Welcome to The Humpday Hall of Shame - every Wednesday we'll be high-lighting the private prison industry's influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.
Our inaugural Hall of Shame inductee is Arizona State Representative John Kavanagh. Kavanagh is the Chair of the powerful Arizona House Appropriations Committee and outgoing Chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which earlier this year approved an RFP for 5,000 new private prison beds in Arizona. Kavanagh also appeared on Arizona Public Television recently debating in favor of privatization.
"A Cell-Out Arizona investigation has revealed that John Kavanagh (R-8), Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has accepted numerous campaign contributions from lobbyists and others associated with Geo Group, the nation’s second largest private prison company and one of the bidders for a contract to build and manage 5,000 new prison beds in Arizona. Now we know why Kavanagh is such a staunch supporter of private prisons."
Furthermore, journalist Beau Hodai in In These Times found that John Kaites is chief lobbyist for GEO Group. Kaites, a former state legislator himself, is a perfect fit for the private prison industry. In 2008, then-Representative Kaites sponsored Senate Bill 1278 that, amongst other things, established a felony with maximum jail time of more than 2 years for “refusal to return a motor vehicle to a qualifying secured creditor,” essentially failure to pay a car payment within 90 days. He once said "I think if somebody commits a violent act in Arizona, we have an obligation to take them off the streets and put them away as long as we can." (Stephanie Innes, “Prison beds fill up fast as state builds: Buckeye gets huge new lockup.” Tucson Citizen. August 17, 1998). Both Kaites and his wife have contributed to Kavanagh's campaign coffers, according to the Tuscon Citizen article. So have other partners in Kaites' lobbying firm Public Policy Partners.
Hodai, whose excellent work is chronicled at DBAPress.com, also uncovered that Kavanagh is an active member of the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC). Kavanagh attended annual ALEC meetings in 2009 and 2010 and serving on the “Public Safety and Elections Task Force.” ALEC, a secretive but increasingly scrutinized organization of right-wing state legislators and corporations like Corrections Corporation of America, drafts model legislation and was behind Arizona's harsh anti-immigrant law (Laura Sullivan, "Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law," NPR, October 28, 2010) passed last year. That bill benefited and was pushed by the private prison industry, and Kavanagh, as you might imagine, was a major proponent.
Tune in next week for the next installation of the Humpday Hall of Shame.