Prison builders turn to lobbyists

Website editor’s note: The Union Leader reports that lobbyists have earned $130,000 from three of the four for-profit bidders hoping to build and run prison facilities for 1,700 New Hampshire inmates. It’s hard for the nonprofit sector to fight that kind of political clout, and the election campaign has barely started. What will they spend between now and the November vote?


From NH Sunday News Aug. 19, 2012

Prison builders turn to lobbyists 

Three out-of-state companies vying to build a new men’s prison in New Hampshire have paid more than $130,000 in lobbyist fees to three Concord firms to win support for their proposal, according to state records.


New Hampshire Sunday News

CONCORD — Three out-of-state companies vying to build a new men’s prison in New Hampshire have paid more than $130,000 in lobbyist fees to three Concord firms to win support for their proposal, according to state records.

Corrections Corporation of America, based in Nashville, Tenn., outpaced its rivals, providing more than $101,000 to the Rath, Young and Pignatelli law firm since 2011, according to a New Hampshire Sunday News review of lobbyist income and expense reports. 

“Generally speaking, because governments are our partners, we obviously educate through government relations,” CCA spokesman Mike Machak said in an email. “It’s how we transparently share information about the services and solutions we provide and make sure we’re up to date on any specific needs they may have.” 

The law firm, which includes a section devoted to government relations, reported it spent all $101,729.85 it collected in lobbying fees from CCA since 2011.

State law requires lobbyists to submit certain financial information regarding its clients. 

According to paperwork lobbyists must submit to the Secretary of State’s Office, lobbyists are required to report all fees “that are related, directly or indirectly, to lobbying, including fees for services such as public advocacy, government relations, or public relations services including research, monitoring legislation, and related legal work.”

David Collins, director of government relations at the Concord law firm, deferred questions to CCA, which declined to talk specifically about its lobbying efforts in New Hampshire. 

William McGonagle, the state’s assistant corrections commissioner, said he’s aware of the lobbyists, but said the process for reviewing proposals is private at this point. 

“They’re out there,” McGonagle said. “I know they’re out there talking with legislators and the like.” 

The Legislature would need to approve funding any new prison received, he said. 

Fran Wendelboe, a former legislator and current registered lobbyist not involved in the prison proposals, said lobbyists can prove to be powerful forces. 

“On many occasions, they write the .... legislation,” Wendelboe said. “The lobbyists are considered the expert or who they represent are considered the experts.” 

Four companies submitted proposals — some topping $100 million — to build the prison. Some call for a privately run prison while others allow for the state to run it. Three state evaluation teams are privately reviewing the proposals. A recommendation is expected to reach the governor’s office and the state departments of corrections and administrative services in October, McGonagle said. 

Bruce Berke, a lobbyist with the Sheehan Phinney Capitol Group that represents Management & Training Corp., confirmed the receipt of $24,000 in fees, but referred further questions to his client. 

Issa Arnita, director of communications for the Centerville, Utah-based company, said in an email: “At times we hire lobbyists to educate various groups on the benefits of public/private partnerships in corrections. 

“We are participating in the competitive bid process, and we look forward to a decision by the state of New Hampshire,” Issa wrote. 

Berke’s firm on its website says its lobbyists “utilize their knowledge of the legislative and regulatory process and their long-term, trusted relationships with decision makers to achieve their clients’ goals.” 

Management & Training Corp.’s proposal included building a prison on Hackett Hill in Manchester. 

A third firm, The GEO Group of Boca Raton, Fla., paid at least $10,000 to Dennehy & Bouley. Lobbyist Jim Bouley couldn’t be reached for comment, but GEO Group spokesman Pablo Paez said in an email: 

“Since the procurement in New Hampshire is ongoing, it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment on our proposal or the process. 

“Our company participates in the political process in states across the country, including New Hampshire, . . . as do a variety of organizations, including private corporations and organized labor organizations, through lobbyist representation and contributions to political candidates and parties who support different public policy viewpoints.” 

One company, NH Hunt Justice Group, has not hired any lobbyists. 

“We don’t see a need to lobby,” said Buddy Johns, president of CGL, an affiliate of the Hunt Companies, a Texas construction firm. Hunt Companies and LaSalle Corrections, a prison operator also based in Texas, have formed the NH Hunt Justice Group, which lists its home office in El Paso, Texas. He said the procurement process appeared straight forward. 

“Some people use outside services to make their point,” Johns said in a phone interview from Mexico. “I think we believe we’re the experts in what we do, and we’re best to make that point.”

Johns has said his company proposed building a new prison next to the existing men’s prison in Concord. LaSalle Corrections, based in Texas, would manage the prison if the state didn’t. 

CCA, which declined to discuss its specific lobbying efforts in New Hampshire, met earlier this year with Lancaster community leaders to let them know they were one of at least three communities being considered to host a possible prison costing $100 million to $120 million. Northumberland and Hinsdale were the others, according to Lancaster’s town manager. 

McGonagle said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Legislature forms a committee to study the state prisons. If the governor and Executive Council approved a contract, the Legislature would need to weigh in on the financial implication on the state budget, he said. 

Wendelboe said lobbying money in general could be spent on research, campaign donations or hosting events for legislators. 

McGonagle said he has talked with lobbyists about general issues. 

“Never did any of the representatives of the companies or their lobbyists try to talk specifically about any specific approach or their company’s proposal (regarding building a prison),” he said.

McGonagle said lobbyists often take part in the legislative process. 

“When there is legislation being discussed and a department has its view, a lobbyist representing a different interest may have their view,” McGonagle said. “It does perform a full discussion of the issue from multiple points of view. 

“I don’t object to their participation in the government process.”