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Attorney General Candidates Get Donations From ICE Family Detention Center Operator

Roberto Roldan
WUSF Public Media
Frank White, left, and Ashley Moody, right, are both Republican candidates for attorney general.

In their bid to be Florida’s next attorney general, former Hillsborough County judge Ashley Moody and state representative Frank White both accepted campaign donations from a private prison corporation that manages an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) family detention center.

Moody and White, the two Republican candidates, received campaign donations late last year from the Boca Raton-based The GEO Group. Moody received a $3,000 donation to her personal campaign account in October and White got a $5,000 contribution to his political committee “United Conservatives” in November, according to campaign finance records.

Both candidates also said they would not join 17 other state attorney generals in a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy and family separation.

Moody, who is sitting on nearly $3 million in campaign funds, said her position on the case has not been influenced by campaign donations.

“I have demonstrated, over the course of my life, a commitment to the rule of law, the unbiased prosecution of the rule of law and parties or support for a campaign have absolutely no bearing on that,” she said.

White similarly said in a statement that donors will get no special privileges if he’s elected.

“I’m running to defend the rule of law, which means the law applies to everyone equally, regardless of race, religion, the size of your bank account or the political candidates you support,” he said.

Ryan Torrens and Sean Shaw – both from Tampa - are the Democratic candidates for state attorney general. Both said candidates for that office should not accept campaign contributions from any private prison company.

“I think those big corporate contributions are corrupting, especially for someone who is going to be our next attorney general,” Torrens said. “They shouldn’t take money like that, because then they have a conflict of interest instead of putting Floridians first.”

The GEO Group and its associated PAC donated to a number of mostly Republican politicians in Florida, including $250,000 to Marco Rubio and $800,000 to Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate. The company has also given $19,000 to the campaign of his opponent, Democrat Bill Nelson.

According to its website, The GEO Group operates three ICE detention facilities throughout the country. It runs the 680-bed Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas, which has been a center for mothers and children detained by ICE since 2014. In a statement, The GEO Group said families are housed together at the facility and it denied campaign contributions are meant to promote any specific policies.

With the recent media attention to family separation at the border under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, 17 state attorneys general have sued the government, claiming it is a “cruel and unlawful policy.” The lawsuit asks for an immediate end to family separation and the policy of denying asylum seekers entry.  Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has declined to join the lawsuit.

While Torrens and Shaw said they would seek to join the lawsuit if they were elected attorney general, both Republican candidates would not.

Moody said she believes the lawsuit doesn’t have a reasonable chance of success.

“I believe that the Trump administration has acted within the parameters of the law,” Moody said. “Using those parameters, they are trying to change or tweak the process to ensure we can keep families together and, if they are here illegally, deported together.”

White went even further, saying in a statement that the lawsuit is “nothing more than a political witch hunt led entirely by liberal Democrat attorneys general.”

Both candidates said it is up to Congress to revamp existing immigration laws and policies.

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.
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