Monday, May 20, 2013

OK - Lawmakers benefit from private prison donations

Original Article

As we've said many times before, prison is a business.



OKLAHOMA CITY - Private prison interests have given nearly $200,000 in campaign dollars and gifts to 79 of the 149 members of the state Legislature since 2004, a Tulsa World analysis shows.

From a meal valued at $3.87 for one lawmaker to $22,500 toward T.W. Shannon's Speaker's Ball, private prison and halfway house influence has become well entrenched at the state Capitol.

As the state's prison population has climbed, so has spending on private prisons, which was nearly $73 million last fiscal year, up from slightly more than $57 million in fiscal year 2004.

Halfway-house expenditures were nearly $14 million in fiscal year 2012, up slightly from more than $12 million in fiscal year 2004.

Since 2004, lobbyists, private prison and halfway house employees have given $375,425 to 165 elected officials and candidates for office.

The contributions and gifts come from lobbyists and others affiliated with Avalon Correctional Services, The GEO Group Inc. and Corrections Corporation of America. All three have operations in the state. The lobbyists' representation is not limited to one private prison or halfway house company. They have contracts to represent dozens of far-ranging interests.

House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, is the top recipient of private prison-linked dollars. Shannon has received $34,950. The sum includes $22,500 donated by three private prison companies to fund the 2013 Speaker's Ball.

People make donations to the speaker's campaign because of his ideals, not to buy a spot for theirs, said Joe Griffin, a Shannon spokesman.

"This office makes decisions based on what is best for Oklahoma," Griffin said.

Gov. Mary Fallin ranks No. 2 in private prison dollars. Private prison interests, which include employees, political action committees and lobbyists employed by the companies, have donated $33,608 to her campaigns.

"Campaign donations do not affect the way Gov. Fallin makes policy decisions, period," said Alex Weintz, a Fallin spokesman.

Because she ran a large statewide campaign, it is not surprising that she has large amounts of contributions from any particular group of donors, he said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, is the top recipient of private prison and halfway house dollars in the Senate and No. 3 recipient among elected officials overall. Jolley has reported receipts totaling $30,450 toward his campaigns.

Jolley said employees of Avalon live in his district, which could account for his ranking.

Jolley said people are going to believe what they want about politicians and donations.

"But my vote is not for sale," Jolley said. "It never has been. It never will be."

State Treasurer Ken Miller received the bulk of his contributions in his current position but collected $2,250 as a member of the Oklahoma House.

Political action committees representing CCA and The GEO Group also have donated nearly $100,000 since 2004 to candidates.

In 2012, private prison interests donated nearly $50,000 to campaigns.

Private prison interests donated $72,900 to 2010 campaigns, records show.

In 2008 and 2006, private prison interests donated a respective $72,900 and $71,395 to political campaigns.

Republicans, who control houses of the Legislature and all elected state offices, have received about 83 percent of the contributions from private prisons since 2004.

Since 2010, The GEO Group and Avalon Correctional Services both reported gifts to various lawmakers and legislative staff.

Most of the gifts were given while the Legislature was in session.

Cooper "Brett" Robinson, a lobbyist on behalf of Geo Group, paid for $865.71 in meals and a "movie night" for lawmakers and their spouses during 2010 and 2011. His clients range from Bank of Oklahoma to the City of Oklahoma City, according to a filing with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

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