Jail phone companies flood money into sheriff races
New research shows jail phone companies contributing significant sums to Sheriff's campaigns, in one case funding a quarter of Sheriff's campaign spending.
by Aleks Kajstura, October 12, 2017
While we talk a lot about counties getting kick-backs from phone companies in return for granting monopoly contracts, we now have new research about a far more direct prison and jail phone company effort to sway sheriffs: campaign contributions.
As we highlighted two years ago, Securus was donating $10,000 a year to the Sacramento County sheriff, even though it did not have a contract with the county. We recently dug around a little deeper and discovered that Sacramento’s experience is not unique.
We found that GTL and Securus alone have donated over $70,000 to Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern’s campaigns in just 4 years (2010-2013):
As we can see, prison and jail phone companies have been fueling Ahern’s campaign for years. And in 2012, their contributions accounted for nearly 25% of Ahern’s campaign expenditures.
Notably Sheriff Ahern runs the 14th largest jail system in the country; just one of his facilities is larger than the entire state prison system of 8 states. He used his substantial influence to organize and lead jail administrators to fight against jail phone regulation while also raking in at least $1.5 million in kickbacks from the phone companies.
The phone companies are making contributions in other counties too:
|Jail phone company||Contribution||County||Year|
|CenturyLink||$1,000||Clark County, NV||2014|
|Securus||$1,675||Contra Costa County, CA||2013|
|Securus||$500||Duval County, FL||2014|
|Telmate||$500||San Francisco County, CA||2015|
These contributions may seem small compared to those in Alameda and Sacramento, but the cost of running for sheriff varies, so these contributions might be enough to sway their respective elections. (And of course, phone companies buy other county officials as well.)
Finally, these findings represent just a handful of the country’s 3,163 jails. Much more work needs to be done to uncover the full impact of jail phone companies on sheriff races, and what that means for families trying to keep in touch with incarcerated loved ones.
Special thanks to Sasha Feldstein and Sari Kisilevsky, our Young Professionals Network volunteers, for their hours spent sifting through the data, as well as Alex Clark and Elliot Oberholtzer for their additional research and compilation.