Over the past few months, ThinkProgress has reported several times on the prison industry’s role in helping to enact Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB-1070. In October, NPR followed up with a widely cited story which claimed the idea for SB-1070 “took shape” at a conference hosted by 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.
Yesterday, at a panel discussion hosted by the right-wing organization called Judicial Watch on the “current and upcoming fights over immigration enforcement,” I asked SB-1070’s sponsor, Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce (R), about the role Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) played in passing the bill. Pearce replied that he’d like to set the record straight, saying, “zero role, zero money, zero impact”:
That story was simply made up. After I introduced this bill in 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, and 2010 — so to assume we wrote it in December 2009 is more than just a stretch. They’ve never had any role. That’s called zero for those who understand math — that’s the very bottom. It has no number to it at all. They had zero role in that.
So it’s pretty disappointing that people can’t find enough real information that they have to make up stuff to demean what’s going on. And it’s insulting. And I made that very clear at the time and I’ll make it clear now: it was an absolute lie that report. Complete manufactured misinformation. And it’s pretty disappointing, so I will set the record very straight — zero role, zero money, zero impact. It was done because it was the right thing to do.
Pearce is right about the fact that he has been introducing versions of SB-1070 for years. NPR’s coverage only went as far back as 2009 and didn’t seem to acknowledge the bill’s legislative history. It’s been known for a while that the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) drafted the legislation — a fact which Pearce would have a hard time denying.
However, just because SB-1070’s language has been around for a while doesn’t preclude ALEC’s or CCA’s involvement in getting passed. NPR didn’t fabricate the fact that 30 of the 36 SB-1070 co-sponsors received donations from prison lobbyists or prison companies. Meanwhile, Pearce’s immigration bill has been adopted as model legislation by ALEC and CCA continues to funnel significant amounts of cash to those pushing Arizona copycat legislation in other states.
A local Arizona TV news station has extensively documented Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R-AZ) conflict of interest in her support of Arizona’s immigration law. CBS5′s KPHO TV found that “two of Brewer’s top advisers have connections” to CCA: Paul Senseman, Brewer’s deputy chief of staff and Chuck Coughlin, who manages her campaign, chaired her transition into the governorship, and is one of the governor’s policy advisors. KPHO reported that Senseman is a former lobbyist for CCA and his wife continues to lobby for the company. Coughlin is president of HighGround Public Affairs Consultants, which lobbies for CCA.
Pershing Square Capital, a hedge fund with a large financial stake in CCA, openly noted that CCA’s profitability depends on increasing numbers of immigrants sent to prison. And since CCA is a member of ALEC, the front group has a responsibility to promote CCA’s profitability. When it comes to immigration, Pearce is an ideologue, so there’s little doubt in my mind that he’s been pushing SB-1070 for the past five years because — according to his value system — he believes it’s the “right” thing to do. Yet, to suggest that two powerful entities which have a clear interest in pushing SB-1070 through played “zero” role in its success is at the very least naive, if not outright misleading.