How Congress Double-Crossed Taxpayers and Created a Corrupt Private Prison Empire

06/03/2015 02:56 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2016

The Mount Everest revenue growth in the private-prison industry unequivocally represents everything that's wrong with our pay-to-play government.

These prison firms, with the help of political ties forged through campaign donations and armies of lobbyists, can regularly snag windfalls in government contracts and unduly expand their businesses by incarcerating more people for a greater amount of time.

The Center for Responsive Politics has tracked a total of $2.3 million in political contributions by Corrections Corporation of America and almost $1.2 million by GEO Group. And that doesn't count dark money. Unsurprisingly, both of these giants in the for-profit prison industry have a long history of hiring former government officials as lobbyists.

These lobbyists have successfully pushed legislators to "get tough on immigration" so a new influx of immigrants can occupy prison cells and help expand their profit-turning penal enterprise.

And they have carved out loopholes in programs meant to provide inmates with real-life work experience that allow private companies to rent-out prisoners to do backbreaking work for about 50 cents an hour.

Ever since Supreme Court decisions in Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United v. F.E.C., which permitted special interest groups to flood our elections with unrestricted campaign contributions, our politicians have to paw at the doors of the ultra-rich to nail down enough campaign money. By the time they win, the American people are left with compromised legislators beholden to special interest groups.

This parasitic relationship between politicians and big businesses allows the private-prison industry to rake in $2 billion in annual profits. In fact, their business model is three times more profitable than Walmart's.

"We regularly hire companies that have abysmal track records of performance, but great track records [in] political campaign contributions," said one former state representative from Florida, critical of the state's juvenile justice system full of past reports of missing and abused inmates. Nationally, it costs taxpayers about $407.58 per day to lock-up a juvenile. That's more than a 5 star hotel.

But the private-prison empire is not the only industry rubbing elbows with Congress to better "move their product." From Big Pharma to Big Oil, well-heeled industry top cats are taking advantage of our unchecked money-based political system every election cycle. Their strategic cash flood in both local and national elections allow them to advance their businesses by pure and simple king-making. Corporations have never had more political access and influence than they have today.

Our government has abandoned its single-most important job of representing the people, but outraged American citizens are fighting back.

Over 45,000 people have joined the grassroots campaign, - legally rubber-stamping their cash with anti-corruption messages like "Corporations are not people" and "Not to be used for bribing politicians." It's a protest that visually demonstrates America's collective disgust over double-dealing, two-faced politicians, who use taxpayer money to pad the pockets of feckless businesses like the private-prison industry.

Nine in 10 Americans agree there is too much corporate money in Washington. And with over 140 national organizations and millions of activists fighting for stronger election laws, this widespread movement against big money in politics will put our country back in the hands of "We the people" and not "We the corporations."