Florida Dems Return $10K Private-Prison Donation After New Times Story

A G4S Secure Solutions van in the United Kingdom.
A G4S Secure Solutions van in the United Kingdom. Vauxford via Wikimedia Commons
In 2018, the Florida Democratic Party said it would stop taking donations from private, for-profit prison firms. So, after New Times first reported last month that the party had accepted a $10,000 check from inmate-transport company G4S Secure Solutions — a company that also runs private prisons in other countries — activists cried foul. Now, the party says it will return the money.

"The Florida Democratic Party did not solicit the donation from G4S, but we did receive a donation from them and are returning it," spokesman Alex Morash told the Florida Phoenix in an emailed statement.

Morash told New Times he could not immediately answer follow-up questions today, and the party did not respond to multiple messages from New Times about G4S last month. But from the outside, the donation seemed like a transparent violation of the party's own internal rules. In July 2018, the party overwhelmingly voted to pass new bylaws stating that the "Florida Democratic Party will lead by example and refuse any donations from private prison companies, namely C.C.A. and GEO Group" and "will additionally refuse donations from the registered lobbyists of, and any PACs associated with, private prison companies."

Activists pushed the party to adopt the resolution despite opposition from party leaders, who were worried about losing out on donations. Civil rights groups were mostly hoping to combat the influence of GEO Group, the Boca Raton-based company that is a major donor to Florida politicians and the largest single contractor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But the rules also seemingly extended to G4S, which was founded by the same man who started GEO Group and previously was part of GEO's same company. In America, G4S used to operate the majority of Florida's juvenile detention facilities before the company sold that wing of its business to a different firm. G4S still transports inmates on behalf of local police departments and for ICE. In 2018, a Pinellas County inmate died while being transported in a G4S van.

Last week, a group of more than 40 activist groups and Florida Democratic Party members signed an open letter demanding that the party give the money back. The activists also want the party to hold a meeting to discuss its donation-gathering policies, but party spokespeople have so far refused to confirm whether such a meeting will happen.

"As our country faces a humanitarian crisis with thousands of children and families being rounded up from our communities and caged like animals in concentration camps and Florida families face Trump’s ICE raids, every single one of us bears the responsibility to fight back," the letter read. "And you cannot fight back if you’re in the pockets of the very people whose corporate bottom line is premised on the building of more and more concentration camps, the separation of more and more families, and the caging of more and more children."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.