Joe Kennedy III Accepted $2,500 From A Private Prison Corporate PAC In 2012

Printed from:

In his quest to be elected to the U.S. Senate, Democratic U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III is not taking a dime of corporate political action committee money. Previously, that was not the case.

Kennedy (D-Newton), who represents Massachusetts’s Fourth Congressional District, has received a significant amount of corporate PAC donations over the years. That includes a $2,500 contribution from The GEO Group Inc. on June 1, 2012, according to Federal Election Commission campaign filings. That donation came during Kennedy’s first campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. 

GEO Group operates 65 “secure services” facilities, including detention centers and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement processing centers, according to GEO Group’s web site. Open Secrets considers the corporation part of the for-profit prison industry. According to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, GEO Group has faced lawsuits over allegations that the company use forced labor at its ICE facilities.

In the 2012 cycle, GEO Group contributed $61,500 to federal candidates, 72 percent of which went to Republicans. The biggest recipients were Connie Mack, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for re-election to the U.S. Senate in Florida that year against Democrat Bill Nelson, and U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar (D-Texas); GEO Group’s PAC gave $10,000 to each. Additionally, GEO Group contributed $2,500 to then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s election bid.

Daniel Medwed, a professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University, told New Boston Post that candidates accepting money from private for-profit prisons like GEO Group is usually a good indicator that they’re not truly interested in criminal justice reform.

“For-profit prisons generally have incentives to maximize profit at the potential expense of other values, such as treating inmates more humanely (which involves investment to improve conditions) and making efforts to reduce mass incarceration by coming up with alternatives to imprisonment for nonviolent offenders (which means fewer inmates),” Medwed said in an email message. “Accepting political contributions from for-profit prisons, either directly or indirectly from a PAC, strikes me as inconsistent with the objectives of many advocates for prison reform and decarceration.”

Jeremiah Goulka, a senior fellow of justice policy at the Health in Justice Action Lab, which supports criminal justice reform, offered New Boston Post his perspective of what it means when a politician takes that kind of a donation.

“Everyone understands that while it might not be an explicit process to pass legislation for the donor, they are quite friendly to inviting them into the room to discuss,” Goulka told New Boston Post in a telephone interview. “Donations get you a seat at the table.”

“Any candidate who takes money from private prisons and talks about reforms to the criminal justice system is talking out of both sides of their mouth,” he added.

Goulka also said that the primary motive private prisons have is to make money for their shareholders — not serving the public. He likened it to police and prison guard unions, and said their top priorities are keeping their jobs — which means there has to be crime.

When asked to comment by New Boston Post, the Kennedy campaign dismissed the inquiry, saying that the representative has changed his position on corporate PAC money.

Emily Kaufman, a spokesman for Kennedy’s Senate campaign told New Boston Post in an email message, “This money was donated several years ago. Joe does not accept money from private prison companies.”

Kennedy’s Senate campaign web site says he is in favor of criminal justice reform. It now states that he would like to ban for-profit prisons.

GEO Group could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

Senator Markey’s campaign press office declined to comment.