Gov. Rick Scott tempted the comedy gods with his latest choice of fundraisers.
And, as Sunday night’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” proved, the comedy gods show no mercy.
Not with the material Scott gave them Monday night.
Scott attended a $10,000 per person fundraiser at the home of George Zoley, the president of Geo Group of Boca Raton. Geo is the the second-largest private prison company in the U.S. with $1.5 billion in annual revenue.
Geo has been the subject of much unflattering attention lately. There was the Mother Jones story on Friday detailing all sorts of problems at Geo facilities, like the hunger strike at the immigration detention center in Broward County that was protesting overcrowding and high costs, and the students and faculty at Florida Atlantic University who successfully protested against the stadium getting named after the GEO Group.
Zoley, who was netting between $22 million from the GEO Group between 2008 and 2012, has become a big supporter of Scott’s. Let’s Get to Work, Scott’s reelection campaign, has accepted $415,000 from Geo Group and its affiliate, Geo Care.
Monday night’s fundraiser posed a fat target for the comedy writers at HBO’s “Last Week Tonight”, which has quickly become the buzziest comedy show on TV.
“We love prisons so much a shocking number of Americans are currently inside one,” Oliver said at the beginning of 17-minute segment that was mainly focused on the privatization of the American prison system.
“We have more prisoners at the moment than China. Than China. We don’t have more of anything than China, other than, of course, debt to China.”
At about 12 minutes in, Oliver zeroed in on Florida.
“The key problem running prisons like businesses is that prisons are then run as businesses,” Oliver said, seguing into his main example of the Geo Group.
“Pay and staffing ratios are so much lower in a Geo Group youth facility in Mississippi, that it sometimes had just two officers overseeing as many as 256 prisoners. That facility eventually closed, but only after a federal judge wrote that physical and sexual abuse was rampant there because its operators had ‘allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate.'
“Now I know that GEO will say that presents an unbalanced picture of their company, so in the interest of balance, I will point out that they got an award from from the State of Florida for 'bold and innovative cost-saving business practices,'” Oliver stated. “Although I think we all know, that when the state of Florida gives you an award, that award is basically sarcastic.”
A quick side note, Oliver said, is that the award was signed by Scott.
“He’s led the drive to prison privatization in his state,’ Oliver said. “But on one condition.”
It then cuts to old footage of a Scott gaggle, where the governor is surrounded by TV cameras and reporters.
“What I’ve said all along is that this is an opportunity for the taxpayers of the state to save money,” Scott said. “There’s no way we’ll do this if we don’t save money. As you know, the bill says if we don’t save at least seven percent, we don’t do prison privatization.”
Back to Oliver.
“Hey, hey, hey, listen,” Oliver said. “If you think Rick Scott is going to look the other way for a company with a history of the physical abuse of minors for the savings of a mere six percent, you don’t know Rick Scott, ok? Ricky needs seven. Ricky wants seven. Ricky likes seven, ok?”
“Now if you happen at all to be interested in asking Rick Scott about the conduct of the Geo Group, for goodness sake, don’t do it tomorrow night,” Oliver said during his Sunday telecast. “He’s busy. We actually checked and he’s going to be at a fundraiser at the home of, and this is true, the CEO of Geo Group.”
Groans from audience.
“I believe the theme of that fundraiser is, ‘Come Join Rick Scott; A cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts,'” Oliver said
Big laughs, applaluse.
“Look, this is all so depressing,” Oliver said. “The whole system seems fundamentally broken.”
When asked for comment about the segment, which had been viewed on YouTube 270,915 times by Monday afternoon, Scott’s campaign wouldn’t comment.
Immigrant rights groups and some local residents on Monday night stood outside Zoley’s home, which is in Boca’s Royal Yacht & Country Club community, to protest the reports of abuse, sexual assault and neglect at Geo Group facilities.
Jackie Schutz, a Scott campaign spokeswoman, said Scott stopped to talk to protesters before the fundraiser.
“He wanted to talk to them about their concerns,” Schutz said. “And he said his office will look into them.”
Despite becoming an instant comedy punch line, the fundraiser is not likely to be used as ammunition by Scott’s opponent, Charlie Crist.
Zoley, it turns out, was a major supporter of Crist when he became governor in 2006, offering not just the use of his corporate jet so Crist could campaign across the state, but also $50,000 to Crist’s inaugural ball, which was later returned with other large donations after a public outcry.