|Rep. Allen's Penal Envy:|
The 'Big House' Hits the
"What we've got here is failure to communicate."
--Chain-gang warden in Cool Hand Luke.
Rep. Ray Allen likes to mix state business with his private business.
The Houston Chronicle reported in 1995 that the enterprising lawmaker started Grand Prairie’s Academy for Firearms Training around the time that he chaired two legislative panels that discharged bills to let Texans carry concealed handguns—if they receive handgun-safety training first.
Now the Chronicle and Texas Observer report that Allen, who chairs the House Corrections Committee, is riding herd on legislation to privatize more state prison beds—even as he moonlights as one of the private prison industry’s hired guns.
With his legislative chief of staff, Scott Gilmore, Allen operates Service House, Inc. The sole lobby client that this firm services is the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA), a prison-privatization trade group with powerhouse members such as Wackenhut and the Corrections Corp. of America.
These same interests would appear to benefit from a slew of bills that Allen has authored to expand prison privatization in Texas and to ease regulation of this industry. Notable among them is Allen’s HB 1669, which would repeal a legal cap on the number of state prison beds that can be contracted out to private contractors.
To comply with state ethics laws, Gilmore told the Observer that Service House just lobbies Congress and officials in other states. Yet Allen’s privatization bill--which he failed to pass out of his own committee—apparently needs a lot of local lobby muscle. Three out-of-state prison firms are paying 16 lobbyists up to $530,000 this year to lobby the state of Texas.
Texas Lock-Up Lobby Prison Company Max. Value
Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) of TN $260,000 $125,000 6 Wackenhut Corrections Corp. (WCC) of FL $210,000 $100,000 7 Correctional Services Corp. (CSC) of FL $60,000 $20,000 3 TOTAL: $530,000 $245,000 16
Working on the Prison Lobby Chain Gang Lobbyist Client Max. Value
Demetrius McDaniel CCA $100,000 $50,000 Lara Laneri Keel CCA $50,000 $25,000 Bill Messer CCA $50,000 $25,000 Ellen Williams CCA $50,000 $25,000 Helen Gonzalez CCA $10,000 $0 Laurie Shanblum CCA $0 $0 Andrea McWilliams CSC $25,000 $10,000 Dean R. McWilliams CSC $25,000 $10,000 Jim Terrell CSC $10,000 $0 W. James Jonas III WCC $150,000 $100,000 Allen Penn Beinke WCC $10,000 $0 Robert H. Finney WCC $10,000 $0 Lisa Mayes WCC $10,000 $0 Noe Rangel WCC $10,000 $0 Jonathan Snare WCC $10,000 $0 Murray Van Eman WCC $10,000 $0 TOTALS: $530,000 $245,000
Hoosegow who’s who
The hired guns working Texas’ prison lobby include heavy hitters, led by W. James Jonas. Jonas’ Loeffler Jonas & Tuggey, which hired two state lawmakers who have been accused of illegally lobbying the Texas Health Department to weaken regulations of dangerous ephedrine diet products (see “Unsafe On Any Speed,” Lobby Watch, October 21, 2002). The $3,000 Rep. Allen received from this firm made it his No. 3 campaign donor in the 2002 election cycle.
Other notable prison lobbyists include:
Significantly, Rep. Keel is leery of expanding prison privatization. In February, the Austin American-Statesman quoted him calling it “a dismal failure here.” When Rep. Allen failed to pass his own privatization bill out of his own committee on its merits, the legislation resurfaced in the Republican leadership’s massive government reorganization bill (HB 2). That bill awaits a full House vote if and when that divided chamber can muster a quorum.
- Bill Messer, who was enlisted in Speaker Tom Craddick’s transition team;
- “Pioneers” Andrea and Dean McWilliams, who raised $100,000 for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign; and
- Lara Laneri Keel, who married a cousin of House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chair Terry Keel.
In the 2002 election cycle current Texas officials received $42,500 from the founder and a director of Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), which is a member of the trade group that employs Rep. Allen. Donor Thomas Beasley is CCA’s founder and a former chair of the Tennessee Republican Party. Donor Henri Wedell sits on CCA’s board and owns more than $10 million in company stock. Apart from the Republican leadership, most of these CCA donors’ favorite Texas politicos chair strategic committees.
Top Recipients of CCA Contributions Recipient Amount Notable Committees Gov. Rick Perry $10,000 Speaker Tom Craddick $5,000 Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst $5,000 A.G. Greg Abbott $2,500 Rep. Ray Allen $1,500 Corrections (Chair) Rep. Talmadge Heflin $1,500 Appropriations (Chair) Rep. Mike Krusee $1,500 Sen. Steve Ogden $1,500 Criminal Justice Sen. John Whitmire $1,500 Criminal Justice (Chair)
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Texans for Public Justice is a non-partisan, non-profit policy & research organization
which tracks the influence of money in politics.
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