Ethics on Furlough
Rep. Ray Allen (R-Grand Prairie) and Scott Gilmore are inseparable. Not only does Gilmore work as Allen’s chief of staff but he is also policy director for the House Corrections Committee of which the representative is chairman. Together the two men are trying to expand the ability of private companies to run Texas prisons. They are also busily pushing initiatives to increase prison work programs.
Gilmore’s labor for Allen doesn’t stop at the legislature. He runs Allen’s election campaigns. In 2002, Allen’s campaign reports show $11,725 in total expenditures to Gilmore, which includes one for $1,200 through this May. The payments are for election work Gilmore does for Allen–when not on office time, he insists. Among the contributors to Allen’s campaign are officials from the Corrections Corporation of America. CCA along with Wackenhut Corrections Corporation stand to benefit from privatization, if by nothing else, through an increase in stock prices fueled by speculation over the possibility of future contracts. Allen reported getting $1,500 from Henri and Marsha Wedell of Memphis, Tennessee. Henri Wedell is a director of CCA and his wife is a shareholder. In a way, the Wedells are helping to pay Gilmore’s salary.
Allen and Gilmore are also business partners. They work together in a company Allen founded called Service House, Inc. The sole client of Service House, Inc. is the Correctional Industries Association (CIA). The nonprofit trade association represents private prison companies in their effort to encourage putting inmates to work. It also represents companies that sell products to state prison systems. Two of the corporate sponsors of the trade association are Wackenhut and CCA.
Last year Allen and Gilmore flew to Washington, D.C., to lobby the federal government on behalf of CIA. According to federal lobby registration documents, the association paid Allen’s Service House $20,000 to lobby Congress, the White House, the Justice Department, and the Office of Management and Budget. The two were in the nation’s capital to talk with policy-makers about amendments to federal legislation that deal with worker wage levels, employment rights, federal prison industries, and changes to the law or guidelines regarding the Private Sector Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program. Allen and Gilmore also lobby other states for the association as well as provide technical assistance, marketing, and assessments of other states’ prison work programs.
Under Texas law, none of this is illegal. Gilmore says he and his boss go out of their way to make sure that they don’t do any direct work for CIA in Texas. He disputes the notion that the legislation Allen is pushing could be construed as an extension of his consulting work. “It is a completely different animal,” he says. “We are not getting paid to do any of that in Texas.”
And indeed, Rep. Allen’s blurring of the lines between big business and the public good is the norm in the Legislature these days. Public policy is being driven by lobbyists to an extent not seen in years. The tale of what is happening with Allen’s legislation is instructive in this regard. Allen’s private prison bill seemed to have lost steam by the middle of the legislative session. The measure would move privatization away from the purview of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which by most accounts does a fairly good job of supervising private prisons. And the private companies need supervision. Both Wackenhut and CCA have had repeated problems throughout the country that include inmate abuse, mismanagement, low wages, and high employee turnover. Allen’s legislation would create a new 9-member commission under the governor’s office that would move toward privatizing half the state jail system, if the for-profit companies could come up with at least 5 percent in savings. Florida has tried a similar commission that has been wracked by scandal.
Initially, the corrections committee, in which Democrats dominate, was lukewarm to privatization. No matter how much Allen crunched the numbers, the promised savings just didn’t seem to be materializing. Then a curious thing appears to have occurred. Records indicate uberlobbyist Bill Messer took on Corrections Corporation of America as a client midway through the session. Messer, you may remember, was part of House Speaker Tom Craddick’s transition team. He also raised considerable sums for the Midland Republican after he became Speaker.
After Messer signed on with CCA, the private prison initiative found a new home in a mammoth government reform package called House Bill 2. The bill, which was still changing at press time, will expand the prison system and make the expansion private. It may increase work programs in private prisons. Unlike Allen’s original bill, the commission has dropped from 9 members to two, with three non-voting ex-oficio members. It will also repeal monitoring laws. Additionally, among a host of other items, the omnibus legislation will give unprecedented power to the governor: It will provide Perry increased control over state agencies and contracting, reduce the membership on supervisory boards or eliminate them outright, allow him to keep his budget deliberations secret, and remove the requirement that he present his budget by a certain time. Like tort reform and HB 2292, the health and human services reorganization sponsored by Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R-Burleson) that combines 12 agencies into four, HB 2 is chock full of long sought after and often controversial leadership priorities with a few must-pass provisions thrown in. For tort reform it was liability relief for the doctors. The leadership told legislators HB 2292 had to pass because the projected savings it offered had already been earmarked in the budget. HB 2 carries a laundry list of government reform and will be much harder to defeat than a single bill solely on prison privatization. As the Observer goes to press, the 412-page bill was being heard in the Government Reform Committee during a meeting that ended shortly before dawn. Republicans outnumber Democrats five to two on the committee. Included among the Republicans is Rep. Ray Allen.
CHICKENS ROOSTING IN TULIA
Tom Coleman, the discredited undercover officer from the infamous Tulia bust, will soon be on the receiving end of Swisher County justice. On April 26, Coleman was indicted on three counts of aggravated perjury, all stemming from his testimony in the evidentiary hearings held in Tulia in March. If convicted, Coleman could get two to 10 years for each count, though he is technically eligible for probation. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. The local D.A., Terry McEachern, has recused himself in the case. Instead, Coleman will be prosecuted by the same two special prosecutors, Rod Hobson and John Nation, brought in by McEachern to help with the March hearings. In less than a month, Hobson and Nation have switched from the Herculean task of defending Coleman’s work in Swisher County to the seemingly more palatable job of trying to put him in prison. Outside the grand jury room, Nation said that he and his partner had no other choice, once they began to suspect that Coleman was lying on the stand. That must be the difference between a “special” prosecutor and a regular one: Terry McEachern managed to examine Coleman in at least seven trials over the last three years without feeling the same call to duty. The Tulia defense team has since catalogued at least a dozen instances of apparent perjury from those trial transcripts, though the statute of limitations has now run out on that testimony.
IRONY IS DEAD
You can find the truth in the strangest of places. For those who don’t read the Dallas Morning News we felt it worthwhile to share some of the words of Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) in a recent editorial he wrote for the paper:
“Advocates, commentators and most of the House Democrats are complaining that the $117.7 billion budget will hurt public education, the elderly and the infirm. They are urging the Senate to “undo” the damage. And some even are charging that the budget process was rigged to eliminate government programs that Republicans don’t like.
“From reading or hearing all of that, a visitor from another state might think a band of elitist radicals had staged a coup d’etat and forced a bare-bones budget down the throat of a collectively clueless majority in Texas. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Nah, that could never happen.