Morgan Loew, CBS 5 Investigative Reporter
PHOENIX, Ariz.Gov. Jan Brewers campaign chairman and policy adviser is also a lobbyist for the largest private prison company in the country.
Chuck Coughlin is one of two people in the Brewer administration with ties to Corrections Corporation of America. The other administration member is communications director Paul Senseman, a former CCA lobbyist. His wife still lobbies for the company.
According to campaign finance records, CCA executives and employees contributed more than $1,000 to the governors re-election campaign. The companys political action committee and its lobbyists contributed another $60,000 to Brewers top legislative priority, Proposition 100, a sales tax to help avoid budget cuts to education.
Caroline Isaacs from the American Friends Service Committee, which advocates for social justice issues, said the money is evidence of influence the company has on the governor.
Isaacs said private prison companies have been buying influence in Arizona politics for years. The number of private prisons and jails operating across the state shows the result of that influence, he said. Currently, there are at least 12 for-profit prison, jail and detention facilities in Arizona.
Isaacs said the state has something else that attracts these companies.
The other Holy Grail, if you will, of private prison construction is immigrant detention, Isaacs said.
Corrections Corporation of America holds the contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to lock up illegal immigrants picked up in Arizona. Tough immigration laws such as Arizona's SB 1070 could send thousands of new bodies its way, and millions of dollars.
Coughlin told CBS 5 News and other media outlets that there is no connection between Brewer and illegal immigrants arrested by local law enforcement.
Coughlin appeared on KAET TVs Horizon two weeks ago. When somebody gets arrested, they go to jail. There are no private jails. Those are public jails. ICE has said they are not taking prisoners arrested under that, so there would be no transport into the state prison system when this happens, he told the host of Horizon.
But ICEs spokesman in Phoenix told CBS 5 News the agency gets most of its detainees from local law enforcement. Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show Arizona agencies turned over 23,000 illegal immigrants to ICE over the past three years. Hundreds of them ended in up CCA facilities.
Anyone who is a serious criminal or is a flight risk is more than likely going to end up in detention here in Arizona, said Vinnie Picard from ICE.
CBS 5 News invited Coughlin to explain what he told the governor about the effects of SB 1070 on CCA, but after weeks of negotiating through e-mail, Coughlin backed out of an on-camera interview.
He sent CBS 5 News e-mail from CCA, which stated: CCA has neither directly, nor indirectly attempted to influence immigration policy, including SB 1070, and absolutely did not engage anyone in the Governors Office on signature of that bill.
People such as Isaacs, who study the private prison industry, said they dont buy it.
My reaction to that statement is then why did they give them all that money? she said.
Coughlins company has canceled all of the governors campaign advertising on CBS 5 News.
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