Banking on Injustice
The bail industry, comprised of local bail agencies, the insurance companies that underwrite their bonds, and the professional trade associations that represent their agents, use their financial power to wield influence over the political sphere.
By making contributions in the hundreds and thousands of dollars to candidates, the industry has ensured that pro-bail legislation is supported by the political allies that they have bought and that the longevity their industry remains intact. The best way to understand how and where these political alliances have formed is by following the money. Use this tool to search contributions made from the bail industry to state and federal candidates over the past 10 years and explore our side pages to learn more.

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It is perhaps impossible to drive home the enormous role that the bail industry plays in manipulating the political landscape without discussing Maryland. Despite its relatively small size, Maryland ranks 3rd in bail industry contributions, behind only California and Florida, each of which have populations over six and three times higher, respectively. Since 2011, the industry has funneled over $400,000 to political candidates and has taken their influence even deeper by hosting elaborate annual dinners for all 19 members of the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee. By lining the pockets of political hopefuls and wining and dining current legislators, bail companies in Maryland have solidified themselves as a power player in shaping politics and in doing so, they continue to ensure the longevity of their industry. A 2016 report from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender revealed how the commercial bail industry extracted over $250 million in non refundable bail bond premiums from Maryland communities over a five year period. More than $75 million of these premiums were charged in cases that were ultimately resolved without any finding of wrongdoing.

Click below to read this bombshell report from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.

When you think of the bail industry and who serves as the face of this cash bail system…what initially comes to mind?

Likely, it is the small stores sprinkled throughout neighborhoods across the country. Perhaps you see flashy neon signs promoting “24/7 service” that will “get you out of jail today.” Or maybe you’re reminded of old fashioned awnings with names like “Sonny’s Bail Bonds” or “Frank Family Bail” that invoke thoughts of mom-and-pop stores or small family businesses. 

In truth though, the bail industry is comprised of a host of different actors ranging from the individual agents that work directly with incarcerated clients and their families, to the local bail companies that employ those agents, to the professional associations that represent those companies and lobby on their behalf. However, the lesser known and most powerful actors are the insurance companies that underwrite local bail agencies and collectively serve as the financial foundation of this $2 billion industry. 

Bail insurance corporations are increasingly held as subsidiaries of large global companies and while they rake in millions of dollars annually, bail is often only a small share of their business. Corporations that underwrite the bail industry also fund other, more well-known business ventures ranging from public radio stations to popular clothing brands, and even homeowner or vehicle insurance. That means that the same corporations that promote socially-conscious businesses with one hand are also fueling mass incarceration with the other. 

To learn more, check out “Selling Off Our Freedom,” Color Of Change’s 2016 report about the 7 major insurance companies that underwrite the overwhelming majority of bail bonds and profit off mass incarceration.

In California, major bail industry players like Aladdin Bail Bonds, All-Pro Bail and Bail Hotline as well as industry associations like the American Bail Coalition have poured money into campaign contributions and ballot measures. Over the course of the 2017-2018 election season, the bail industry gave $24,700 to candidates in a heated gubernatorial race and spent over $300,000 on lobbyists working to thwart bail reform. Other recipients of bail industry funds in California have included insurance commissioners, lieutenant governors, attorney general candidates, and state assembly members. 

In November 2018, California passed Senate Bill 10, a major bail reform bill that will eliminate cash bail throughout the entire state. In the weeks following the passage of the bill however, the bail industry mobilized to gather signatures on a referendum that would prevent the bill from going into effect. One player in particular, Aladdin Bail Bonds/Seaview Surety, has spent the most on this referendum contributing almost $1 million so far.

Learn more about our campaign to divest from Endeavour Capital, the private equity firm that owns Aladdin Bail Bonds, profits off Black communities, and has been funding this regressive opposition to bail reform.

The contributions reflected in this database demonstrate how the bail industry has for years used “dark money” to exert influence over politicians. Financial ties between the industry and political figures have enabled bail agents and associations to challenge policies that work against their interests and promote legislation that further cements their power.  Gradually, political figures have grown quick to denounce mass incarceration and yet slow to reject morally questionable donations like those from the private prison industry or bail corporations. However, there are notable examples of politicians that have publicly returned bail industry contributions that are worth uplifting. These moments serve as powerful examples of the impact that activists and organizers have in holding their elected officials accountable. 
SPOTLIGHT In the summer of 2017, Kings County (New York) District Attorney Eric Gonzalez made headlines after campaign finance reports revealed that his campaign had received over $7,000 in donations from Empire Bail Bonds, a major New York bail bond company. Gonzalez, had carved a role for himself as a progressive district attorney and so while these donations comprised a small percentage of his total contributions, any ties to the bail industry contradicted his reformer image and sparked concern. After a push from New York based advocacy organizations including Color of Change, Gonzalez announced in the fall of 2017 that he would be returning the the bail industry.
Ongoing campaigns that generally push politicians to refuse donations from the bail industry can help set a precedent for what alliances candidates should and should not form while on the campaign trail.

Check out this petition from Progressive Maryland demanding that all Maryland candidates cut ties with the bail bond industry and return bail contributions.

The number of Texas inmates awaiting trial has increased 43 percent over just the past 20 years and yet research from 2017 found that almost one quarter of Texas’ 41,000 prisoners qualify as low-risk, and actually pose little threat to the public.

If an increasing percentage of Texas inmates are qualified as “low risk” and are of little threat to public safety, why does the pretrial population continue to grow? Primarily through the increased influence of the bail industry.

Professional associations representing Texas bail agents continue to mobilize politically. The Professional Bondsmen of Texas (PBT) has hired at least 2 lobbying firms within the past 3 years to fight against reform legislation and in 2017, they assembled a “Defense Fund” and solicited money from their membership base to hire an attorney to represent the organization in a lawsuit that condemned exploitative bail practices.

The PBT also has its own political action arm called “Texas Bail PAC” that contributes tens of thousands of dollars every year to pro-bail ballot measures and to legislators that are supportive of the bail system. Between 2014 and 2016, The Texas Bail PAC contributed $86,500 to Texas candidates.

Click below to read this bombshell report from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.

While the bail reform movement has gained momentum in recent years and public narratives have shifted, there are some powerful, core organizations working to squash reform and maintain the power of the bail industry. 

Like any other labor field, the bail industry is represented by professional coalitions that organize at the local and national level to support the interests of bail agents, bail companies, and the financial institutions that underwrite them. These professional associations host networking convenings, raise funds to support pro-bail legislation, launch PACs that endorse politicians with “tough-on-crime” platforms, and use their rather large reach to spread negative narratives about the bail reform movement.

Who are some major players? 

American Bail Coalition (ABC): The American Bail Coalition is the trade association of leading bail insurance companies.

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC): ALEC is a right wing non-profit organization funded in part by the Koch Foundation. It is comprised by both conservative lawmakers and private sector representatives who work together to craft legislation that works towards corporate interests. 

Professional Bondsmen of the United States (PBUS): While ABC focuses on representing bail insurance companies, PBUS, known as “The National Voice of Bail Agents” is the national trade association representing bail agents  

Click below to read this bombshell report from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.