Lobbyists for federal contractors that provide border security and run private prisons have been busy since Trump initiated a brutal immigration crackdown and demanded that Congress provide funding for his wall on the southern border, a proposal that is currently threatening to send the government off a fiscal cliff.
Consider GEO Group, a private prison company that runs jails for immigrants facing deportation. The company spent $350,000 on lobbying during the first quarter of 2017, more than it has ever spent over the same time frame, according to a Truthout review of lobbying records provided by the research organization MapLight. Federal filings show that a subsidiary of GEO Group also donated $250,000 to President Trump’s inaugural festivities and another $225,000 to a super PAC that supported his election.
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Ethics watchdog groups have complained that the super PAC donation violates a federal law preventing government contractors from making political donations, but it may have paid off for GEO Group, which won a $110 million contract to build a 1,000-bed immigration jail in Texas earlier this month. The contract was awarded despite an ongoing class action lawsuit filed in 2014 alleging that immigrants were forced to work in slave-labor conditions at a GEO Group facility in Colorado.
In federal filings, GEO Group named “homeland security” and “immigration” among the main issues its lobbyists discussed with lawmakers. The increase in lobbying comes as Trump pushes Congress to allocate $1.4 billion for the initial construction of the border wall and add $4.5 billion to the already-massive budget for immigration enforcement, including $1.5 billion to expand the nation’s vast network of immigration jails.
In a series of public appearances and tweets from the president over the weekend, White House officials doubled down on their demands that Congress tack on funding for the border wall to a spending bill that must be passed by the end of the week to avoid a government shutdown.
Like private prison companies, federal contractors involved in border security are also spending big. Raytheon, a major military contractor that has reportedly shown interest in building Trump’s border wall, spent nearly $1.5 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2017, more than it spent in any quarter last year.
Science Applications International Corporation, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contractor, has spent $380,000 on lobbying this year, listing “cybersecurity and the SW border wall” as a key issue in its lobbying files. Even the US Chamber of Commerce, a sprawling lobbying group that represents all types of industries in Congress, named “border security,” hiring more immigration officers and other immigration issues in its most recent lobbying records.
The cost of the border wall alone is expected to reach as high as $21.6 billion, according to an internal DHS report obtained by Reuters, although Trump’s estimates are lower. In a tweet on Saturday, Trump repeated statements that Mexico would “eventually” pay for his border wall, even though the country’s leaders have denied this claim several times.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have said that they want to avoid a government shutdown and pass a “clean” budget bill without special funding for the border wall. Even conservative lawmakers from southwestern states are opposed to building the wall.
The White House now appears to be backing away from its funding request, but the marked increase in lobbying by powerful federal contractors shows that Trump is not the only one that lawmakers are hearing from on the issue. These lobbyists are weighing in at this high-pressure time because they know from experience that you have to spend money to make money on Capitol Hill. From 2011 to 2015, the top five DHS contractors spent $107.6 million on lobbying and received a combined $9 billion in federal contracts, according to MapLight.