"Another factor driving growth ... for the private sector is in the area of immigration and illegal immigration specifically," Chief Financial Officer Brian Evans told investors in GEO's 2011 3rd quarter earnings call.
CCA warned in its 2011 annual earnings report that federal policy changes in "illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them."
Utah-based Management and Training is not publicly held, so it does not post earnings.
At just the federal level, these companies, their political action committees and their employees have spent more than $32 million on lobbying and on campaign contributions since 2000 — with the national political parties getting the largest campaign contributions.
An AP review of Federal Election Commission data found the prison companies and their employees gave to key congressional leaders who control how much money goes to run the nation's detention centers and who influence how many contracts go to the private sector.
James Thurber, head of American University's Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies, said amid the heated national debate over immigration, the companies have been savvy not to donate heavily to those sponsoring legislation, which could spark backlash, or to lobby directly for tougher laws.
"It's too controversial," he said. "But support for privatization doesn't get as political. And it can be done discretely."
There are more discrete and more powerful ways to influence policy, Thurber said.
"Follow the money," he said. "If the money is being increased significantly for illegal immigration, then that is a shift in policy ... a significant shift."
The top beneficiaries of the campaign contributions include:
— The Republican Party. Its national and congressional committees received around $450,000. Democrats received less than half that.
— Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain. He received $71,000, mostly during his failed presidential bid against Obama, well after he dropped support for a bill that would have given illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and reduced detentions.
— House Speaker John Boehner received $63,000.
—Kentucky U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers received about $59,000. Rogers chaired the first subcommittee on Homeland Security and heads the powerful House Appropriations Committee. He often criticizes ICE for not filling more detention beds.
— Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. He received $58,500. The lawmaker from Tennessee, where CCA is headquartered, led the Senate at the height of the nation's immigrant detention build up from 2003 to 2007.
More than campaign contributions, though, the private prison companies spent most of their money each year on lobbying in Washington, peaking in 2005 when they spent $5 million.
In just 2011, CCA paid the Washington firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld $280,000 in part to "monitor immigration reform," federal reports show.
They also lobbied heavily against a bill that would force them to comply with the same open records requirements governing public facilities.
Owen, the CCA spokesman, said the company ramped up lobbying to acquaint new lawmakers with the industry.
"In recent years, federal elections have been very volatile, resulting in a lot of new faces in Washington," he said. "The result of that volatility means a lot of people at the federal level who may not be familiar with the work we do."
The prison companies' influence at the state level mirrors that in Washington, although the money is even harder to track since many states, such as Arizona and Illinois, where the companies have won lucrative detention contracts, don't require corporations to disclose what they pay lobbyists.
The AP reviewed campaign contribution data from the three companies' political action committees and their employees over the last decade, compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. From 2003 to the first half of 2012, state candidates and political parties in the 50 states received more than $5.32 million.