- Private prison corporation gives big to Republicans ahead of ‘more prisons’ agenda
- Mega-donation helped fund attack ads against Democrats
- 93% of GEO Group donations go to Republicans
- Private prison group says more incarceration is needed to maintain profits
- New Mexico Republicans buck national trend and call for more prison terms
Reporting from Santa Fe – Just five weeks before House Republicans seized control of the lower chamber of the state legislature in November 2014, a Florida-based private prison company quietly donated $5,200 to a Republican Super-PAC which was set to launch a series of high-profile, and factually inaccurate, negative ads smearing two female incumbent Democratic representatives in the tightest races that election season.
That initial $5,200 contribution from Geo Group, Inc. came on October 1. It was followed five days later by another mega-donation of $25,000. It was the largest PAC donation ever from one of the state’s two largest private prison corporations.
Since those ads helped Republicans win control of the State House for the first time in 60 years, Republican legislators have introduced a record number of bills aimed at adding new penalties and prison sentences to all sorts of crimes.
As the party in power, they’ve fast-tracked those crime bills by sending them to the Senate with little debate from the House – many do not even have required fiscal impact reports to show how much these new proposals will cost taxpayers.
And they’ve done it at the expense of other programs. To increase funding to prisons in a year with zero budget growth, Republicans used budget tools called “sweeps” to take money from other departments. Offered the chance to add money to preventive programs like job creation and intervention through amendments to the budget, Republicans voted no on a Democratic amendment to provide new funding for family services in CYFD and rural job training programs.
Private prisons house approximately 40-percent of New Mexico’s prison population, but stand to lose hundreds of beds, and the associated dollars, over the next decade if crime prevention, intervention and diversion programs are enacted in New Mexico as they have been in dozens of states across the country.
Want to know how all this came to be? Here’s what you need to know.
“But Chandler’s group got it wrong.”
In week following those donations, finance reports show that Advance New Mexico NOW, a supposedly ‘independent’ PAC led by former Republican DA Matt Chandler (he later received an appointment from Governor Martinez for a judgeship) and charged with attacking Democrats, paid for a DA-area Republican mail firm to produce and print 13 new attack ads.
Just days after those attack ads hit, newspapers around the state printed stories saying at least two of those negative attacks designed to help Republicans were based on facts the group had made up to support their attacks.
October 21, 2014
The committee, Advance New Mexico Now, says in its direct-mail ad that Garcia “voted to hide arrest records from employers like daycare centers and schools.”
“It’s a blatant lie,” Garcia Richard said in an interview.
Matt Chandler, a former district attorney in the Clovis area and the unsuccessful Republican candidate for state attorney general four years ago, is listed on the mailer as treasurer of Advance New Mexico Now.
As evidence to support his group’s charge against Garcia Richard, Chandler cited her vote on Senate Bill 294, the proposal to expunge certain criminal records.
But Chandler’s group got it wrong.
State legislative records show that Garcia Richard voted against the expungement bill.
Another ad accusing Albuquerque State Rep. Liz Thomson, a Democrat, was also false.
Nothing may inflame voters more than a claim that schoolchildren are being shortchanged to pay for lobbyists.
Freshman state Rep. Liz Thomson is the target of just such an advertisement that is at best deceptive and at worst a lie.
But the attacks kept coming.
Within another week, the same PAC had paid Jay McCleskey’s firm more than $20,000 for media buys.
Though his business was supposed to be operating ‘independent’ from candidates, McCleskey was providing similar campaign services to Republican candidates up and down the ballot, including Governor Martinez.
It has been widely reported that McCleskey is now the subject of an FBI inquiry into his fundraising and campaign tactics.
GEO Group: Lowering penalties decreases our bottom line
Sourcewatch.org noted these items in GEO Group’s SEC filings:
In its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, GEO Group cites some of the following as “risk factors” that may affect its business and future prospects:
“[A]ny changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”
“Reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.”
To hike up their profits, these for-profit companies now classify inmates, including those in New Mexico, as “renters” to get the benefits available to companies that build housing programs.
This is so ridiculous, we’ll just let the Santa Fe New Mexican explain it as they did in their report from 2013:
So you thought that private prison companies were operating several corrections facilities for the state of New Mexico? Think again. They are being run by “real estate investment trusts.”
And don’t think of the people living in cells in the private prisons as “inmates.” Under the new arrangement, at least in the eyes of the federal tax system, they are “renters” — though New Mexico taxpayers are paying their “rent.”
Both the Florida-based GEO Group, which runs the state prisons in Hobbs, Santa Rosa and Clayton, and Corrections Corporation of America, a Tennessee company that operates the state women’s prison in Grants, recently have been reclassified by the Internal Revenue Service as real estate investment trusts.
Why? To save millions of dollars in taxes…
The prisons operated by GEO have a combined capacity of 2,425 beds. The women’s prison has a capacity of 611. Private prisons in the state house more than 40 percent of the total number of those incarcerated in state prisons.
While other states embrace prevention, New Mex. Republicans promise to put more people in prison
Those 2014 ads helped Republicans eek out wins in several close districts, including that Albuquerque district targeted by the GEO Group-funded Super Pac. Now in the majority, Republicans began setting their agenda.
Since Governor Martinez took office in 2011, 93% of political contributions from GEO Group have gone to Republican candidates, elected officials and their PACs.
In 2015, a year with no elections, for-GEO Group continued to give – now exclusively to Republican legislators and their PACs.
GEO Group, Inc.
December 5, 2014: $3,000 to Don Tripp Speaker Fund
January 12, 2015: $360 to Lea County Republican Party
And even though other states, including deeply conservative Texas, are closing prisons and embracing intervention and prevention to lower prison costs, New Mexico’s new Republican leaders are calling for more prisons and harsher sentences.
It all pays off.
GEO Group’s investment in attack ads and Republican candidates has rewarded them with a slew of new prison policies in one of the only states in the country actually adding prison beds instead of classrooms, job training or drug intervention programs.
From the Jemez Daily Post in Jemez, NM:
There is promise of a boom time for the private prison industry in our state. The recent push for the Three Strikes and You’re Out law in New Mexico, while most other states are abandoning it, must be heartening news for the locally based incarceration corporations. Private prisons in the state house more than 40 percent of the total number of those incarcerated in state prisons.
For these companies, higher incarceration rates, longer sentences and lower standards mean higher profits and multimillion-dollar salaries for their top executives. They spend vast sums on lobbying efforts and donations to political candidates. They support politicians who promise to run on platforms of harsher sentencing laws, reduced parole time, drug criminalization, longer immigration detention and increased border patrol funding. They also keep their profit margins high by paying low wages to inexperienced guards, maintaining sub-standard medical care in filthy conditions and overlooking prevalent sexual abuse.