Private Prison Company GEO Group's Pay-to-Play

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At a Glance

CLC took action to address a pay-to-play in which a government contractor, private prison company GEO, violated the government contractor ban by making a six-figure donation to a super PAC supporting Trump just one day after the Obama Administration announced it would phase out the use of private prisons.  

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The Latest

Almost nine months later, the public still has not seen any documents that show how the Department of Justice (DOJ) reached its decision to change course on its private prison policy. But private prison giant GEO Group’s history of large, illegal donations to a pro-Trump super PAC offers a very likely explanation.

In August 2016, the Obama...

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About this Action

Government contractors are prohibited from donating to federal elections. But on August 19, 2016, GEO Corrections Holding, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the private prison company GEO Group, donated $100,000 to the pro-Donald Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now. At the time, Vice Presidential Candidate Mike Pence was touting donations to the PAC as “one of the best ways” to help put Trump in office. The donation came one day after then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued a memo directing the Bureau of Prisons to gradually end the use of private prisons, tanking GEO’s stock prices. The GEO subsidiary donated an additional $125,000 in the November before the election, for a total of $225,000 in illegal contributions to the Trump campaign. 

After President Trump’s election, GEO’s stock prices soared. And shortly after Trump assumed office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new administration would continue the use of private prisons. A few months later, the Trump administration awarded GEO a $110 million, 10-year federal contract.

CLC filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the contributions — made through a wholly-owned subsidiary, GEO Corrections Holdings, Inc. — violated the ban on federal contractors giving money in federal elections. We then sued the FEC after waiting more than a year for the agency to resolve the complaint. And we’ve filed FOIA requests to uncover the facts and shed light on the Trump administration’s decisions favoring private prisons after this illegal campaign contribution — and sued when the government doesn’t turn over the documents. 

The reason that federal contractors have been barred from making contributions for the past 75 years is to prevent pay-to-play in the contracting process. Public officials are supposed to make contracting decisions based on what is best for the public, not based on who spent the most money getting them elected. GEO Group’s illegal donations have the appearance of a pay-to-play: since Trump was elected with GEO’s backing, the company has reaped enormous political and financial benefits. 

The FEC is critical to the enforcement of the contractor contribution ban and in preventing pay-to-play politics. It is incumbent upon the FEC to enforce the longstanding federal contribution ban and take action against GEO Group to deter future violations. Without the contractor ban, the government contracting process becomes an obvious way for officials to reward friends and political donors.

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