In May, I reported in my Feathered Bastard blog that executives and lobbyists for the giant, Tennessee-based prison company Corrections Corporation of America had donated $1,780 in "seed money" for Governor Jan Brewer's Clean Elections campaign.
Such early contributions are limited to $140 per person. But if that seems like chump change, consider that CCA also contributed a whopping $10,000 to the campaign for Prop 100, the state sales-tax initiative, the success of which was considered key to Brewer's bid to be more than an "accidental" governor.
The proposition was approved overwhelmingly by voters in May.
What's the big deal with the CCA contributions? CCA operates six prisons in Arizona, three of which house detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
As this column goes to press, SB 1070, Arizona's "breathing-while-brown" law, awaits the decision of U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton on whether she will grant an injunction of all or part of the statute.
The various enforcement provisions of 1070 practically ensure that more undocumented folks will be turned over to ICE. CCA probably will end up holding some of these individuals as they wait for removal proceedings or if they are convicted of federal immigration-related crimes.
So CCA stands to profit from SB 1070, and as recent reports from the investigative magazine In These Times and Phoenix's CBS 5 (KPHO) indicate, Brewer's relationship to CCA runs far deeper than just the political contributions mentioned above.
In These Times' July issue featured a story by Beau Hodai that revealed that Brewer's top flack, Paul Senseman, worked for Arizona's Policy Development Group, which lists CCA as a client. Senseman's wife, Kathy, is listed with the firm as a lobbyist for CCA.
Hodai also reported that the CCA employs Highground Public Affairs Consultants to represent its interests in Arizona. Highground's president is Chuck Coughlin, Brewer's top political adviser and the man running her gubernatorial campaign.
Though In These Times was the first to publish this information, CBS 5's investigative unit was the first to run with it locally.
During a recent newscast, reporter Morgan Loew revealed that CCA gets $11 million a month for inmates in the company's Arizona facilities.
Loew got that figure from the U.S. Marshal's Office. Marshal David Gonzales confirmed the figure to me. But he said that's just what he pays CCA for holding his prisoners, many of whom have been convicted on immigration-related offenses.
So that $11 million doesn't include whatever ICE pays CCA for the same services. I've asked ICE for that number, but it hasn't gotten back to me.
Loew sandbagged Brewer at an event, but Brewer refused to answer questions about her advisers' ties to CCA.
Brewer's boy was willing to chat it up with me about his big-dollar, private prison client, however.
Clearly miffed by the CBS 5 report, Coughlin referred to it as "drive-by" journalism, and claimed that CCA "doesn't house any Arizona prisoners."
"They don't house those types of inmates," insisted Coughlin regarding CCA and immigration-related collars. "[The CBS 5 report] is . . . a total piece of made-up journalism."
When I told him that I'd been to the federal courthouse in Tucson myself, and witnessed CCA buses carting people convicted of immigration crimes, he backpedaled — but not by much.
"That may be a federal contract," he said. "It has nothing to do with the state."
But it will have something to do with the state if 1070 takes effect, as 1070 is all about local police enforcing federal immigration law to the fullest extent possible. Indeed, law enforcement agencies that do not enforce 1070 can be sued by Arizona citizens under one of the law's provisions.
The law makes "attrition through enforcement" the policy of Arizona, and one provision requires that all those arrested have their immigration status checked before they are released.
If CCA ends up holding some of these individuals, then 1070 will benefit CCA directly.
"If that happens, if it were the case, if ICE does," scoffed Coughlin. "You have a lot of ifs down the road that's not a matter of fact right now. We're not working on speculative ventures here. We had no position on 1070. We did not lobby on 1070."
Didn't lobby on 1070? That's one hard-to-swallow lump of coal. I asked Coughlin if he was telling me he'd never talked to Brewer about 1070 or advised her to sign the bill, as many presume he did.
"I talk with her about a lot of stuff," he admitted. "Of course, we talked about 1070. We run her campaign. Absolutely."
Coughlin also admitted that his firm began representing CCA "over a year ago." So he was representing CCA at the same time he was advising Brewer on whether to sign the law.
If that's not a conflict of interest big enough to drive a semi through, I don't know what is.