How Corporate Interests Got SB 1070 Passed
NEAL CONAN, Host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
This past April, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer set off a national controversy when she signed Senate Bill 1070 into law. That's the measure that requires state law enforcement officers to ask suspects they believe may be here illegally about their immigration status.
Supporters praise it as a tough law that lets state authorities enforce laws the federal government will not. Critics say it will lead to racial profiling. The Justice Department believes it's unconstitutional, and most of the law has been suspended while that case proceeds in federal court.
But no matter whether you support the law or not, you probably don't know how it came to be written, unless you heard a two-part series reported by NPR's Laura Sullivan.
SB: the private prison industry. If you have experience in the private prison industry, if you or a family member have been detained by ICE, call and tell us your story: 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, the quiet Canadian who spent his last years in prison after being identified as the notorious SS concentration camp guard known as the Beast of Bolzano. But first, NPR police and correspondent Laura Sullivan joins us here in Studio 3A.
Nice to have you back on the program.
LAURA SULLIVAN: Great. Thank you so much.
CONAN: Also with us is Beau Hodai. He's a freelance journalist who's been covering private prisons in Arizona. He joins us from member station KUAT in Tucson. Nice to have you with us.
BEAU HODAI: Thank you.
CONAN: And Laura Sullivan, how do you get from police and prison to an immigration law? What's the link?
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SULLIVAN: Well, you know, a year ago, I did a series on the bail bonds industry in the United States, and I stumbled upon an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council, which was very instrumental in passing a number of pro-bail-bondsman laws throughout the country, and it piqued my interest. And when I was doing some research on ALEC, I came across a fascinating article written by Beau that made the connection between the private industry - private prison industry and ALEC. And that sort of launched an investigation on our own right at NPR.
CONAN: Well, let's turn to Beau Hodai at this point. And Beau, what's the connection between immigration and ALEC?
HODAI: Well, state Senator Russell Pearce is on the ALEC Public Safety Task Force. He's an executive public-sector member. And the way the task forces are comprised is you have the public-sector represented, and then you also have the private sector. Also sitting on that task force is the Corrections Corporation of America, which is the nation's largest detainer of undocumented immigrants.
CONAN: So they work for - they are contracted by the federal prison program?
HODAI: That is correct. Their primary customers are the U.S. Marshal Service, the Bureau of Prisons - which also holds immigrant detainees - and ICE.
CONAN: These are while hearings are conducted to see if they are going to be deported, that sort of thing.
CONAN: Okay. So this conference, ALEC, Laura, this is a private-public partnership. We hear about these kinds of things all the time. There's nothing suspicious about that.
SULLIVAN: So here's how this whole thing breaks down. So by all accounts, this idea comes from Senator Russell Pearce. He's passed similar legislation or tried to have similar legislation passed in Arizona. He's very adamant about illegal immigration, and he had this idea, and that's what he said.
And all the evidence suggests that he in fact did have this idea. But instead of taking this idea to the state House floor, to other legislators, to committees in public domains, where the public can see what's happening and what ideas legislators are making, he took it to a private conference room at the Washington Hyatt last December.
And it was in this conference room that the final draft of this legislation was written, and it was introduced two months later, word for word, in the Arizona State House.
And in - as Beau was saying earlier, in this room is the private prison industry and some other powerful corporations, and they are - they all have a hand in this.
And it's interesting also that it's not even just what happens in this conference room. It's also the phone calls and the emails that take place before the legislation's even brought to this hotel conference room.
CONAN: Well, let me quote from Senator Pearce, and he has replied about - that the - how much influence prison firms had over his legislation. He says: Zero. Can I make it any more clear? Zero. I've never spoken to them on it. They've never had influence. They never came to me over it. I don't know where they come up with that stuff. They've never asked to talk to me about it.
But they, I assume he means you, Laura.
SULLIVAN: Well, Senator Pearce and I had a very long conversation about this in his office, and specifically about whether or not - the role that the private prison industry played in the drafting of this legislation.
He at first said that he had never spoken to the private prison industry before. This is not what the evidence suggests. He is a board member of this committee that met in this conference room. He and the private prison corporations have been board members for 10 years almost together, for years and years together.
The private prison corporation has chaired this board twice in the past 10 years. They are a very active member in this group. And they, you know, in addition to meeting three times a year at very, you know, conferences in very sunny locations, they also have conference calls. They also send - draft legislation around to each other email. They discuss what they're going to bring up to the entire committee when they meet in the boardroom, in the conference room.
So it was - Senator Pearce suggested to me, as well, that he had not spoken to them before. But that doesn't appear to be the fact.
CONAN: And even if he did, and as you reported he did, and you say you have evidence to support that, is any of that illegal?
SULLIVAN: No. Absolutely not. This is all completely legal. What this is, though, it seems to raise questions about whether or not this is an end-run around lobbying rules.
When you - when a corporation wants a piece of legislation passed - and many of them are very active about this.
SULLIVAN: They go out and they push for it and they hire a lobbyist, or they register themselves as a lobbyist.
That allows the public to know two things: One, what they're lobbying for, and two, how much money they're spending on it, and the sort of things that they're paying for in order to convince legislators to go their way on a piece of legislation.
What happens at ALEC is completely private. It doesn't - there is no public oversight. The public is not invited. The media's not allowed. What's happening in these taskforce meetings is completely secret to the rest of the world. And these corporations have the undivided ear of these state legislators, who have been, by all accounts, wined and dined at these conferences by these very corporations. In fact, these corporations, for the most part, paid for them to come to the conference.
CONAN: Beau Hodai, though, it's one thing to have a piece of draft legislation. It's another thing to have it passed into law. That's not so easy.
HODAI: Right. Now, the whole question of influence, whether or not Senator Pearce spoke to anybody representing the Corrections Corporation or the GEO Group at the ALEC meeting December of '09 is somewhat immaterial because you look at the paper trail of relationships in Arizona - the Arizona legislature and the Arizona governor's office - and there is ample opportunity for these representatives to speak with lawmakers and the governor, as well as you can see that it appears to be somewhat of a strategic positioning of individuals.
For example, the GEO Group employs Public Policy Partners, which is also employed by Maricopa County. When I wrote my story back in June for In These Times magazine, I interviewed Senator Pearce, as well as Kris Kobach, and I asked them who all had been involved in drafting the bill. And they had told me that Arizona Attorney General - then-Arizona Attorney General Andy Thomas had been involved.
Now, Maricopa County also employs the consulting service of Public Policy Partners. Now, in Arizona, Public Policy Partners has upwards of 30 clients, but if you look at federal lobby records, they only have two, I believe. You've got the GEO Group at the federal level, and you have Ron Sachs Communication, which, according to the lobby reports, is lobbying on issues pertinent to prison privatization.
And then you look at it further, Public Policy Partners, who's actually represented by their owner, John Kaites, and according to lobby records, it said it was on issues of prison privatization.
CONAN: And Beau, these are all - this is hard to follow on the radio. This is a lot easier in print. I beg your indulgence. And we'll put a link to your articles on our website, at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
But, you know, again, it's one thing to have a model piece of legislation, Laura. It's another thing to get it passed through the state legislature.
SULLIVAN: Exactly. And I think what Beau was alluding to there is that they spent a lot of money. The private prison industry donated to 30 of the 36 co-sponsors. Thirty-six co-sponsors jumped onto this legislation. That is an extremely high number for Arizona. Thirty of them received campaign contributions within the six months while the bill was under consideration.
And a number - 24 of them were ALEC members, according to some documents that we received here at NPR. So what this is is you can see a subtle pattern of influence that helped this bill along from the very beginning. And it made it all the way to the governor's office, where she, too, also has connections to the private prison industry.
CONAN: Well, I have to say CCA, the Correction Corporation of America, in a statement released on November 1st said: What the NPR story neglected to report was that CCA has not contributed any money to any Arizona legislator, supporter of SB 1070 or otherwise, in 2010.
SULLIVAN: That is simply not what it - what - let me tell you the little situation here. That may be - it may be true. Actually, it is true that they did not - what they did is they gave all their money to lobbyists who are specifically hired to lobby for them, and the lobbyists gave the money to the legislators. So it's a little bit of an end-run. [POST-BROADCAST NOTE: Laura Sullivan's use of the phrase "an end run" was imprecise. She did not mean to suggest that CCA violated lobbying law.] CONAN: All right. So technically correct, but...
SULLIVAN: Technically correct. In the grand scope of things, not correct.
CONAN: All right. Our guest is Laura Sullivan, NPR's prison - police and prisons correspondent. Also with us is Beau Hodai, a freelance journalist who covers private prisons, based in Arizona.
ICE: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just a couple of seconds before the break, Laura, but this law is on hold in Arizona, the state law passed 1070, according to the judicial order. Nevertheless, other states are trying to institute very similar legislation.
SULLIVAN: Yes, and not just any other state. The board members that were at this conference room, five of the 10 people that are board members with Senator Pearce are now either sponsoring or trying to introduce the exact same law in their own states. And it's spread to at least two dozen other states, as well.
CONAN: Well, stay with us. And again, the number: 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com.
More in just a moment. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
If you've not heard Laura Sullivan's two-part investigation into Arizona's tough new immigration law, how SB 1070 was written and by whom, you can listen to those reports on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Laura Sullivan is NPR's police and prisons correspondent, with us today to talk more about what she learned. Freelance journalist Beau Hodai is also with us.
If you have experience in the private prison industry, if you or a family member have ever been detained by ICE, tell us your story, 800- 989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's start with Lindy(ph), Lindy with us from Oswego in New York.
LINDY: Hi. I was just wondering: If ALEC is a private corporation, how did we get copies of the law to know that it was word- for-word enacted, presented to the Arizona legislature?
SULLIVAN: Well, actually, I received a copy of the law. So that's one way.
CONAN: That would be from a source.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, that would be one way. But on top of that, ALEC is very proud of the laws that it passes. ALEC officials will tell you first off that they passed 200 pieces of legislation in actual statehouses. They bring 1,000 pieces of legislation out of the ALEC meetings, and 200 of them become actual law in statehouses. And one of them was SB 1070. They take credit for it. They're very proud of it.
CONAN: So drafting model legislation is one of the things they do at these meetings.
SULLIVAN: This is all they do at those meetings. This is all they do.
LINDY: Yes, thank you.
CONAN: All right, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Rich(ph), Rich with us from Louisville.
CONAN: Hi, Rich, go ahead, please.
RICH: Hey, I just want to say: Two thumbs up. Kudos. I mean, Arizona is on my map for sure. I'm telling you, the more people out here, more of us are thinking, you know, we'd love to keep on spoiling the entire planet, but we can't afford it anymore. We can't afford it. And it's just - this is a big, huge example of corporate fish feeding and government bureaucracy.
Government - anything you put in the government's hands gets screwed up. Our jails are full anyway. Now some smart cookie thought, well, we need a way to - someplace to put these people. You know, we can't - and they can't stay here. They need to go. They're illegal. They're just that. And then you go out, and they'll come back through the door.
CONAN: Well, Laura Sullivan?
SULLIVAN: What I think the caller is alluding to is that there's a lot of money to be made here. This is worth billions of dollars to the private prison industries. And the Corrections Corporation of America is only of them. The GEO Group is another big one that's (unintelligible), and if you look back for three years now in their SEC filings, they have - they make no bones about it that this is their new market. This is their growth market.
CONAN: Well, aren't the prisons full, as Rich says?
SULLIVAN: What we have - what the private prison industry has right now is a conundrum because crime has flat-lined in the United States over the past 10 years. And on top of that, states can no longer afford to incarcerate the number of inmates that incarcerated, two million people in this country. That costs a fortune.
So the private prison industry...
CONAN: So you see states like California, and I assume Arizona, too, saying first-time, non-violent offenders, well, they're going to get much shorter sentences, or they're going to be paroled.
SULLIVAN: Exactly. We've got to do something. We've got to either parole them early, we've got to let them out for different reasons or not give them as long of sentences.
RICH: (Unintelligible). Send them home. Send them back where they come from.
SULLIVAN: There are a lot of people there who feel that, way, but...
CONAN: I'm sorry, Beau Hodai, go ahead.
HODAI: Well, if you look at the ALEC legislation, the no more sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants act, it does not have the 20- to 30-day detention cap for misdemeanor offenses that the Arizona version that passed does.
Additionally, the ALEC bill makes second offenses a felony, which both...
SULLIVAN: You're saying it's worse.
HODAI: Right. It...
HODAI: Well, rather than deportation, what you wind up with is people in jails or prisons for much longer periods of time.
CONAN: So these people being detained by ICE would be in these private prisons for a longer period of time, and, well, let's get another caller on the line. Let's go next to Nick(ph), and Nick's with us from Berkeley.
NICK: Hi, there, thanks for doing the program.
NICK: I worked for about 15 years for Amnesty International, roughly between '85 and 2000, 2001. And my job was to investigate INS detention facilities, mainly because of asylum-seekers, but the conditions applied to anyone held.
And the toughest problem were in places like CCA or Wackenhut, and also county jails. And I can just tick off the problems. The contracts pay more per day to the jails and maybe the private institutions than the county does to the sheriff. The calls that people can make are collect only and at some places very astronomical prices. The - most importantly, there's a divided authority, and so a confused alien cannot realize what the rules are because if he talks to CCA about the rules, they tell him it's ICE. If he talks to ICE about the rules, they tell him see CCA.
And INS mandates mandated stuff like free medical care for migrants, sometimes runs afoul of rules that say people have to pay for medical care. That's also a county problem.
So it was - I interviewed a lawyer who said she had an easier time dealing with her...
CONAN: Nick, if Amnesty documented what you say are these abuses, did you take CCA or anybody else to court?
NICK: No, we don't. We don't sue. We did write a report. I wrote a report, co-authored a report in probably, oh jeez, in '99 on the issue - my contact that said this system hasn't changed much.
Ironically, we thought that - two ironies. One, Florence, Arizona, had an excellent system in which they allowed NGOs to come in and talk to detained aliens. And it helped the INS because it got rid of people who were going to get deported anyway, and it helped the NGO because they found out which clients they could successfully defend.
The - ironically, we almost - we were on the way, actually - us, but more importantly other NGOs because of so many horror stories I think might have had a chance to reform the system...
CONAN: And again, Nick, you're calling these horror stories, and I'm sure you have documentation, but has anything been done? Have you approached anybody else with these horror stories? If they are indeed horror stories, they should have been...
NICK: We would regularly go back to Congress and to the INS itself, national leadership of which was sympathetic to our concerns. But as I said, I think things were about to change when 9/11 happened, and any reform of the system was put on hold then.
SULLIVAN: The situation that works against illegal immigrants is that they have no political heft. I mean, this is not a voting bloc. This is not anybody that has any pull. So if there are conditions that are not even up to standards of our own prisons in this country, there's really nobody that's going to fight for them.
CONAN: Is it accurate, do you think, Nick's term, horror story?
SULLIVAN: There is a lot of work that other journalists and other groups have done that does reflect that.
CONAN: Beau Hodai, would you agree with that?
HODAI: Yeah. There are many documented cases, and a difficult thing is obtaining documentation of these various cases or getting any information out of this industry at all. While it is...
NICK: ...a copy of the report, if you wish, although it's 11 years old.
HODAI: Right. Well, I'm talking about internal documents detailing specific complaints, things along those lines, things you might...
CONAN: Might be actionable, yes.
NICK: ...that stuff, but yes, it was a...
HODAI: Well, the issue is that this is a private industry, and even though it's performing a core governmental function, things like the Freedom of Information Act don't necessarily apply when seeking documentation because there is a trade secrets exemption in the Freedom of Information Act, and that's what a lot of this stuff falls into.
CONAN: All right, Nick, thanks very much for the phone call.
NICK: ...gets the contract, though. Thank you.
CONAN: All right, thanks very much, Nick. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Scott(ph), Scott with us from West Palm Beach in Florida.
SCOTT: Yes, hi, good afternoon. Two questions. Does Arizona have a sunshine law similar to the one in Florida, whenever there's a governmental body meeting, it has to be open to the public and the media? And the second question is: Historically, is the fact that corporations write bills, because this isn't the first time I've heard this, is it something in the last 30 years, or do we go back to our history, and you'll see the influence of corporations in the legislation that's being written?
CONAN: Beau Hodai on the sunshine law part?
HODAI: There certainly is. There are open-records laws in Arizona. However, this does - ALEC meetings do not fall under that scope.
CONAN: Because it's a private group.
CONAN: Laura Sullivan on the broader question about corporate involvement in drafting legislation?
SULLIVAN: I mean, most importantly, ALEC says that these are not meetings that are meant for lobbying for legislation. These are meetings that are educational. When I sat down and talked to ALEC officials, they were very specific and said that when you sit down with legislators and write a piece of legislation that they intend to take home to their states and get it passed, that is an informational exchange. That's what they called it. That is not lobbying, they said.
HODAI: Can I add something, as well?
CONAN: Go ahead, Beau.
HODAI: I actually submitted a public-records request to the office of Senator Bob Burns, Arizona's ALEC chair. And I got a very interesting piece of documentation in my request. It was an ALEC statement distributed to ALEC leaders.
And it's basically a statement from ALEC telling leaders such as Senator Burns what to say to the press. And it echoes what Laura just said, and their sentiment is, and I quote, "just like teachers, farmers and ranchers, senior citizens and other groups, businesses have the right to representation and to inform legislators about their industry." However, this is not lobbying at all.
CONAN: Well, lobbying, again, is a term of art, and there are specific definitions of it and when you'll have to register as a lobbyist and all of that.
CONAN: So this might not be lobbying in the technical term.
SULLIVAN: The - well, that's open for debate. But the - but what's interesting here is the amount of privacy that this group has to have these meetings take place. Sure, the - ALEC is right. The doctors groups can hire lobbyists and can go lobby for somebody. But when you do it through ALEC, you don't have to disclose that. A corporation can pay for the legislators to come to their conferences. They can wine and dine them. They can spend $138,000 on child care, and they can get their legislation through. And they never ever have to say that they did that.
CONAN: Again, we're using that term ALEC. It stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council. If you joined us late, you may not understand that. Anyway, let's see if we get another caller in - Larry calling from Alma in Georgia.
LARRY: Hey. How are you doing, Neal?
CONAN: I'm well. Thanks.
LARRY: I did three years at a private prison here in Georgia. I'm currently doing 10 in the federal system. Part of the problem was the pay scale was ridiculous right off the bat. So we had a problem with staff succumbing to - bringing in contraband and things like that. Plus, people ought to remember that these prisons are - the private prisons, they're in it to make money. So we ran on a bare, shoestring budget. We had one basketball. The food was contracted out. You know, so there were kind of problems there, going with the federal - with a private prison.
CONAN: And when you say you did time there, which side of the bars were you on?
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LARRY: I should have said - I was a guard. It was a - I don't know if I could say - it was Cornell Corrections. They were based out of Texas, and they built a private prison in Folkston.
CONAN: I see.
LARRY: And, no, I was a guard. I'm a guard, also, at the federal prison now. Oh, I should have specified that.
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CONAN: I think so. Yeah.
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CONAN: Your lawyer would have been most - and...
SULLIVAN: You wouldn't be the first inmate on a cell phone...
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SULLIVAN: ...calling in.
LARRY: Oh, please, we have - that's another issue.
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CONAN: Just a broad distinction between the two experiences, working in the private prison and working in the federal prison, and was the private prison a state or a federal facility?
LARRY: I would say, believe it or not, the biggest distinction was you get what you pay for. The - in the federal system, with the pay scale that they're paying the officers, it was - it's more of a sanitary environment. I've got to get - there's more of a professional attitude between the inmates and the officers compared to - when I was at the private prison, I mean, we had problems every day with drugs being brought in by officers, just general problems. And a lot of it was caused by the - because of the pay scale, the people were trying to supplement their income.
CONAN: All right, Larry. Thanks very much for the call. That's interesting.
LARRY: Thank you.
CONAN: We're talking with Laura Sullivan, NPR's police and prisons correspondent, and with freelance journalist Beau Hodai. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
Let's go to Ryan, Ryan with us from Oklahoma City.
RYAN: Hi. Can you hear me?
CONAN: Yes. You're on the air. Go ahead.
RYAN: Well, my father's in a prison in Colorado, a private prison. And one of the things that I don't understand is like if he's incarcerated against his will and he's not allowed to have fun, he's disabled, he receives no money unless - you know, he can't even buy deodorant or anything unless somebody like me sends him money. You know, I just don't understand how a private prison - I can't even give him money. I have to give money through a certain entity that they take a cut. So they - and then they take a cut again when - before he can withdraw the money. It just doesn't seem moral that they can do that sort of...
CONAN: Laura, is that accurate?
SULLIVAN: What he's referring to is what critics call the prison industrial complex, where prisons will make very lucrative contracts with even distributors of candy, with distributors of food, with the people who make the socks. And whenever the inmates receive money from family members, the prison takes an administrative cut, and then they also get money from - they sort of get a backend piece of it from the contracts that they make with other providers who are providing something else.
And what Beau was alluding to earlier: the calls out of the prison, as well. That's extremely lucrative, and even more so with private prisons, because there's no state oversight of this. There's nobody in the state saying, ah, maybe, this isn't quite so great to not have inmates connected to their families or this kind of thing. There's nobody in the private prisons saying that that has to be. They're a for-profit company, and their bottom-line is at stake. And so if there's an opportunity to make money through the commissary goods, through the phone calls, that's what's going to happen.
CONAN: All right, Ryan, now, we...
RYAN: And then they just - well, the thing that really irritates me is, like, he needs a nurse because he also has to have medicine. Well, if he doesn't provide the $14 a day, they won't provide him the nurse to dispense the pills. And then they still have to provide that nurse, so they charge him, so that he racks up debt. And then when he - so when he gets out of prison, he has to pay back a debt to the prison the whole time. It just doesn't make it - it doesn't seem logical. It seems like a debtors' prison. I mean, I thought our Constitution prevented that sort of thing.
SULLIVAN: There's a lot of opportunities for private prisons to do things that our state-run facilities would not be allowed to do.
CONAN: Finally, Laura Sullivan, it's been a couple of weeks since these stories aired. What's been the reaction? We've heard CCA and the state senator denied the accuracy, but other than that.
SULLIVAN: I would say most of what - most of the people that I've heard from are NPR listeners who, you know, were very - responded very vocally to the story in the sense that they had no idea that this is sort of how this law got made, that this was some of the interests that were behind this law, and that helped to get it passed, and that it was an eye-opener.
CONAN: Any reaction there in Arizona, Beau Hodai?
HODAI: Actually, live in Montana. But I've been in Arizona for a couple of days, and I've been surprised to see the amount of coverage there's been. Yesterday, there was a press conference that I spoke at, put on by the American Friends Service Committee, and it was a very good turnout. And I understand that there is a lot of concern that the legislative process in the state and in others may be unduly influenced. And I understand as well that the American Friends Service Committee will hopefully be speaking with Attorney General Goddard later this month to investigate any sort of violations of law or gifting laws. And I actually have gotten all the records from the Arizona Senate on this influence, and I will be putting out another article on that soon myself. So, hopefully, it stays alive.
CONAN: Beau Hodai, thanks very much for your time today.
HODAI: Thank you.
Beau Hodai, a freelance journalist who's covered private prisons in Arizona, with us today member station KUAT in Tucson. Our thanks as well to NPR's Laura Sullivan, NPR's police and prisons correspondent, with us today in Studio 3A. Laura, as always, thanks.
SULLIVAN: Thank you.
CONAN: Up next: the secret life of the notorious Beast of Bolzano. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.
Clarification Feb. 23, 2012
Laura Sullivan's use of the phrase "an end run" in the second reference during the live broadcast was imprecise. She did not mean to suggest that CCA violated lobbying law.