Florida politicians received nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from two private prison corporations last election cycle -- GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America -- and an ethics complaint filed by the Teamsters union yesterday claims $30,000 of those contributions that went to Gov. Rick Scott may have influenced his decision to enter contracts between the companies and the state.
The Teamsters say Scott, as chairman of the State Board of Administration -- which is responsible for the state's retirement trust fund -- has an obligation to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries to the fund.
By signing the Senate's appropriations bill last legislative session that calls for contracts with private prisons in South Florida and mandates cuts over last year's corrections budget, the complaint says the governor cannot act in the best interest of the retirement fund while awarding a contract to the lowest bidder.
"The governor clearly has a conflict of interest with both CCA and GEO bidding to secure contracts for prison management," Teamsters International Vice President Ken Wood says in a statement. "The complaint cites that Governor Scott should have already put the Secretary of the Department of Correction on notice that GEO and CCA should not be permitted to bid on state contracts to run prisons."
The complaint alleges that Scott failed to take "remedial actions" to avoid violating the state ethics code and says the state's plan to enter private-prison contracts across South Florida worth hundreds of millions of dollars is a "tainted bidding process" that is "tantamount to 'pay to play' politics."
"The Governor has used his official position to secure a benefit for the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America by affording both companies the ability to submit [a request for proposal] that is not in the best interest of the State, presuming the Governor adheres to his to duty to the Florida Retirement System Trust Fund," the complaint states. "This creates the appearance of an unfair advantage for both companies as well as the opportunity to secure a lucrative multi-year contract."
The Teamsters are calling for the bidding process for the prisons to be restarted,with the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America excluded. If they don't stop the bidding process, the Teamsters ask that the two companies' bids be withdrawn.
"Using either GEO or CCA to manage prisons doesn't make sense either financially or ethically for the state," Wood says. "We are urging the ethics commission to take action in this matter and find that the governor violated his responsibilities to the people of the state of Florida."
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The last time Scott was the subject of ethics complaints -- over his ownership of Solantic -- they were dropped.