Rick Scott attended the fundraiser held in his honor by GEO Group CEO George Zoley on Monday evening, but not before being met by a bevy of protesters.
People from Florida for All, the Dream Defenders and Dreamers Moms, as well as other protesters unaffiliated with the group, gathered outside the fundraiser carrying signs calling Scott out on his relationship with the CEO of one of the worst private prisons in the U.S.
Zoley, a longtime Scott supporter and campaign contributor, hosted a $10,000 gala in his Boca home.
As news of the fundraiser broke, Florida for All, a grassroots organization that fights for protecting the rights and interests of Florida's middle class and working families, put out a call for protesters to come out and show their displeasure.
The gathering wasn't big, but Florida for All spokesperson Ana Tinsly tells New Times that Scott has seemed to master the art of dodging protests such as these.
"There were a little over 20 people," Tinsly says. "But considering a lot of these events are really last minute, that's a good turnout. Governor Scott has done a good job of insulating himself from these protests, and his administration is very careful to release info on these types of events at the very last minute."
Those who did turn out, however, showed a passion for their message.
"There's a motivated group of people," Tinsly says, "people who demand rights of immigrants and the undocumented detainees held in these prisons. I think that Zoley is the CEO of a prison that is seemingly getting away with egregious practices speaks to people's sense of right and wrong. I think people are very upset to find that Rick Scott has such a cordial relationship with this CEO."
A member from American Bridge, an organization that monitors public appearances of elected officials and candidates, caught Scott on video speaking at a campaign event earlier in the day Monday where someone asked the governor about his relationship with Zoley.
"George Zoley is holding a fundraiser for you tonight," the person tells Scott off camera in the video. "How do you know him, and what are your concerns about GEO's record running private prisons?"
"I'm very appreciative of George's support," Scott answers. "He supports me because he believes in what we're doing. He likes jobs creation; he likes the fact that I believe in the American Dream. The fact that people like me can live the American dream, get a great education and a great job, build companies, and become governor of a great state."
GEO Group is famously notorious for, among other things, having had federal inspectors discover too few guards on duty at one particular facility with reports of guards being stabbed, bitten, punched, and kicked by inmates and GEO doing little about it. GEO also owns a facility in Broward that has been the site of a hunger-strike protest over poor treatment of immigrants who are held there.
"Rick Scott has been an advocate of privatizing prisons, as well as privatizing prison health care," Tinsly tells New Times. "He has been criticized for giving contracts to companies that, like the Geo Group, have a record of alleged malpractice in regards to the inmates and detainees that they are charged with. Corizon, for example was awarded a $1.2 billion contract to provide medical care for Florida inmates, even though it has been sued at least 660 times in the past five years. The point I think to make is that Rick Scott does not seem to mind awarding contracts to or accepting contributions from extremely questionable corporations."