How private prisons backdoor big donations to Ron DeSantis
The GEO Group, which just won a lucrative contract extension from Florida, is one of the biggest donors to an organization pumping millions into the Ron DeSantis re-election campaign.
This is Seeking Rents, a newsletter and podcast devoted to producing original journalism — and lifting up the journalism of others — that examines the many ways that businesses influence public policy across Florida, written by Jason Garcia. Seeking Rents is free to all. But please consider a voluntary paid subscription, if you can afford one, to help support our work.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has raised nearly $100 million this year, as he runs for re-election and prepares for a likely presidential campaign.
But DeSantis’ biggest donor isn’t some billionaire or big corporation. It’s the Republican Governors Association, which has given DeSantis more than $14 million in 2022. More than $1 of every $7 that DeSantis has raised this year comes from the RGA.
But where does RGA get its money?
Well, private prisons for one.
Records filed with the Internal Revenue Service show that the nation’s largest private prison contractor, The GEO Group, has given more than $740,000 to the Republican Governors Association so far in 2022.
Now, there’s no way to know much of the money from GEO was passed on to DeSantis. But it’s a good bet that some of it was. That’s because Florida is the most important state in the country for GEO, which is based in Boca Raton and made more than $110 million last year from Florida contracts, according to investor filings.
GEO’s donations to the RGA included $150,000 given in mid-August — less than two weeks before the DeSantis administration renewed the company’s contract to run the 1,948-bed South Bay Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility in Palm Beach County. GEO has already banked more than $320 million on that contract since it was first signed in 2009.
GEO is not the only private-prison contractor pouring money into the RGA. Tennessee-based CorCivic Inc., which manages the 893-bed Lake City Correctional Facility in north Florida, has given the Republican governors group at least $320,000 so far this year.
Nor is GEO the only big RGA donor that does lots of business in Florida, according to the association’s most recent campaign-finance report, which was filed with the IRS in mid-October and covers donations made through the end of September. Others include:
Medicaid contractor Centene Corp. (Sunshine Health): $1.5 million
NextEra Energy (Florida Power & Light): $500,000
Publix Super Markets: $400,000
Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse): $135,000
Charter Schools USA: $70,000
You can search through the full 609-page filing yourself here:
Or you can check out this deeper dive into the RGA’s finances by Zac Anderson, the political editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Anderson combed through more than two years’ worth of Republican Governors Association campaign-finance reports —and he found a bunch of interesting Florida connections, from The Seminole Tribe of Florida and NextEra to hurricane-cleanup contractor AshBritt and housing developer The Villages.
It’s another one of those stories that’s worth the price of a subscription all by itself.
Jason... Awesome work. Keep it up!
GEO Group support acknowledged.