t tell you who is a member of ALEC. Illoway did say that of Wyoming’s 90 state legislators, close to half are members of ALEC, but he refused to provide a list, though he said he has both Republican and Democratic members. Interviewed earlier this week in his office, Rep. Illoway said he took great offense of a letter that had appeared that morning in the Casper Star Tribune, from Brett Glass. Glass, an Internet access provider in Wyoming, charged that “ALEC drafts "model" bills which favor its corporate sponsors. It then encourages state legislators to introduce the bills in their home states. This year's concealed weapons bill, for example, contains language from ALEC's "Concealed Carry Outright Recognition Act," while the "duty to retreat" bill was based on ALEC's "Castle Doctrine Act" (as in, "a man's home is his castle"). Both were drafted by a committee chaired by a lobbyist from Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer of firearms and ammunition. A bill which would have increased tobacco taxes, and used the proceeds to fund substance-abuse prevention, was opposed strongly by legislators and lobbyists involved with ALEC -- none of whom were registered as lobbying for the group.” Illoway said he’s used model legislation from ALEC once eight years ago n a bill against the Kyoto global warming treaty. “I haven’t used a model bill since then,” he said. He said he didn’t know of any ALEC-oriented bills introduced this session, although an ALEC Report Card said five such bills had been introduced and one passed into law. (ALEC headquarters did not respond to a request about what those bills were.) Illoway said that as a conservative and as “an anti-tax guy,” he enjoys going to ALEC conferences mostly to interact with other like-minded legislators from around the country.