What Does Millions in Lobbying Money Buy? Five Congresspeople in the Pocket of the Private Prison Industry

What Does Millions in Lobbying Money Buy? Five Congresspeople in the Pocket of the Private Prison Industry

What Does Millions in Lobbying Money Buy? Five Congresspeople in the Pocket of the Private Prison Industry

Should these congresspeople really be making decisions on immigration reform when they've taken so much money from the corporations who stand to gain from stricter enforcement measures?


The for-profit industry of immigrant detention centers has ballooned in the past decade as Lee Fang tracks in a new exposé. A lot of that growth has to do with the industry’s savvy eye for making a buck: Even in the back and forth over immigration reform since last November’s election, the biggest players have recognized the great potential a change to the existing law could mean for them.

Luckily for them, they have the ear of some of the most influential members of congress. An analysis from the Associated Press last year found that the three major private prison corporations spent roughly $45 million over the past decade to influence state and federal government. The two largest corporations, Corrections Corporation of America and the Geo Group, operate extensive lobbying networks—CCA through its very own PAC and the lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and Geo group through donations to candidates’ PACs.

What does that kind of money buy? Below are five major recipients of for-profit detention corporations’ largesse, and their stances in the immigration reform debate.

What did that money buy? In his rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union Address this year, Rubio insisted that “we need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.”

What did that money buy? A 2010 campaign ad shows the senator blaming undocumented immigrants for “drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder” and saying that a pillar of his immigration reform plan is to “complete the danged fence.”

What did that money buy? “Extending amnesty to those who came here illegally or overstayed their visas is dangerous waters,” Sensenbrenner said in January. “We are a nation of laws, and I will evaluate any proposal through that matrix.”

What did that money buy? In a 2010 speech, Lamar Smith called the DREAM Act “a nightmare for the American people,” and penned an op-ed in The New York Times last year that raised the specter of terrorists crossing US borders: “Each year, tens of thousands of illegal immigrants enter the United States from countries other than Mexico, including some countries with strong ties to terrorist organizations like Syria, Iran, Somalia, Nigeria and Pakistan. This means that if we grant amnesty to all illegal immigrants in the United States, it could also include those who wish to do us harm.”

What did that money buy? Earlier this month, Cornyn tweeted, “Friend on border sez 300 ppl coming across his property every night. And Napolitano sez border is under control?”

Cornyn’s idea of “robust” border security was made clear in an amendment he offered during debate over a supplemental spending bill three years ago. Cornyn’s amendment called for $3 billion to be spent on a mix of drones, border security guards, funding for 3,300 beds for immigrant detention over two years as well as 500 additional detention officers. In 2005, Cornyn’s immigration reform legislation called for 10,000 new ICE detention beds.

*The Rubio figures represent private prison industry contributions to political action committees supporting his candidacy in 2010. Other figures represents PAC, employee and private prison industry lobbyist donations. 

For more, read Lee Fang’s new exposé, “How Private Prisons Game the Immigration System.”

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