In December 2009, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a powerful front group that helps corporate representatives craft template legislation for state lawmakers, funded partially by the private prison industry — hosted Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce (R) and began debate on legislation that would provide broad powers to local police to arrest anyone who might look like an immigrant. ALEC then distributed the template legislation to its members. The January/February 2010 edition of ALEC’s magazine highlights the draft version of SB1070 — the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” — as model legislation.
In April of this year, Pearce then introduced ALEC’s template as the infamous SB1070 law. Notably, the ALEC task force which helped Pearce devise his racial profiling law included Laurie Shanblum, a lobbyist from the mega-private prison corporation Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) which previously played a role in privatizing many of Texas’ prisons. An investigation from Arizona’s KPHO-TV found more ties between SB1070 and the private prison industry: Paul Senseman, Gov. Janet Brewer’s (R-AZ) deputy chief of staff was a former lobbyist for CCA (his wife is still a lobbyist for CCA) and Chuck Coughlin, Brewer’s campaign chairman, runs the lobbying firm in Arizona that represents CCA. In These Times reporter Beau Hodai, who also reported much of SB1070’s connections to the private prison industry, has a chart to explain the relationship.
CCA is set to receive well over $74 million in tax dollars in FY2010 for running immigration detention centers. In a presentation given earlier this year, Pershing Square Capital, a hedge fund with a large financial stake in CCA, suggested that CCA’s profitability depends on increasing numbers of immigrants sent to prison. Many of the legislators helping to earn CCA more profits with radical anti-immigrant bills mirroring SB1070 have been recipients of private prison industry cash or have worked closely with the CCA-funded ALEC organization:
— TENNESSEE: Earlier this year, legislators in Tennessee passed an immigration bill with provisions “similar to, but less harsh than, those of SB 1070, including requiring city and county jails in the state to report any person who may be in violation of immigration laws to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” But that wasn’t enough: right-wing local lawmakers also passed a resolution honoring Arizona’s SB1070, and a delegation of state lawmakers promised to introduce an anti-immigrant bill even “broader” than SB1070 in 2011. Many of the leading local lawmakers who voted for the anti-immigrant bill and resolution received thousands of dollars from CCA’s political action committee in the past two years, including State Reps. Gerald McCormick ($250), Barrett Rich ($500), Eric Watson ($250) and State Sens. Bill Ketron ($1,000), Jim Tracy ($500), Dolores Gresham ($1,000), Bo Watson ($500), and Jack Johnson ($500). Tracy, who sponsored the resolution honoring Arizona’s SB1070, also received $2,000 directly from CCA founder Tom Beasley, reports the Nashville City Paper. CCA retains five lobbyists in the state and spent at least $50,000 this year to lobby on immigration and other issues.
— OKLAHOMA: Rep. Mary Fallin (R-OK), who won her party’s nomination to run for governor this year, received the maximum donation permitted by law from CCA. State Rep. Randy Terrill (R-OK), who announced that he was planning an “Arizona-Plus” immigration bill that would be harsher than SB1070, is a proud member of the CCA-funded American Legislative Exchange Council.
— COLORADO: A group of Republican lawmakers in Colorado, after a research trip to Arizona this summer, have stated that they plan on passing a SB1070 law in Colorado next year. CCA’s lobbyists in Colorado have raised funds for many of the lawmakers in the group. CCA lobbyist Margy Christiansen raised $400 State Rep. Randy Baumgardner, one of the leaders of Colorado’s Arizona expedition, and CCA lobbyist Jason Dunn raised $150 for State Sen. Mike Kopp, the Republican minority leader who is promising to promote an SB1070 bill next session.
— FLORIDA: During the gubernatorial primary campaign between disgraced businessman Rick Scott and Attorney General Bill McCollum (R-FL), the prospect of importing Arizona’s SB1070 became a prominent issue in the race, with both candidates promising to bring a version of the law to the state. While many Florida Republicans recoiled at the idea, which stands to alienate many Hispanic voters, a cadre of state lawmakers and candidates for the state legislature, most funded by the prison industry, announced their support for an SB1070-type law. State Rep. Bill Snyder, who has received $500 from CCA, pledged to introduce a bill more draconian than SB1070. State House candidate Ben Albritton, another outspoken supporter of SB1070, took $500 from CCA, and State Rep. Joe Negron, who has been working with Snyder to sponsor the bill, received $1,000 from the Geo Group, another major private prison contractor which operates immigrant detention centers. Overall, the Republican Party of Florida has been the biggest recipient of prison industry cash in the past two years: $37,000 from CCA and $145,000 from the Geo Group.
— PENNSYLVANIA: In the Key State, State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-PA) introduced the ALEC-drafted “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” one month before State Sen. Russell Pearce (R-AZ) introduced his version of the bill in Arizona. Metcalfe is a highly active member of ALEC. He was paid $1,500 by ALEC just to attend its meetings with CCA lobbyists on how to draft the law.
In Tennessee, the average daily number of immigration detainees sank to 40 in FY2009, down from 95 in FY2008. This may change with CCA’s aggressive lobbying for more laws encouraging aggressive arrests of immigrants or people who look like immigrants. Charles Maldonado, who has reported on CCA’s corrupting influence at the Nashville City Paper, notes that CCA may see new business at its West Tennessee Detention Facility with the passage of more SB1070-related laws.
ALEC, with funds from several private prison companies, helped sponsor “truth-in-sentencing” and “three-strikes-you’re-out” laws all over the country for the past two decades. These laws have greatly increased incarceration rates, and have contributed to America’s distinction of having the largest prison population in the world.