Private Prisons Have Spent More on This Election Than Any Other in History

Most of the money’s going to Republican candidates.

The for-profit prison industry has spent more money on the upcoming election than any on record—and the vast majority of the donations are going to Republicans.

During this election cycle, private prison PACs, employees, and their families have given $2.1 million to candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

This is no surprise: The for-profit prison business has been booming under the Trump Administration, which has increasingly relied on prison companies to hold immigrant detainees. 

As my colleague Madison Pauly wrote in August, the two largest prison companies, the GEO Group and CoreCivic, relied on federal funding for more than half of their revenue last year, according to their annual reports.

GEO Group, which was responsible for the bulk of the election spending, received $900 million in federal contracts in the most recent fiscal year—as compared to $500 million in Obama’s last year in office. A recent New York Times investigation into Trump’s sprawling business empire found that GEO paid thousands to Mar-a-Lago during Trump’s first two years in office, when the company was under fire for its treatment of detained migrant families.

The donations from the private prison industry this election cycle have flowed to a number of GOP policymakers. As Pauly wrote:

The recipients include Sen. Corey Gardner of Colorado, where GEO and CoreCivic run networks of halfway houses and GEO is fighting a class-action lawsuit over allegations that it forced immigration detainees to work for little or no pay; Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky; and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the chair of the appropriations committee homeland security subcommittee. One of the few Democrats is, again, Rep. Henry Cuellar, a conservative Texas Democrat and vocal defender of private prisons whose district includes both GEO and CoreCivic lockups.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, has vowed to end the federal government’s use of for-profit prisons, building off an Obama-era policy that was rescinded by the Trump administration. In a way, the unprecedented spending spree this election cycle makes perfect sense: The private prison industry has a whole lot to lose.

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