As immigration debate rages, private prison operators spread cash to NM pols

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The Cibola County Detention Center, run by private operator CoreCivic, in Milan, N.M. Photo credit / Sarah Macaraeg

Two of the nation’s largest private prison companies have given nearly $33,000 to New Mexico’s congressional representatives and state lawmakers over the past year and a half, a review of campaign finance records by New Mexico In Depth shows.

The two operators — the GEO Group Inc. and CoreCivic, which have maintained a major presence in New Mexico for decades — have come in for criticism over the years from immigration attorneys and advocates for warehousing immigrants under multiple presidential administrations. The focus has sharpened as the nation debates the Trump administration’s stepped-up immigration enforcement policies at the border.

Across the country the two private prison operators have spent considerable money to influence government policy and have made sizable profits from detaining immigrants in their facilities, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The institute is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide.

Hector Balderas

In New Mexico, since late 2016 at least, Democratic elected officials have emerged as the big winners in the contest for private prison operator dollars, a review by NMID shows, receiving nearly  three-quarters — $24,100 — of the $32,950 given by the two companies. That includes this election cycle’s single-largest contribution to a New Mexico elected official – $5,500, which went to state Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs, who is running for governor this year and received $1,000 from CoreCivic, have received $8,850.

Neither GEO nor CoreCivic appear to have given money since late 2016 to U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-Albuquerque, Pearce’s Democratic opponent in this year’s gubernatorial race.

However, they have given to her Democratic colleagues in Congress, records show.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan have received $5,000 total from GEO Group’s and CoreCivic’s political action committees and from people affiliated with the companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.

New Mexico In Depth conducted its review of political contributions from the private prison operators going to New Mexico elected officials by searching the Openness Project and a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics. The Openness Project tracks money going to candidates and incumbents in state elections back to 2010 while CRP tracks money going to candidates and incumbents in federal elections.

Gov. Susana Martinez delivers her final State of the State speech

GEO and CoreCivic have maintained a large footprint in New Mexico for decades, these days operating four of the state’s five privately operated correctional facilities, according to the New Mexico Department of Corrections website. (The fifth private facility, in Otero County, is operated by Management & Training Corp. NMID did not find political contributions from that company going to New Mexico officials.) In addition, CoreCivic has converted a former federal prison in Cibola County into an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center.

Over the years, GEO and CoreCivic, which previously was the  Corrections Corporation of America and, before that, Wackenhut, have given to New Mexico candidates and elected officials, sometimes lavishly. GEO gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson’s re-election campaign in 2006.

State Rep. Patricia Lundstrom is the chairwoman of the Legislature’s powerful budget committee

Since 2010, GEO has continued its spending, giving $187,000 to New Mexico candidates and incumbents, with a substantial portion — around $130,000 — going to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and Advance New Mexico Now, a political action committee affiliated with her.

Meanwhile, CoreCivic/Corrections Corporation of America has given around $35,000 to political candidates since 2010, NMID’s review shows.

Since late 2016, the companies have spread money around the state Legislature, giving to more than 30 state lawmakers, the largest contributions usually going to powerful legislators. Among those recipients were Democratic Speaker of the House Brian Egolf ($2,500), Patricia Lundstrom, chairman of the House’s powerful budget committee ($2,550), and Republican House Minority Leader Nate Gentry ($2,500).

Here is a list of contributions since late 2016 to New Mexico officials


$5,500 – Hector Balderas, Attorney General                   GEO Group          April 2018

$2,500 – Ben Ray Luhan, U.S. Rep, 3rd Disrict.              GEO Group

$2,500 – Martin Heinrich, U.S. Senator                             CoreCivic

$1,000 – John Arthur Smith, state senator                        GEO Group          October 2017

$500 – Carlos Cisneros, state senator                              GEO Group             October 2017

$250 – Rudy Martinez, state representative                     GEO Group           September 2017

$500 – Richard Martinez, state senator                            GEO Group            September 2017

$2,000 – Patricia Lundstrom, state representative           GEO Group         December 2017

$1,000 – Mary Kay Papen, state senator                         GEO Group             October 2017

$250 – John Sapien, state senator                                  GEO Group               November 2017

$250 – Harry Garcia, state representative                       GEO Group            December 2017

$2,000 – George Dodge, Jr., state representatives         GEO Group           October 2017

$2,500 – Brian Egolf, Democratic Speaker of the House GEO Group        October 2017

$500 – Antonio Maestas, state representative                 GEO Group          September 2017

$300 — Patricia Lundstrom, state representative             CoreCivic            September 2017

$250 – Patricia Lundstrom, state representative              CoreCivic             June 2017

$300 – Derrick Lente, state representative                       CoreCivic              May 2018

$300 – Debbie Rodella, state representative                    CoreCivic               May 2018

$300 – Debbie Rodella, state representative                    CoreCivic              October 2017

$300 – Clemente Sanchez, state senator                         CoreCivic                October 2017

$300 – Belquin “Bill” Gomez, state representative              CoreCivic             May 2018

$200 – Harry Garcia, state representative                        CoreCivic               October 2017

$300 — Eliseo Alcon, state representative                        CoreCivic                October 2017

$300 – Doreen Ybarro Gallegos, state representative     CoreCivic               May 2017


$1,000  Steve Pearce, congressman, 2nd District                   CoreCivic                 September 2017

$250 – James Townsend, state representative                 GEO Group           September 2017

$250 – William Payne, state senator                                 GEO Group             December 2017

$500 – Stuart Ingle, Republican Senate minority leader   GEO Group         October 2017

$250 – Steven Neville, state senator                                 GEO Group              October 2017

$250 – Sarah Maestas Barnes, state representative         GEO Group          September 2017

$250 – Sander Rue, state senator                                     GEO Group              November 2017

$250 – Randal Crowder, state representative                    GEO Group           December 2017

$2,500 – Nate Gentry, Republican House minority leader  GEO Group      October 2017

$1,000 – Pat Woods, state senator                                    GEO Group               October 2017

$250 – Jim Smith, state representative                              GEO Group           November 2017

$1,000 – Gay Kernan, state senator                                  GEO Group             December 2017

$500 – Carroll Leavell, state senator                                 GEO Group             October 2017

$300 – Bill Rehm, state represenative                               CoreCivic                May 2018

$300 – Bob Wooley, state representative                          CoreCivic               May 2018


5 thoughts on “As immigration debate rages, private prison operators spread cash to NM pols

  1. You claim Martin Heinrich accepted money along with Ben Lujan, but they are the only people you don’t provide a payment date for? I think you’re lying and this is just a partisan political hack job. Shameful indeed.

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