Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 11:58 a.m.
Governor Brewer's CCA connection: Conflict of interest over SB 1070?
Several months before signing SB 1070, Governor Jan Brewer accepted hundreds of dollars in "seed money" for her clean elections campaign from corporate executives and others with a possible stake in Arizona's "papers please" legislation becoming law.
In all, seven executives with the Tennessee-based private prisons giant Corrections Corporation of America contributed $980 for the governor's start-up fund with Arizona's clean elections system. A warden for one of CCA's Arizona prisons gave $100. A CCA shareholder gave $140.
Lobbyists listed with the state of Arizona as having CCA as a client gave another $560, for a total of $1,780. In addition, CCA has contributed a whopping $10,000 to the campaign for Prop 100, the one cent sales tax heavily promoted by Brewer, which is up for approval by voters today. The success of Prop 100 is considered by many to be the linchpin for a Brewer victory in November.
How does CCA stand to gain from SB 1070? CCA, which houses 75,000 offenders and detainees in more than 60 facilities nationwide, operates six prisons in Arizona, three of which list U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a client: Florence, Eloy, and the Central Arizona Detention Center.
If SB 1070 is not stopped by a federal court injunction before it goes into effect late July, as a recently filed ACLU lawsuit aims to accomplish, all Arizona law enforcement will be required to check the immigration status of those they have "reasonable suspicion" of being in the country illegally. This, during any lawful stop, detention, or arrest.
So the law could potentially mean a boon in warm bodies for CCA prisons, as those aliens turned over to ICE might find themselves in CCA facilities, even if for a short stay.
"The more folks that get pulled over and detained, the more money CCA makes," said Monica Sandschafer, executive director of the Phoenix immigrant rights group LUCHA, which stands for Living United for Change in Arizona. "It's a pretty disturbing connection between Brewer and this company."
But Brewer campaign flack Doug Cole scoffed at the suggestion that there was anything nefarious about the connection between Brewer and CCA, referring to CCA as a "good corporate citizen" and denying that CCA's contributions to Brewer in any way affected her decision to sign the controversial law.
"People contribute to political campaigns, in my experience, because they want to be part of the process," said Cole, speaking in general.
"Oh, so we're talking a thousand dollars here now," he harrumphed at one point.
Asked if the money might have influenced Brewer to sign SB 1070, he stated emphatically, "Absolutely not."
Todd Lang, executive director of Arizona's Citizens Clean Elections Commission contended that Brewer had violated no rules in taking the money from CCA, even if CCA stood to benefit from Brewer's actions as governor.
"Anyone can give to anyone," said Lang of the so-called "seed money," which is limited to a $51,250 cap. "The restriction Clean Elections puts in place is how little money those guys can give. The theory is that this restricts their influence."
Clean Elections holds contributors to the initial seed money fund to a $140 per person limit. Participating gubernatorial candidates must also raise thousands of $5 individual contributions. If they obey these dictates, they are rewarded with public funds: $707,447 for the primary campaign, and $1,061,171 for the general election.
However, Sandschafer pointed out that each of the CCA executives and lobbyists in question gave the maximum amount allowed, save for the warden of the Eloy Detention Center Charles DeRosa, who gave $100.
"These are the people who stand to profit from this horrible racist legislation," Sandschafer asserted.
CCA execs contributing to Brewer include the company's top brass: Damon Hininger, CCA President and CEO; "senior administrator" Anthony Grande; Gustavus Puryear, at one time CCA's general counsel; Todd Mullenger, executive VP and chief financial officer; and so on.
Louise Grant, a CCA spokeswoman based in Tennessee, claimed that the contributions to Brewer, which were made in November of 2009, were not intended to influence public policy, and that the $10K contribution to the Yes on 100 fund, dated April 5, 2010, was made because CCA wanted what was best for its employees in Arizona.
Grant also stated that under Brewer, CCA had lost two contracts with a total of 3,000 prisoners involved. She said that the main facility they use for ICE detainees is Eloy, the warden for which gave $100 to Brewer's start up fund. She denied SB 1070 would be a good thing for CCA, or that CCA had any influence over the law itself.
"CCA has had no involvement whatsoever with this legislation, SB 1070," she said. "And we will not have any involvement with it."
She said the company had made no statement for or against the legislation.