A campaign is underway to have Florida Democrats -- both the party and elected officials -- pledge to refuse campaign finance contributions from global private prison operator GEO Group, the Boca Raton-based company whose history includes a record notorious for human rights abuses.
Originating among students involved in last spring's campaign that led FAU to back out of a $6 million stadium naming deal with the company, the effort went public at a recent meeting of the county party's executive committee. Then it caught fire.
Because Democrats hardly get any donations from GEO anyway -- the company's campaign donations go overwhelmingly to the GOP and its candidates -- the effort is chiefly symbolic. But advocates of the boycott believe it is important as a matter of principle. It may well also translate into increased support in minority and immigrant communities, whose members suffer disproportionately from the company's practices and its use of political clout.
The boycott has gathered support from the county party's Young Democrats club and leaders of black and Hispanic caucus groups. State committeman John Ramos has promised to take the proposal to state party leaders.
The sole Democratic elected official from Palm Beach to have received contributions from GEO Group, State Rep. Bobby Powell, praised the activists' efforts but told New Times he would only "take the idea under consideration. If the people oppose [the contributions] I'll listen."
Lynne Hubbard, President of the Palm Beach County chapter of the Florida Democratic Black Caucus, was more adamant. "It might very well mean we'll lose some financial advantage. But human rights is more important than that."
in an email, Michael Sotelo, Vice President of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Palm Beach County, issued a statement of support for the boycott to "send a message to the Democratic Party that if they're serious about immigration reform and the Hispanic vote, they should not be taking money from a company that profits off the incarceration and persecution of immigrants."
The GEO Group boycott proposal reads:
Whereas, the GEO Group, a private prison contractor headquartered in Boca Raton, FL, has a history of human rights violations and abuses at its detention facilities in the U.S. and abroad, including sexual abuse, negligent deaths, and solitary confinement of minors,
Whereas, the GEO Group's business model depends on expanding the prison-industrial complex through laws and government contracts secured through political and legislative influence, Whereas, the prison-industrial complex has resulted in the increased and disproportionate incarceration of juveniles, people of color, and undocumented immigrants for predominantly nonviolent drug or immigration offenses, Whereas, the GEO Group's business practices do not align with the values of the Democratic Party, Be it resolved, that the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Palm Beach County urges the Florida Democratic Party and Democratic Party elected officials and candidates to not accept any campaign donations from the GEO Group or its business and political affiliates.
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