Follow the money.
It’s an axiom as old as politics itself and it is clearly evident in the examination of efforts to privatize various segments of state government in Louisiana.
Take state prisons and public education as two cases in point. The Jindal administration is pushing for both against stiff opposition. But outside influence is being brought to bear that would seem to tilt the scales heavily in the favor of the administration.
Take the organization once known as All Children Matter, headed up by one Elizabeth DeVos. The organization changed its name to the American Federation for Children after All Children Matter was fined $5.2 million for campaign money violations in 2006.
All Children Matter made 56 campaign contributions totaling more than $67,000 between November 2003 and January 2010. Those 56 contributions ranged from as little as $500 to as much as $2,000 to a host of Louisiana candidates, including $1,000 in 2007 to Lt. Gov. Jay Darden, then running for secretary of state; five donations totaling $6,500 to State Sen. Ann Duplessis. Duplessis was rejected in June of this year by the Louisiana Senate as Jindal’s nominee to serve on the LSU System Board of Supervisors.
While All Children Matter did not contribute directly to Jindal’s three gubernatorial campaigns, Elizabeth DeVos and husband Richard made six individual contributions to Jindal totaling $16,000 between June of 2003 and August of 2008.
Elizabeth DeVos’s brother Erik Prince heads up Xe Corp., formerly Blackwater, a firm that gained considerable notoriety for privatizing warfare as the largest supplier of mercenary soldiers in the world.
The Walton family, long a proponent of charter schools, also contributed $13,500 to Jindal from June of 2003 to September of 2007.
K12 contributed $5,000 to the Jindal campaign in September of 2007 and in October of 2011, gave $1,000 to the campaign of State Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) and $500 to Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) candidate Holly Boffy (R-Lafayette).
K12, Inc., based in Reston, VA., is funded by the Milken Family Foundation and is run by Lowell Milken. It is the brainchild of Lowell Milken’s brother Michael Milken, the Wall Street “junk bond king,” who was jailed for violation of U.S. securities laws.
Students First of Baton Rouge contributed $5,000 to the campaign of BESE member Chas Roemer in September of this year. The founder and national CEO of Students First is Michelle Rhee, better known as the former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public school system where suspiciously high test-score gains in 41 Washington schools while she was chancellor led to revelations of a high rate of erasures by teachers. In one class, 97 percent of erasures were from wrong answers to correct ones.
With prison privatization, things are pretty much the same.
A private operation of prisons is a high-dollar enterprise worth millions to the private owners. States and the federal government each pay private operators to house prisoners and private prison owners are clamoring for the business, thanks to legislation successfully pushed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
In addition to charging the state and federal governments on a per diem basis, private-run prisons also make money in other ways.
In Florida, minimum security inmates produce tons of beef, chicken and pork for Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE) at 20 cents per hour for re-sale to schools to feed students–at considerable mark-ups.
ALEC has worked diligently to pass state laws to benefit two of its major corporate sponsors, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group. One of those laws was SB 1070, Arizona’s notorious immigration law that helps keep CCA prisons filled to capacity with immigrant detainees.
The Prison Industries Enhancement (PIE) Certification Program has allowed the State of Florida to pay minimum wage to prisoners for PIE-certified work. But 40 percent is taken out of their accounts for room and board—the rent of cell space to offset the costs of incarceration, a requirement not too many would object to. They are, after, all prisoners serving time for crimes.
But the regulations specifically forbade the shipment of prisoner-made goods such as furniture, solar panels, and even guided missile parts across state lines.
The Prison Industries Act changed that by allowing a third-party company to set up a local address in a state that makes prison goods, buy the products from a prison factor, sell them locally or surreptitiously ship them across state lines.
Texas State Rep. and ALEC member Ray Allen drafted the Prison Industries Act in that state. Soon after, the PIE program was transferred from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to the National Correctional Industries Association (NICA).
NICA is a private trade organization that just happened to be represented by Ray Allen’s lobbying firm, Service House, Inc. In 2003, Allen was appointed Chairman of the Texas House Corrections Committee and began pushing the Prison Industries Act and other legislation beneficial to CCA and GEO Group, such as the Private Correctional Facilities Act, nationally. Soon after that, Allen became Chairman of ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force (now ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force). In 2006, Allen resigned from the state legislature while still under investigation for unethical lobbying practices.
He was hired soon after that as a lobbyist for the GEO Group.
Jindal tried this year and will likely repeat efforts to privatize at least three state prisons to placate campaign contributors.
Two of those prisons, in Allen and Winn parishes are already leased to private operations—GEO Group of Boca Raton, Florida (Allen) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) of Nashville, Tennessee (Winn).
Another local company, LaSalle Southwest Corrections of Ruston, would like a piece of that action. LaSalle already operates 12 facilities in Louisiana and Texas.
LaSalle contributed $12,000 to Jindal in four separate transactions between December of 2005 and November of 2008 and also contributed $1,500 to former Gov. Kathleen Blanco in November of 2004. LaSalle also contributed $500 to state senate candidate Rep. Richard Gallot of Ruston in July of this year.
In all, LaSalle gave $20,500 in 11 separate campaign contributions between December of 2006 and July of 2011. Others included:
• State Rep. Charles Chaney (R-Rayville), $1,000 in July of 2011;
• Jason Bullock (R-Ruston), who is in a runoff in House District 12;
• Ken Bailey, a Democrat who won the race for Claiborne Parish sheriff;
• James Paxton, district attorney for the Sixth Judicial District, $1,000 in June of 2008;
• Leah Sumrall, candidate for Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court who finished fourth, $2,500 in July of 2011.
Those contributions were dwarfed, however, by the political contributions of GEO and CCA.
CCA gave $5,000 in two separate contributions to Jindal in November of 2008 and in November of 2009. CCA also contributed $1,000 to Blanco in November of 2003.
Other CCA contributions included:
• Sen. Robert Kostelka (R-Monroe) in December 2009;
• State Sen. Lydia Jackson (D-Shreveport), $500 in November of 2010;
• State Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton), $500 in January of 2010;
• State Rep. James Armes, III (D-Leesville), two contributions of $500 each in September 2010;
• State Rep. Billy R. Chandler (R-Dry Prong), three contributions of $500 each in January and September of 2010 and October of 2011;
• State Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), $500 in January 2010;
• State Rep. Eddie Lambert (R-Gonzales), two contributions of $500 each in December 2009 and September 2010;
• Former State Sen. Kenneth M. (Mike) Smith (D-Winnfield), three separate contributions of $500 each in October of 2003, November of 2004, and April of 2005);
• House Speaker James W. “Jim” Tucker (R-Terrytown), $500 in December 2010.
GEO gave $10,000 in two separate $5,000 contributions to Jindal in June of 2007 and August of 2008 and $5,000 in September of 2004 and $1,000 in February 2007 to Blanco.
GEO, looking further into the political structure, also gave $1,000 to State Treasurer John Kennedy in November of 2005. Kennedy, as state treasurer, oversees the State Bond Commission which approves bonds to finance state construction projects, including prisons. The bond commission also could issue bonds to finance private construction as well.
GEO also made the following contributions:
• House Appropriations Committee Chairman James Fannin (D-Jonesboro), two separate contributions of $500 each in March of 2010 and March of 2011;
• Former Sen. James David Cain (R-Dry Creek), three separate contributions of $2,500 each in June of 2006 and November of 2007 (Cain was a candidate to return to his Senate seat this year and is in a runoff);
• Rep. Patrick Cortez (R-Lafayette), $500 in March of 2008;
• Sen. A.G. Crowe (R-Slidell), two contributions of $1,000 each, both in October of 2007;
• Former Sen. Ann D. Duplessis (D-New Orleans), $1,000 in October 2007;
• State Rep. and ALEC President Noble Ellington (R-Winnsboro), $500 in March of 2010;
• Sen Francis Heitmeier (D-New Orleans), $1,000 in August 2006;
• Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill (D-Dry Creek), four separate contributions of $1,000, all on October 21, 2011, and two separate contributions of $500, both on Feb. 16, 2009;
• Sen. Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), $1,000 in April of 2009;
• Sen. Gerald Long (R-Winnfield), two contributions of $1,000 each, both in October 2007;
• Sen. Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie), five contributions of $1,000 each, two on Oct. 19, 2007 and one each in April 2008, April 2009, and February of 2011, and one $500 contribution in March 2010;
• Sen. Mike Michot (R-Lafayette), $1,000 in November of 2007;
• Sen. Ed Murray (D-New Orleans), nine separate contributions, including two of $1,000 each on Oct. 20, 2007, and seven of $1,000 each on Nov. 5, 2007. (The cumulative $9,000 contributed to Murray over a 16-day period would appear to violate the $5,000 contribution limitation.);
• Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), $500 in March 2008;
• Rep. Ernest Wooton (I-Belle Chase), two contributions of $500 in March 2008 and March 2010;
• Congressman Steve Scalise (R-Jefferson Parish), two $1,000 contributions, both on Oct. 18, 2007;
• V.J. St. Pierre, parish present of St. Charles Parish, $500 in March 2010.
GEO hedged its bets by two contributions of $5,000 each to the Republican Party of Louisiana in March and May of 2009, another $1,000 in September 2009 and $2,500 in December 2010 ($13,500 total), and then had one contribution of $2,500 in May 2006 to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee of Louisiana and three more of $3,000 each in May 2009, June 2010, and May 2011. In addition, Geo contributed $3,000 in June 2011 to the House Democratic Campaign Committee of Louisiana, bringing the total contributed to the Democratic Party to $14,500.
Interestingly, 13 of the legislators receiving contributions from LaSalle, GEO and CCA are members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget–the body which must approve any contracts between the Department of Corrections and these companies.
Those committee members include Chairman Fannin, Vice Chairman Michot, Chaney, Lydia Jackson, Armes, Donahue, Lambert, Tucker, Cortez, Ellington, LaFleur, Long and Murray.
Follow the money.
Read Full Post »