On The Money: Pay To play?
Money yields clout at the capitol
SACRAMENTO (CBS13) ― An out-of-state company that
contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Capitol
politicians - has secured an exclusive contract with the
State - worth nearly $700 million.
Critics say this deal is a prime example of pay-to-play
politics at the Capitol - and it involves California
prisoners - who have become a very valuable commodity for
Corporation of America - a private prison operator
based in Tennessee.
California's prisons are costing taxpayers roughly $8
billion a year. (
Proposed 2010-11 Corrections Budget | Proposed 2010-11
Overcrowding is so extreme, the Courts have threatened to
order the release of up 40 thousand prisoners. Governor
Schwarzenegger declared an
emergency four years ago, paving the way for ten
thousand inmates to be shipped to Arizona, Mississippi and
But a $23 million contract to send prisoners out of state -
has now mushroomed into a nearly $700 million deal for
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
"When you look at a contribution pattern like you see here,
it's really a classic case of pay-to-play politics," said
Derek Cressman, Regional Director of State Operations for
Common Cause, a
government watchdog group.
Campaign finance records show the Tennessee firm
gave $100,000 to Governor Schwarzenegger's ballot
measure last year for budget reform.
And this year, the
same company donated $10,000 to the Meg Whitman for Governor
campaign, and $25,000 more to the California Republican
Corrections Corporation of America also contributed $5,000 to the
Jerry Brown for Governor campaign and more than $17,000
California Democratic Party.
CCA also gave thousands of dollars to State lawmakers -
Democrats and Republicans - most of them incumbents - a
total of more than a
quarter of a million dollars to elected officials.
spent nearly $300,000 to lobby the Governor's Office,
the Legislature and prison officials about the out-of-state
CCA netted a multi-million dollar contract that critics say
was no coincidence.
"The fact that they're putting money in really looks like they're greasing
the skids to get a lot more money out," Derek Cressman of
Common Cause told CBS 13.
CCA declined our interview request - but sent a statement
saying in part, "…we are no different than - and in
fact, play a much smaller role in this arena - than many
individual Californians, special interest groups and
For the full CCA statement,
But the CCA contract has now been amended several times,
resulting in today's nearly $700 million price tag.
"And so we had a hearing along these lines and found that
there was no competitive bidding," said Assemblyman Hector
De La Torre, chair of the
Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative
The South Gate Democrat told CBS 13 that other firms - and
other states - were very interested in housing California's
prisoners. The Department
of Corrections and Rehabilitation said two vendors did
bid for the initial contract - but one dropped out.
"CCA was the only one that had the cell capacity with the
perimeter security and the programming necessary to take
care of the offenders in the way that California takes care
of them," said Scott Kernan, Undersecretary of Operations
for the California Department of Corrections and
The CCA contract expires next year - and there's a call at
the Capitol for more transparency.
Assemblyman De La Torre told CBS 13, "It has to look like
all other competitive bidding processes so that the
taxpayer will know that they're getting the best deal when
we're sending prisoners out of state."
Are taxpayers in fact getting the best bang for the
"We have no idea," De La Torre said.
The CCA contract is due to expire in June 2011 and there is
growing pressure at the Capitol to reject any expansion -
unless it's opened up to competitive bidding.
The report from the Fair Political Practices
Fifteen Special Interests that Spent $1 Billion to Shape
California Government" (.pdf)
See the article on CBS 13 Sacramento website