Private Prison Group Contracted With ICE Donates to Politicians Despite Ban
GEO Group is America’s largest private prison company with 141 prison facilities across the U.S. but a new report from MapLight in conjunction with the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting reveals the company may have violated campaign finance laws when it made a donation to a super PAC backing Florida Gov. Rick Scott for Senate.
GEO Group is the recipient of various government contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) worth $471 million and is ICE’s largest contract recipient.
The group has also donated over $8.7 million to various political campaigns over the years and contributed another $8.4 million to political lobbyings within the state of Florida, according to the National Institute on Money in Politics.
At issue is a donation the private prison group made in April when a GEO Group subsidiary donated $125,000 to New Republican PAC to aid Scott’s Senate campaigns. GEO Group made the donation through one of its wholly-owned subsidiaries known as GEO Acquisition.
Unfortunately for GEO Group, there is a ban on federal contractors donating to political campaigns which exists to prevent companies from bribing their way into government contracts. A subsidiary company is not immune from this law.
Craig Holmon, an ethics advocate at Public Citizen told MapLight, “In my book, this is a violation of the pay-to-play law. You can’t let subsidiaries get around what is illegal for the parent corporation to do. Otherwise you just essentially throw the law out.”
Brendan Fischer, a lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center, agreed with Holmon’s assessment. “A contractor can’t dodge the ban by making a contribution through a wholly owned subsidiary,” he said.
The investigation by MapLight and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) found that GEO Acquisition II is registered in Delaware but lists Boca Raton in Florida as its mailing address, the same headquarters address used by GEO Group. The five directors given in GEO Acquisition II in their registration documents are the same directors listed in GEO Group’s company records.
Similarly, the subsidiary Acquisition II is also the parent company of CPT Operating Partnership LP, which owns the real estate at five of GEO Group’s facilities in contract with the government.
The Campaign Legal Center in 2016 made a petition to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaining that another subsidiary belonging to GEO Group contributed to Rebuilding America Now. The entity is a super PAC supporting Trump and chaired by Rick Scott. The FEC failed to appropriately act on the petition and the Campaign Legal Center sued it for failing to act on a filed petition.
Fischer, who works at the Campaign Legal Center, said that GEO Group has not ceased making donations to federal elections and the FEC’s inactions may have spurred its continuous donations. “GEO may have calculated that the financial benefit from buying influence with politicians outweighs any penalties that the FEC might eventually impose,” he said.
According to the MapLight report, GEO’s yearly revenues have doubled since 2013 and it has become particularly profitable after Trump assumed the presidency. Under Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions re-instated the governments’ policy of using private prisons, whereas Obama had sought to phase out the use of private prison companies. Trump’s tougher immigration stance has also been good for GEO Group’s bottom line.