Reacting to severe criticism from activist groups and other party members, the Florida Democratic has decided to give back a $10,000 donation to a political action committee for the private prison company G4S Secure Solutions.
G4S subcontracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to transport undocumented immigrants. It also runs prisons and immigration detention centers internationally.
Campaign finance records show that the Florida Democratic Party accepted the $10,000 contribution in February, though Democratic activists have pushed to disassociate themselves from the private prison industry.
That contribution led to searing criticism from a coalition of progressive groups led by the Dream Defenders, a social justice organization based out of Miami, as well as from other Democratic party leaders from around the state. The coalition says the donation violated the will of their own membership.
In a letter last month sent to party chair Terrie Rizzo, executive director Juan Penalosa and treasurer Francine Garcia, the coalition wrote:
“Florida locks up a higher percentage of its state residents than most nations on the planet do. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent contracting with companies like G4S, GEO Group, and CoreCivic are starving our communities for resources while abusing and brutalizing children and families. Refusing to do business with these companies is not mere partisan opinion; protecting the very lives of people who call Florida home is what is at stake. So, what side will you choose to be on?”
The coalition also asked party leaders to ““exercise moral leadership and authority” by immediately returning the campaign contribution.
On Friday, a party spokesman said they will do that.
“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 Phoenix in an email.
A spokeswoman for the Dream Defenders said it shouldn’t have taken so long for the Florida Democratic Party to do the right thing, and the party should donate that money to an immigration group.
“We want the Florida Democratic Party to get on the right page, and even with this, they’re just showing that they’re not moving the party where it needs to be moving on,” said spokesperson Nailah Summers.
The national party has been moving away from accepting donations from the private prison industry.
For example, the Hillary Clinton campaign announced in the fall of 2015 that it would no longer accept donations from federally registered lobbyists or PACS for private prison companies.
The Florida Democratic Party voted a year ago to support a resolution proposed by Juan Cuba, the chair of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party, that they would “refuse any donations from private prison companies, namely CCA and Geo Group,” and encouraged all Democratic local, state and federal candidates in Florida to “refuse any donations from private prison companies.”
In addition to requesting that the party return the campaign contribution from G4S Secure Solutions, the activists say that want a “commitment” from party officials to meet with advocacy organizations and community members to develop guidelines for accepting campaign contributions “moving forward.”
A spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party said they would not comment about that request.