Private prison companies poured record amounts of money into the 2018 elections—more than $1.6 million in federally disclosed contributions as of mid-October, reports Mother Jones, based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s more than three times as much as the industry spent in any other midterm year, and about the same as its spending in the 2016 election, when Hillary Clinton called for an end to private prisons.
A large proportion of that money appears to have gone to candidates in Florida, home of the country’s largest private prison company, the Boca Raton-based GEO Group. Outside Florida, GEO donated more than $430,000 to committees and candidates at the state level, according to the National Institute for Money in Politics. Much of that spending was in states with some of the highest incarceration rates in the world, like Alabama (where GEO gave $52,500), Oklahoma ($53,500), and Texas ($43,500). In Texas, GEO also directed about $25,000 toward elections for county commissioners and judges in districts where the company operates immigration detention centers, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Democratic control of the U.S. House means that private prison companies will likely have fewer allies on the strategically important Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee, which oversees ICE’s budget for detaining immigrants — the source of a quarter of GEO’s revenue last year. Members of the subcommittee are some of the top congressional recipients of private prison campaign cash. That includes Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), who received $44,000 in contributions from the industry this cycle, only to be defeated by Democratic upstart Lizzie Fletcher. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) won reelection after taking $36,400 from the prison industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Cuellar is perhaps the industry’s most vocal Democratic defender.