Follow the Money

There are two publically traded companies heavily involved in the American prison industrial complex. Had you invested in them on the day before President Donald Trump's 2016 election, you would have made some serious money. GEO Group Inc. shares are up 85% while CoreCivic's shares have lagged slightly, up only 79%. One reason for this stellar performance is that about 70% of immigrant detainees are held in facilities owned by these private companies. Another reason is that one of the Trump administration's first acts was to reverse an Obama administration's order to phase out contracts with private prisons.

To understand federal policy on any issue, it's always a worthwhile exercise to follow the money. According to Rob Urban and Bill Allison of Bloomberg, GEO Group and CoreCivic each contributed $250,000 to Trump's inaugural committee. GEO in 2016 also gave $275,000 to one Trump aligned Super-PAC called Rebuilding America Now and $170,000 to another called Trump Victory.

Ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections, GEO's Political Action Committee, gave $200,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund which supports House Republicans, and $100,000 to the Senate Leadership Fund. CoreCivic's PAC has given $134,000 to Republican candidates and committees ahead of the midterms while only $7,000 to democrats.

In addition to direct contributions, GEO also spent a record $1.7 million lobbying in 2017, including $550,000 paid to Ballard Partners, a firm started by a top Trump fundraiser. The company spent $380,000 in the first quarter of 2018. CoreCivic spent about $1.4 million in 2017 and plans to spend the same amount in 2018.

GEO has diversified into other prisoner services like community programs and electronic monitoring. Their lobbying efforts recently have focused on public-private partnerships, community re-entry, and electronic monitoring. Apparently they've been effective because GEO's fingerprints cover entire sections of the First Step Act which passed the House in May of this year.

If any prison reform becomes law this year, inmates need to pray that our interests align with these two companies because they're going to get what they want.