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Most people want the government to work as it was intended: by the people, for the people. But when it comes to the passage of laws that govern the lives of ordinary people, the influence of money and powerful business interests often outweigh the will of the people. At a time when public trust in the government is at an all-time low – in part because of how outside influences can manipulate lawmakers into pursuing problematic policies – Americans are losing faith in the lawmaking process. Lobbying – the lawful attempt to influence the actions or policies of government officials – is far too often guided by the perverse incentive of moneyed interests. We see these outcomes in housing and healthcare policy, budget allocations, and also criminal justice reform. 

Lobbyists for the commercial bail bond industry are a key player in this political money game. According to new reporting by the Center for Media and Democracy, paid lobbyists for the industry have long been working behind the scenes to influence state legislators to walk back cash bail reforms and attack the charitable bail organizations that provide a lifeline for many low-income individuals and families in need. 

ALEC and ABC Team Up

The American Legislative Exchange Council (better known as ALEC) is one such group of legislators and private sector representatives who draft conservative legislation on behalf of lawmakers and are aligned with the interests of the commercial bail bond industry. They’ve had a direct hand in the success of SB 63 in Georgia: the two Republican sponsors of the legislation are members of ALEC. The American Bail Coalition (ABC) is the lobbying body for the commercial bail bond industry that is bent on warding off charitable bail organizations – which they perceive as an existential threat, and simultaneously undermining progressive bail reform that would improve public safety, reduce unnecessary incarceration, and secure due process rights. In recent years, ABC has solidified a close companionship with ALEC and, by its own admission, has influenced 12 bills that strengthen the bail bond industry. It spent $1 million on lobbying in 2022 alone.

The bottom line for these two groups is not for the good of the people or social progress. It’s protecting their wealthy stakeholders: the surety agencies and for-profit bail bond companies who make money off of people who are ensnared in the pretrial system because they cannot post the cash bail that a judge has determined is sufficient to ensure their safe release and return to court.

People vs. Profit 

The bail bond industry these lobbyists work for, by contrast, seeks to maximize its profit by charging anyone they bail out a non-refundable fee of 10–20% of their total bond amount. Because charitable bail organizations like The Bail Project post bail and help low-income people get back to court for free, the bail bond industry views these organizations as direct competition to their revenue generation, and hence an existential threat to their continued operations – despite most recipients of charitable bail being too poor to even afford their fees. The private bail bond industry is so hellbent on disrupting charitable bail support that they even published a briefing document where they laid out their vision for legislating charitable bail organizations that provide free bail assistance out of existence. We can now see this vision borne out through policy making efforts in numerous state legislatures.

Seen in this light, it makes sense why ABC and ALEC have targeted charitable bail organizations. The provision of free pretrial support is a thorn in their ultimate agenda of extracting profit from low-income people ensnared in the cash bail system – a system that the bail bond industry is reliant upon and dedicated to maintaining, despite its harms. So they have adopted a no-holds-barred approach to salvaging their business: tossing millions of dollars into lobbying efforts, at the expense of individual rights and public safety. And, as this new report makes clear, mounting legislative attacks on charitable bail organizations through behind the scenes legislative influencing.

Most Americans want to reduce unnecessary incarceration. Instead of handshakes with ALEC and ABC, legislators should focus on working to build a criminal justice system where cash has no place and our rights are upheld.

Thank you for reading. The Bail Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is only able to provide direct services and sustain systems change work through donations from people like you. If you found value in this article, please consider supporting our work today.

Manager of Communications

Lizzie Tribone

As the Manager of Communications, Lizzie provides editorial, publications, press, and writing support to a range of projects. Before joining The Bail Project, she worked as a freelance writer and her reported feature writing on politics and society has appeared in In These Times, The Appeal, The Baffler, Rewire News Group, and The American Prospect, among others. She also previously held a number of non-profit communications roles, including recent work as Senior Publications Officer at the ODI, a London-based research institute, where she managed and edited publications. Ms. Tribone was also the Communications Lead at the Community Wealth Fund, a national campaign in England that sought to secure investment in socio-economically deprived communities. She received a B.A. in English from Kenyon College and an M.A./M.Sc. in international and world history from Columbia University and the London School of Economics.

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