Superdelegate Sleaze: A Case Study


By Tracie McMillan

The Huffington Post • March 18, 2008

At a moment when Democratic Party officials are urging voters to trust unelected superdelegates to act in the country’s best interests, HuffPost’s OffTheBus investigation into the background of DNC superdelegates reveals at least one appointed superdelegate who is as likely to use his political connections for personal profit as for the greater good.

Take the case of Joseph F. Johnson, a member-at-large of the Democratic National Committee from Chantilliy, Virginia –a suburb of Washington D.C. — and a superdelegate currently tilting toward Hillary Clinton. Using his web of connections, Johnson successfully lobbied for the construction of a private prison linked to a company on whose board he sat; he managed to have that prison contract with other companies he was linked to; and though the prison became a notorious and dangerous failure, Johnson benefited personally, pulling in millions of dollars in stock options and fees.

Johnson first rose through the ranks of the Democratic machine in the early 1990s, as executive director of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He brought with him strong ties to D.C. government that he’d built after his first job in the nation’s capital, as chief of staff for the city of Washington DC’s city council head. He also managed Douglas Wilder’s successful campaign to become Virginia’s first African-American governor in 1991. And Johnson advised Mark Warner on his successful 2001 gubernatorial bid in Virginia.

Johnson’s reputation as a mover and shaker in D.C. Democratic politics helped pave the way for his appointment to the board of Corrections Corporation of America, the largest operator of private prisons in the country. While serving in that position from 1996 to 1999, Johnson was instrumental in convincing the local government in Washington, DC to pay CCA to run a prison in Youngstown, Ohio for DC inmates,according to SEC filings for the company. Meanwhile, two of Johnson’s own companies, National Corrections and Rehabilitation (NCRC) and MedCorr, were contracted to provide employment rehabilitation and health services in the same prison he helped establish.
The private Ohio prison which Johnson helped establish was, according to Youngstown’s then-mayor, “a nightmare.” By 1998, there had been two fatal stabbings, 44 assaults, and six escapes at the prison. A Department of Justice report found that under CCA, the prison had “failed to accomplish the basic mission of correctional safety;” and prisoners eventually collected $1.65 million in damages and legal costs for their treatment under CCA.

News reports traced the problems at the prison to both CCA’s management and D.C. Corrections’ practice of sending high-security inmates to the medium-security facility. The problems, Johnson told the Washington Post at the time, weren’t “anyone’s fault, it was just one of those things.”

Mr. Johnson nonetheless profited from the deal, receiving $2.6 million in stock options for his work linking CCA with officials in Washington, D.C. Calling his work “instrumental” to their receipt of the contract, CCA said that Mr. Johnson had “exceeded his duties and obligations” to the company and also paid him $382,000 for his “consulting services” in helping to arrange the deal, and $991,000 for NCRC’s services in another CCA prison in Texas.

Johnson had also helped arrange for Washington, D.C. to sell one of its local prisons to CCA in 1996. Local activists complained that procurement rules had been skipped over to hand the bid to CCA, but the deal ultimately went through, and CCA then managed the facility and used NCRC to provide services to inmates. When the Washington Post asked Johnson if he considered his dual roles as a conflict of interest, he replied, “Not in my mind.”
Two years later, the Washington Post reported that CCA faced $1.3 million in fines for failing to provide services to inmates, including $536,000 in fines for failing to properly administer medications and another $77,400 for failing to provide vision services. The city’s Department of Corrections, despite being $8.8 million in the red, suspended most of the fines, according to Post reports from the time.

Johnson has over time expanded his list of companies; NCRC is technically a subsidiary of his firm, the Johnson Companies []. Under that umbrella, Mr. Johnson also houses the Houston-based Satellite Tracking of People, LLC (STOP), which deals in GPS tracking devices for inmates and parolees; the Nashville-based ConnectGov, Inc, which coordinates distance learning; and the National Preparedness Training Center, which trains first responders to disasters.

Johnson’s work outside of prisons and security has also created controversy. An earlier company of his, HealthCare Affiliates, was involved in a 1995 dispute in Newport News, Virginia, where the company had been contracted to turn around a failing hospital, according to the Newport News Daily Press. A 1996 audit [] by the federal Inspector General of the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that both HealthCare Affiliates and the hospital’s Board of Trustees had “ignored regulatory and financial requirements,” spending $1.45 million on “costs not directly related to operations,” including using hospital funds to cover travel expenses and apartments for Johnson’s staff, and paying board members for staff positions. Mr. Johnson denied any mismanagement, telling a Daily Press reporter that the HUD audit was likely ” a rehash of a lot of the things….all of those files had every inch of support in them.”

Most recently, Johnson took the helm of Homeland Security Corporation as chief executive officer. The Illinois-based company and its subsidiary, Pressure Point Control Tactics, currently subcontract from Lockheed Martin to provide services and training to the Transportation Safety Administration, according to the PPCT website. (Note: HSC’s website does not currently list Mr. Johnson on staff, but company spokesperson Garry Bonding confirmed that Mr. Johnson is the company’s CEO.)

None of this can be found in the bio on file for Johnson with the Democratic National Committee, to which he was appointed as an at-large member–and therefore superdelegate–by Chairman Howard Dean at the last convention.

State party officials, who have no formal role in selecting at-large delegates, declined to comment when asked about Johnson. DNC officials declined to explain the specifics of Johnson’s appointment or comment on his private-sector dealings, but noted his years of service to the party.

Johnson hasn’t publicly committed to a candidate but federal election records show that he and Sharron Johnson (of the same address) each donated a legal maximum of $2300 to Senator Clinton’s campaign in late 2007. During the summer, Johnson had also given $1,000 to Senator Barack Obama.

Multiple calls to Senator Clinton’s campaign were unreturned, and Sen. Obama’s campaign did not respond by press time. When contacted for this report, Johnson declined to comment on the record.

A steady supporter of Washington D.C.’s African-American community, Johnson is well known in the city’s eighth ward, said Joyce Scott, the president of Park South Neighborhood Corporation, a housing development in the area. Local Councilmember Marion Barry also sings his praises, and recently introduced a ceremonial council resolution commending Johnson’s service to the community. “[Johnson]’s a good hearted person,” said Scott. “He’s one of our supporters, so I think he’s a fantastic person.”

Follow Tracie

Follow Tracie on Facebook
Follow Tracie on X (Twitter)
Follow Tracie on Instagram
Get Tracie's Newsletter