Congratulations, it's a tie! Today's Humpday Hall of Shame award goes to the GEO Group and Rep. John Kavanagh.
Last Friday, Arizona House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanagh allegedly wrote an additional $900,000 into the Arizona budget the for-profit prison corporation. Kavanagh maintains that GEO Group lobbyists requested the money, but Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Doug Nick, however, claims that no additional funding was requested for GEO.
Such a deal perhaps should not come a surprise, since Kavanagh apparently received six campaign contributions from GEO during the last election cycle. In fact, GEO CEO George Zoley, senior vice presidents Thomas Wierdsma, John Bulfin, Jorge Dominicis, and Stephen Fuller, and employee James Black all donated the maximum individual donation amount, $424, between June 29 and and July 9, 2012. Kristin Boilini and and Nicholas Simonetta, two lobbyists for GEO's lobbying firm Pivotal Policy Consulting, also donated to Kavanagh during that time.
Kavanagh has a history of fraternizing with for-profit private prison corporations. In 2011, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona for not enforcing policies requiring biannual comparisons of the quality of public and private prisons, causing the Department of Corrections to withdraw a request for proposal (RFP) for 5,000 private prison beds. In 2012, Kavanagh inserted a provision into the state budget process nullifying that statute. AFSC opposes Kavanagh's actions and has publicized the hypocrisy in giving GEO extra funds while not addressing Arizona's ailing child welfare system.
Thankfully, many Arizonans' outrage resulted in the Senate Appropriations Committee's withdrawal of the extra funds for GEO, though the full Arizona State Senate must act to remove that money from the state budget.
While Kavanagh claims that he receives donations from multiple sources, and that those donations don't influence his actions as a legislator, his special donation to GEO clearly indicates the influence that private prison corporations have in Arizona's legislative process, according to Caroline Isaacs, director of AFSC's Arizona office. “The hubris, both on the part of GEO and Rep. Kavanagh, is astonishing,” she said. “To think he could give away almost a million dollars and nobody would bat an eye.”
Alex Friedman, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and expert on prison privatization, questions Kavanagh's loyalty to the people he represents:
"When elected lawmakers bestow gifts of taxpayer funds on companies that give them campaign contributions, members of the public must wonder whether there is a quid pro quo arrangement and if legislators are acting in the best interest of the public or protecting the special interests of their corporate donors."
Arizona has a bad track record with private prisons, including Hepatitis C exposure and systematic neglect to provide medication and protection from disease at the hands of Corizon, a for-profit prison healthcare company.
It is clear that the state of Arizona and the GEO Group care far more about lining their own pockets than about the health, safety, and human rights of those caught up in the criminal justice and immigration systems. So congratulations again, GEO and John Kavanagh on earning this dubious award. I wish you well in your money-making efforts. The struggle must be real.