• Donald V. Watkins

“America First”: The Political Scam of the Decade

Updated: Mar 26

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on March 25, 2021


Most Americans have never heard of the Bob Barker Co., Inc., in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. This is not a company founded and run by Bob Barker of the “Price is Right” TV game show.


This Bob Barker company supplies a wide range of goods for U.S. prisoners and prison staff. The company bills itself as a “worldwide leader in delivering innovative products and services to correctional and rehabilitation customers”.


Bob Barker Company is a privately owned company. As such, its annual gross receipts are not readily available to the public. However, Dun & Bradstreet reports the company’s annual revenues at an estimated $175.6 million. Owler reports the company’s annual revenues at $105.6 million.


The company supplies the nation’s 122 federal prisons with low-quality, high-price, foreign-manufactured goods such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, shaving gel, body wash, soap, handwash, shampoo/conditioner, grooming products, combs, brushes, clippers, lotion, toiletry items, hand sanitizers, OTC meds, inmate uniforms, other clothing items and undergarments, shoes, sheets/blankets, towels/wash clothes, laundry supplies, paper/writing supplies, reading glasses, plastic chairs/tables, mirrors, padlocks, hand cuffs, leg irons, officer’s uniforms, and a host of other foreign-made products.


All of these products were made in America in the recent past, and many still are. During the ‘’America First” era of the Donald Trump presidency (from January 2017 to January 2021), the Bob Barker Company flooded the U.S. Bureau of Prisons with manufactured goods from China, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Korea, Canada, and a host of third-world emerging countries. The Bureau’s steel handcuffs are proudly engraved with the country of origin, “Made in Korea”.


In 2006, the company merged with its primary national rival for the prison niche market – Leslee Scott, Inc. – to further grow Bob Barker’s product offering to include Officers Only items and gear. This merger produced somewhat of a monopoly for Bob Barker in its market share for prison goods.


Allegations of Utilizing Sweatshop Labor


In 2008, a Bob Barker/Leslee Scott factory in Bangladesh was investigated in connection with sweeping allegations of sweatshop labor. The company contracted with Bangladesh vendor, Arena Fashion Wear under Contract #C18257-04-X-35622 to manufacture undergarments, women’s panties and brassieres. While company president Robert Barker, Jr., denied the allegations of sweatshop labor, the following working conditions were reported at Arena’s Chittagong, Bangladesh manufacturing facility:

1. There was no safe drinking water; workers drank water from the toilets.

2. The high hourly production target was hard to meet. If workers did not meet the target, they had to work overtime. Workers reported some shifts each month from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. the next day, followed by another shift starting at 8 a.m.

3. Workers cited physical punishment, including beatings for refusal of shifts, absences, or mistakes.


Despite these reported conditions, Bob Barker describes its company’s vision in glowing terms: “Transforming criminal justice while honoring God in all we do”.


Honoring Republican Politicians, Too!


In addition to “honoring God”, the Bob Barker company has a pretty good track record of honoring Republican politicians, as well.


According to records from the General Accounting Office, the company had one $31,000 contract with the Bureau of Prisons in 1995, one $35,000 contract in 1999, and one $30,000 contract in 2003.


Business picked up for the company in 2004 with 11 contracts and took off in 2005 with 77 contracts. It has continued at this pace since 2005.


During the 2020 campaign season, individuals affiliated with Bob Barker contributed the following amounts to prominent Republican candidates and political action committees, among others:

1. Donald Trump - $13,625

2. Republican National Committee - $10,384

3. National Republican Senatorial Committee - $8,050

4. Lindsey Graham - $7,500

5. Kevin McCarthy - $5,600

6. Kelly Loeffler - $2,352

7. Mark Meadows - $1,500

8. Republican Party of Georgia - $5,000

9. National Republican Congressional Committee - $4,600

10. Republican Party of North Carolina - $3,425

11. Black Americans to Re-elect the President - $2,500

12. Devin Nunes - $1,000

13. Ted Cruz - $500

14. Virginia Foxx - $7,600

15. Thom Tillis - $6,450


In all, Bob Barker’s affiliated individuals contributed a total of $134,002 to political recipients in 2020. Of this amount, $124, 963 (98.34%) was contributed to Republicans and $2,114 (or 1.66%) was contributed to Democrats. Of the $2,114 that was contributed to Democrats, $1,271 was contributed to Joe Biden’s campaign.


Trump was president in 2020, while Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee that oversees the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons. Business flourished for the Bob Barker Company during Donald Trump's presidency and Lindsey Graham's Judiciary Committee chairmanship. In Washington political circles, the Bob Barker Company's national contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons were viewed as "protected" contract concessions, even though they hurt American manufacturers.


In 2008, Republican political candidates received 100% of the Bob Barker affliliated contributions. In 2010, they also received 100% of these contributions. In 2012, Republicans received 98.99% of the company’s affiliated contributions. In 2014, 2016, and 2018, Republicans again received 100% of Bob Barker’s affiliated political contributions.


Epilogue


In the political world, money talks – loudly. “America First” was mere campaign rhetoric spewing from the mouths of Republican politicians in Washington. In reality, political self-interest came first (from 2017 to 2021) and, as always, American manufacturers were screwed in the process.


What responsible and accountable Director of the U.S Bureau of Prisons would use handcuffs that proudly proclaimed in engraved steel, “Made in Korea”? Only one who thought he could hoodwink the American public.



PHOTO: Bob Barker Co.'s Fuquay-Varina, NC location

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© 2021 by Donald V. Watkins, P.C.