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Ariz. immigration bill and Davis County Utah connections

by Jesse Fruhwirth
- Posted // 2010-10-29 -

NPR's Laura Sullivan reported this week on corporate-government coziness that birthed Arizona's immigration law, the toughest in the country. One story referred to the biggest Utah-based company you've probably never heard of, and today a Utah legislator was named.

In brief, Sullivan reports on the deep involvement corporate prison companies had in drafting Arizona's law and also the vast network of state legislators from various states who were also involved in seminal meetings to create that law. The corporations even named the bill that eventually became law in Arizona and drafted it with lawmakers, Sullivan reports. One legislator says corporate influence on the law is overblown. Rep. Paul Ray, a Davis County Republican, chaired the committee of a private organization that considered the bill and passed it on as model legislation.

Today, Sullivan delved deeper into the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an educational endeavor for state lawmakers that seems to have as much in common with K Street-style lobbying as it does Weber State-style education. If you have not read/listened to Sullivan's bombshell stories on this, I highly recommend both of them: Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny and Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law.

But on to the Utah connections... Ray says Sullivan's sources are lying. "If anyone is trying to say that private corrections guys had anything to do with that bill, they're flat-out lying to you."

But it gets more complicated, and Ray eventually conceded in our conversation that private-prison industry representatives were involved in crafting model legislation that became Arizona law. Corporate influence is the very nature of ALEC, Ray said.

"I hope they [private prison industry reps] were [involved in drafting the model legislation] because they have a member on the committee," he said. "I have a committee made up of a couple hundred people. [Private prison industry representatives] are members of ALEC, they have a right to be there."

Ray denied, however, that private prison industry representatives provided any language or edits to the draft legislation--"There was not one amendment or change that came from corrections"--but pleaded ignorance as to whether private interests actually named the bill as Sullivan's reports claims. Ray says that I'd have to talk to Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, the lead sponsor of the Arizona immigration bill, who Ray says brought the bill to ALEC where it was discussed.

Ray said there was no conflict of interest for these companies to vote on the model legislation that became Arizona law because "I don't think there's anything [in the model legislation] that directs anyone toward private corrections." That's over-simplified, and I'll return to that in a bit.

Ray maintains that Arizona's immigration law has no direct impact on prisoner population levels, much less private-prison population levels, because the intent is to deport immigrants as soon as possible. Detention is only a side effect. So, I asked, why then did private prison industry representatives have input on a piece of immigration legislation?

"Because they're a part of the committee," Ray said. And how do you become a part of that? How much does that cost? Why are they members of ALEC's criminal justice committee and not, say, Angela Davis? Ray: "I have no idea. I run the meetings. I set legislative policies. That's what I do for them."

I facetiously asked Ray if I could submit a records request to ALEC to verify his claim that private industry reps made no amendments to the model legislation, and he said of course not, it's a private organization with less duty to transparency than government. Nothing ALEC does, Ray says, has a direct impact on law so it doesn't matter to him if ALEC is a black box of information. "The real negotiations happen when you take [legislation discussed at ALEC] back to your Capitol," he said.

I asked Ray to address whether ALEC is lobbying on a grand scale and not simply a forum for corporate interests to educate lawmakers.

"Quite honestly, it kind of works hand-in-hand," Ray said. "when you lobby somebody, you educate them on whatever your issue is."

Ray traveled to Arizona this summer with Sen. Stephen Sandstrom, both of whom have suggested they will sponsor legislation similar to Arizona's immigration bill in the upcoming session.

And now back to Ray's claim that immigration policy has little impact, and no direct impact, on prisoner levels, which also brings us to the other Davis County connection.

Centerville-based Management and Training Corporation, Utah's fourth largest private employer, was among the private prison companies that gave donations to Arizona lawmakers who co-sponsored the Arizona law. From Sullivan's report,

Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors [of Arizona's immigration law] received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.

Here's an interesting note: MTC is not known for its campaign contributions, at least not in Utah. I checked 10 years of campaign finance disclosures and found a total of $5,000 donated by MTC to four1 Utah politicians between 2004 and 2007, but nothing before or since. In the grand scheme of things, that's nothing.

However, MTC's Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, Jane Marquardt, is more known for her personal political activity in Utah. Since most people associate get-tough crime and immigration policies with conservatives, and gay rights policies with liberals, it might seem ironic that Marquardt, along with her partner Tami, are on the steering committee of Utah's Human Rights Campaign and jointly received Equality Utah's Equality Award at the 2010 Allies Dinner.

MTC is a private contractor that operates dozens of Job Corps programs, a progressive justice program that gives training and education to low-income offenders, but MTC also operates immigrant detention camps and prisons. I can't say with certainty which types of operations bring in more revenue for MTC--and thus, which types of programs should define its public image--but I reported for the Standard-Examiner in January 2007,

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has awarded a 4- to 10-year contract to Management and Training Corporation (MTC) of Centerville to operate an expanded prison facility for criminal illegal immigrants.

The Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility is located in Post, Texas, and currently houses 1,094 inmates. The contract for
$121.7 million will pay MTC for four years of operation at the facility after its expansion to 1,670 inmates [ed. note: more money would come when/if the contract is extended to 10 years].

...

"We feel like it's our job to do what our customers need. In this case the customer is the federal government," [
MTC communications director Carl] Stuart said. "As far as the (immigration) crackdown we are seeing, that's not our area. We're just trying to fulfill the needs that are created."

That's just one contract. So, MTC grabs a $30-million per year federal contract--worth maybe $300 million over a decade--that depends on a constant flow of detained immigrants--and probably more money if there are more detained immigrants--but they claim to have no input or influence on those policies. Sullivan's reports suggest it's more complicated than that.

I left messages yesterday requesting comment from Stuart, still the corporate rep for MTC, on both his office and cell phone. If he calls back, I'll update the post.

One last note: MTC was recently slammed by the Arizona department of corrections in a audit that explored how several inmates were able to escape from an MTC-run prison this summer. The audit complains that many of the employees at the prison had almost no experience. Several staff changes were made after the escape and audit.

Footnote:

1. The recipients were Democrat Scott Matheson (2004), state Sen. Steve Urquhart (R-St. George) (2006), Republican Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey (2007), and former Salt Lake City councilman and Republican mayoral candidate Dave Buhler (2007).

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