Private Prisons & Political Power (Part Two): Corporations Write Their Own Laws

March 2018
Tara Ingram

In Part One of this series, we explored how the private prison industry uses its Supreme Court granted First Amendment free speech right to influence our political system by “speaking” with money. Part Two focuses on how the private prison industry influences legislation toward its own benefit through lobbying and actually participating in writing legislation that regulates its own industry.

Lobbying is another way that corporations use their free speech rights. They promote, influence, and in a number of cases even draft the actual criminal justice laws that regulate their industry such as “three strikes” and “truth-in-sentencing”.[i] These laws have promoted a rise in incarceration rates, resulting in increased profits for the private prison companies.

There are numerous ways corporations use their free speech rights and, in each case, we the citizens lose power. In 2010, three large private prison corporations spent over two million dollars on federal lobbying (this is separate from their campaign contribution spending).[ii] While the amount of money spent on lobbying is tracked, there is no requirement for reporting on how the lobbyists were involved in drafting or promoting the legislation, nor even if they supported or opposed the bills.[iii] And there are no spending limits on the funding of lobbyists.[iv] For example, since 2003, CCA has spent nearly $900,000 each year on federal lobbying. The ability of corporations and private industry to participate in our legal system in these ways leaves We the People very limited information to understand how corporations influence our legal process.

The frequency of cases involving the First Amendment has been rising for 40 years.[v] According to John Coates, a professor at Harvard Law School and a former corporate lawyer, companies are now the beneficiaries of cases involving the First Amendment just as often as individuals. Coates calls this “the corporate takeover of the First Amendment” and describes the results of this trend as transferring power away from the people to corporate interests: “Power is taken from ordinary individuals with identities and interests as voters, owners, and employees, and transferred to corporate bureaucrats pursuing narrowly framed goals with other people’s money.”[vi]

Move to Amend’s ‘We the People’ Amendment is the only proposed 28th Amendment that gets to the root problem. By denying that dollars are equal to speech and withdrawing from corporations all constitutional rights, it establishes the ground for growing a real democracy of, by, and for We the People rather than corporate interests.

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