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In response to Brian Evans, CFO of GEO Group

| Monday, September 14, 2020

In a recent letter to The Observer, Notre Dame alumnus and GEO Group CFO Brian Evans offers unsolicited advice on how students should focus their political energies. Mr. Evans is no stranger to political action. As treasurer of the GEO Group Inc. Political Action Committee (the GEO Group PAC), Mr. Evans is a key player in the political activities of the company he works for and defends. The “energy” he devotes mainly consists of money: over $650,000 of it since January 1st 2019, according to Federal Election Commission data. Maybe Mr. Evans believes six-figure PAC budgets are the civilized way to effect change.

It might be surprising to learn that GEO Group has a PAC at all, considering Mr. Evan’s assurances that the firm, which operates immigrant detention centers and private prisons worldwide, “never played a role in setting immigration or criminal justice policy.” It certainly appears that “never” playing a role in policy is a high priority for GEO Group and Mr. Evans. Through the 2013-2014 cycle, GEO’s PAC spending hovered around $50,000 per year and was reasonably split between Republicans and Democrats. However, in the lead-up to the election of a president who as early as August 2015 put forward an immigration plan promising mass deportation and “detention — not catch-and-release,” the PAC ramped up pro-Republican spending to $372,500, 98% of their total in 2019-2020. The first contribution to Trump Victory appears in the PAC’s disbursements in July 2016, and the contributions have continued ever since.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with giving money to political causes. FEC individual contributions are designed so that citizens can make their voices heard in the arena of government. But this is exactly what Mr. Evans denies. If we take his claim that GEO Group does not advocate for immigration policy at face value, then his time as treasurer of GEO’s PAC has been one of tremendous wastefulness. After all, if $120,000 in total donations to Trump Victory hasn’t helped to elect and re-elect the president who has increased the daily number of immigrant detainees by 40% since his inauguration, the money must have been squandered along the way.

Mr. Evans might also be surprised to find that his company has been throwing away cash when paying Brian Ballard, a lobbyist who, according to the New York Times, was hired by GEO Group and registered to lobby for “immigration regulation.” If he has not been “advocating for or against enforcement or sentencing policies” while on the job, then Mr. Ballard’s payroll checks have been a foolish expenditure. Of course, maybe the waste simply goes unnoticed in a company which collected $184 million in federal funding for detaining immigrants in 2017. With the system already so slanted in GEO’s favor, Mr. Ballard hardly has much work to do.

The GEO Group PAC has also been involved at the state level, where their activities have flown in the face of Mr. Evans’ claims. In Texas, GEO appears to have contributed to a bill which would make it easier for their detention centers to be licensed as child care facilities. According to state Rep. John Raney, “I’ve known the lady who’s [GEO Group’s] lobbyist for a long time … That’s where the legislation came from.” The inspiration was likely not limited to ideas, as the GEO Group PAC spent $320,000 lobbying the Texas legislature in 2017 according to the according to the Associated Press. I cannot help but wonder whether this money could have been better spent “invest[ing] in the success and empowerment of those entrusted” to GEO, as Mr. Evans claims.

In the landmark Supreme Court case that paved the way for GEO Group’s outsized corporate influence, Citizens United v. FEC, Justice Kennedy found that monetary political donations by corporations amounted to free speech. While I disagree with the finding, I agree the hundreds of thousands of dollars the GEO PAC has spent under Mr. Evans’ leadership does speak for itself. It speaks volumes.

Christian Bunker

class of 2020

Sep. 9

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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