Is Gov. Rick Scott Rewarding Donors With Private Prison Plan?

Even before he was in office, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) proposed privatizing much of Florida’s prison system, and state House and Senate negotiators agreed to do just that Monday as legislators hammer out a budget. The agreement will move thousands of inmates to prisons run by for-profit companies in an 18-county region in Southern Florida.

As the Maimi Herald reported last month, Scott’s plan “could open a lucrative door to politically connected vendors who stand to profit.” GEO Group appears to be the company with the most to gain. The nation’s second largest private corrections company, GEO — based in Boca Raton, FL — already manages two of the state’s seven private prisons and four of its seven mental-health facilities.

A “prime financier[] of the Republican Party,” GEO Group gave more than $400,000 to GOP in the 2010 election cycle alone and gave the maximum $25,000 to Scott’s inaugural fund.

The company has also deployed a small army of lobbyists in Tallahassee, including Florida “uber-lobbyist” Brian Ballard. Ballard and Scott have an unusually close relationship. Scott appointed Ballard to the finance committee for his inaugural fund and Ballard helped raise $3 million for the festivities. The month after Scott was sworn in, Ballard hosted a fundraiser Superbowl party at his Tallahassee home — Scott was the guest of honor.

Ballard is also a lobbyist for the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) — the nation’s largest corrections company with close ties to GOP statehouses across the country — which also stands to gain from the privatization scheme. The company has spent $373,000 in political contributions in Florida since 2003, over 60 percent of which have gone to Republicans.

Meanwhile, a third company, The Boca Raton company, is a “a reliable contributor to the Republican party” and gave Scott’s inaugural fund the maximum $25,000. It also employs a stable of 16 lobbyists in Tallahassee.

It’s really just a gift to the private-prison industry,” said David Murrell of the Police Benevolent Association, the union which represents correctional officers. “It’s very political. The private corporations have been very helpful to the governor and his people.” Ironically, Scott “campaigned against the influence of special interests,” the St. Petersburg Times’ Marc Caputo notes. “But that was sooooo 2010.”