FOI at Work: As detention of immigrants grows, so do private prison profits…

A fabulous piece of FOI-driven reporting from the Associated Press:

The Associated Press, seeking to tally the scope of the private facilities, add up their cost and the amounts the companies spend on lobbying and campaign donations, reviewed more than 10 years’ worth of federal and state records. It found a complex, mutually beneficial and evidently legal relationship between those who make corrections and immigration policy and a few prison companies. Some of those companies were struggling to survive before toughened immigrant detention laws took effect.

A decade ago, just 10 percent of the beds in the nation’s civil detention system were in private facilities with little federal oversight. Now, about half the beds are part of a sprawling, private system, largely controlled by just three companies: Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp.

And the growth is far from over, despite the sheer drop in illegal immigration in recent years.

CCA was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 due to lawsuits, management problems and dwindling contracts. Last year, the company reaped $162 million in net income. Federal contracts made up 43 percent of its total revenues, in part thanks to rising immigrant detention.

GEO, which cites the immigration agency as its largest client, saw its net income jump from $16.9 million to $78.6 million since 2000.

At the same time, the three businesses have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found…


Great FOI Idea: Lobbying records…

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The Daily Herald in suburban Chicago weighs in with a nice piece on the use of lobbyists paid for by tax dollars:

In a climate of austerity, transit agencies are shelling out millions for high-paid state and federal lobbyists. But whether riders are getting their money’s worth is elusive to prove.

Dispatching lobbyists to Springfield or Washington, D.C., is essential to get the ear of lawmakers, influence government policy and secure funding, transit officials say.

Through Freedom of Information Act requests, the Daily Herald learned the following.

• Since 2004, the four transit agencies spent more than $12.8 million for 27 lobbyists. On several occasions, agencies employed the same firms.

• In 2009, a year of shortfalls and doomsday predictions, the four agencies paid 20 lobbying firms nearly $2.5 million.

• Lobbyists hired by the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, RTA and Pace have poured $1.8 million into state lawmakers’ election campaigns, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

• Transit officials claim money invested in lobbying has resulted in millions of dollars, but the transit system is perpetually short of funding for both capital and operating needs.

• If you want some way to independently measure what lobbyists do for their employers, good luck. Although lobbyists are expected to issue regular reports to transit agencies describing their activities, the Daily Herald’s request for that information was denied.

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