Private prisons are California political players

A correctional facility in Salinas operated by The GEO Group. ((Photo: GEO Group website)

So you think privately run prisons are a Republican thing? Perhaps in Texas and Tennessee.

But in deep blue California, it is the Democrats who take in the most contributions from for-profit correctional corporations, primarily Florida’s The GEO Group and the Tennessee-based CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America.

Both The GEO Group and CoreCivic own and operate immigration detention facilities for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, facilities that are at the center of President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.

The California Democratic Party tops the list of recipients with $140,000 from GEO and $20,000 CoreCivic.

California Democrats — the state party, candidates and affiliated PACs — received about $251,000 from GEO Group and CoreCivic thus far during the 2017-18 election cycle. GEO Group contributed $156,000, while CoreCivic gave nearly $95,000. Relative to the dollars contributed to Democrats by tech, developers, unions, gambling and cannabis interests, the money is small. However, private-prison contributions to Democrats are more than double what Republicans received ($100,000).

Favoring Democrats with campaign cash is not surprising. Democrats handily control both houses of the Legislature and all statewide offices, including the governor. Indeed, Republicans, at 25.07%, have dropped to third place in voter registration: They trail Democrats (44.36%) and those who decline to state a party preference (25.51%).

The California Democratic Party tops the list of recipients with $140,000 from GEO and $20,000 CoreCivic. Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign received $5,000 (Antonio Villaraigosa and John Chiang also got CoreCivic money). Democrats Bill Dodd of Napa, Blanca Rubio of Baldwin Park, Anthony Rendon of Los Angeles, Phil Ting of San Francisco, Ben Allen of Santa Monica, and 16 other Democratic members of the state Legislature accepted contributions from CoreCivic. Dodd also is GEO Group’s favorite California officeholder ($5,900), followed by Senate Leader Toni Atkins, lawmakers Ben Allen and Jim Cooper.

The Democratic-leaning Women in Power PAC took in $5,000 from CoreCivic, while a California Latino PAC received $2,500.

CoreCivic contributed to the campaigns of 12 Republican state legislators, such as Tom Lackey, Catharine Baker, Brian Dahle and Chad Mayes. The GEO Group contributed to the campaigns of Heath Flora, Bill Brough and Brian Maienschein.

The GEO Group has 47 operations in California, mostly inmate reentry and retraining. CoreCivic operates seven facilities in California, mostly county and city jails.

Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy, the pro-corporate PAC that supports both Democrats and Republicans, received $10,000 each from the GEO Group and CoreCivic.

GEO Group and CoreCivic have much business in the state. Outside of the federal government, California is GEO Group’s second biggest client.

For CoreCivic, California ranks third after the feds and Tennessee, the company’s home state. The companies operate modified community correction facilities, which transition inmates to the outside, as well as other inmate reentry programs.

The GEO Group has 47 operations in California, mostly inmate re-entry and retraining, plus ICE facilities in Adelanto and Mesa Verde.

CoreCivic operates seven facilities in California, mostly county and city jails, and an ICE facility in Otay Mesa near San Diego.

“That is a prison. You walk through the halls and the doors clank shut, there are bars on the windows.” — Kamala Harris

In addition to their business with state, city and county governments, the GEO Group and CoreCivic own and operate immigrant detainment centers for ICE. The GEO Group operates Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County and Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility in Bakersfield. Under GEO Group, Adelanto has had a rash of detainee suicides, in-custody deaths, and accusations of sexual assault and abuse. Inspectors have also cited the facility for delayed and inadequate medical care, an unexperienced medical staff, and deficiencies in their medical grievance reporting system.

CoreCivic runs Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego. Recently, California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris toured Otay Mesa, visiting mothers detained there. After her tour, Harris told a crowd gathered outside, “I am a career prosecutor, I have visited many prisons and jails. That is a prison. You walk through the halls and the doors clink shut and there are bars on the windows.”

Harris said mothers were being charged to call their children — 85 cents per minute — after being paid $1 a day for work. Later, she told reporters that detainees claimed that they were being drugged against their will. She added, “This is clearly a crime against humanity that is being committed by the United States government,” Harris said.

CoreCivic rejected her allegations.

Neither ICE nor its contractors provide information on the value of their contracts.

The Los Angeles Times reported that inmate per diem is $107-$112 per day. A public information request by the National Immigration Law Center found the minimum detainee population guaranteed for each facility.

Using this data, Capitol Weekly estimates that The GEO Group’s two contacts are worth a minimum of $72 million and CoreCivic’s Otay Mesa contract is at least $23.5 million.

The following are contributions by The GEO Group and CoreCivic to California legislators, candidates for state office, state political parties and PACs.

Total contributions for 2017-18: $371,436

GEO Group 2017-18 total: $218,600

  • California Democratic Party: $140,000
  • California Republican Party: $35,000
  • California for Jobs and a Strong Economy: $10,000
  • Republican Party of San Diego: $10,000
  • Bill Dodd (D): $5,900
  • Toni Atkins (D): $4,200
  • Heath Flora (R): $3,500
  • Ben Allen (D): $3,000
  • Bill Brough (R): $2,000
  • Jim Cooper (D): $2,000
  • Brian Maienschein (R): $1,500
  • Todd Gloria (D): $1,500


Democratic interests: $156,600

  • Democratic state party: $140,000
  • Incumbent candidates: $16,600
  • GOP interests: $52,000
  • GOP state party: $35,000
  • GOP San Diego: $10,000
  • Incumbent candidates: $7,000
  • California for Jobs and a Strong Economy PAC: $10,000


CoreCivic 2017-18 total to date: $152,839

  • California Democratic Party: $20,000
  • California Republican Party: $20,000
  • California for Jobs and a Strong Economy: $10,000
  • Tom Lackey (R): $5,000
  • Gavin Newsom (D): $5,000
  • Women in Power PAC: $5,000
  • Phil Ting (D): $4,566
  • Catharine Baker (R): $4,500
  • Bill Dodd (D): $4,000
  • Josh Newman (D): $4,000
  • Andy Vidak (R): $4,000
  • Antonio Villaraigosa (D): $3,500
  • Anthony Rendon (D): $3,227
  • Blanca Rubio (D): $3,000
  • Brian Dahle (R): $3,000
  • Dante Acosta (R): $3,000
  • Adam Gray (D): $3,000
  • Tim Grayson (D): $3,000
  • California Latino PAC: $2,500
  • John Chiang (D): $2,500
  • Autumn Burke (D): $2,000
  • Ben Allen (D): $2,000
  • Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D): $2,000
  • Chad Mayes (R): $2,000
  • Heath Flora (R): $2,000
  • Jacqui Irwin (D): $2,000
  • Jose Medina (D): $2,000
  • Kevin de Léon (D): $2,000
  • Kevin Kiley (R): $2,000
  • Lorena Gonzalez (D): $2,000
  • Richard D. Roth (D): $2,000
  • Marc Steinorth (R): $2,000
  • Matt Dababneh (D): $2,000
  • Henry Stern (D): $2,000
  • Susan Rubio (D): $2,000
  • Tom Daly (D): $2,000
  • Vince Fong (R): $2,000
  • Scott Wilk (R): $2,000
  • Cristina Garcia (D): $1,000
  • Susan Eggman (D): $1,000
  • Pat Bates (R): $1,000
  • Rob Bonta (D): $1,000



Democratic interests: $94,839.27

  • Democratic Party: $20,000
  • Dem connected PACs: $7,500
  • Democratic governor candidates (Newsom, Villaraigosa, Chiang): $11,000
  • Democratic lieutenant governor (de Léon): $2,000
  • Incumbent candidates and Legislature (27): $52,339.27
  • First-time candidates (1): $2,000

Republican interests: $48,000

  • Republican Party: $20,000
  • Incumbent candidates (11): $28,000
  • Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy: $10,000




  • D_Mitchell
  • Susan Rowe

    So who are the Federal?

  • Dr. GS Hurd

    Thanks for this data. This needs to stop.

  • Gina Pera

    Californians should have been paying attention in the 1990s, when the prison-industrial complex encroached into California.

    As a newspaper editor in SoCal, I wondered where the defense contractors would next go to feed at the government trough. The Clinton-Gore Administration had significantly reduced military costs with the base-realignment effort. It hit San Diego defense contractors hard.

    When I reported the story, mostly no one cared. Because they didn’t know what it meant.

    A few years later, “Three Strikes.”

    So, let’s please stop the anti-Democrat hysteria here. Democrats have the power in California. So they get more than the Republicans from these companies. It’s still peanuts in the scheme of things.

  • Laurel Kaskurs

    Thank you for this article. We really need to do a major overhaul so that all prisons are made into reentry job training centers. The ones who make a fortune are the middlemen who sell phone service and basic necessities to the inmates’ families so they don’t have most of their money taken for restitution. They should only be permitted to charge basic rates otherwise that takes away from money that otherwise could go towards their fines, child support, restitution, etc. Why do phone companies get rich off another’s misfortune? The post office would not get away with charging $8 a stamp. There is really no difference. I realize jail is not supposed to be pleasant, but when you confine someone against their will, you have the duty not to abuse your power. These companies are doing just that.

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