The Trump-supporting education secretary and her billionaire family have for years promoted rightwing causes and candidates
By Adam Gabbatt
While the anti-coronavirus lockdowns springing up around the US came as a surprise to many, the involvement of the conservative billionaire DeVos family, repeated donors to a slew of dubious rightwing causes, should not.
The family – which includes Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary – has been a regular donor to the Michigan Freedom Fund, which helped promote a Michigan protest against the state’s stay-at-home orders in mid-April.
That rally, which saw about 3,000 people descend on the state’s capitol building, in Lansing, sparked a slew of other protests in states, and an endorsement from Trump.
But the DeVoses’ donations to the Michigan Freedom Fund – more than half a million dollars over the past four years, including from Betsy DeVos herself – are the tip of an iceberg of support for conservative causes.
The family, which has a net worth of $5.6bn accrued through a sprawling business, handed over more than $10m to Republican candidates and groups during the 2016 election, and has pushed causes including Christian schools and the opposition of equal rights for LGBT people.
The Family Research Council, an anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage group, has been just one beneficiary , while Betsy and Dick DeVos have also given money to Focus on the Family – $275,000 between 1999 and 2001, Mother Jones reported.
In 2005, Focus on the Family was identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as among “the most influential anti-gay groups”, which campaigned against same-sex marriage. A consistent issue for the DeVoses has been education, and Betsy and Dick DeVos have reportedly given $35m to educational causes – frequently around the topic of charter schools.
The couple’s giving has been matched by other members of the DeVos family. Betsy, born Elizabeth Prince, married Dick DeVos in 1979. Dick DeVos is the son of Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway, a multi-level marketing company who in 2012 was ranked as the 60th wealthiest person in the US with a fortune of $5.1bn.
Betsy and Dick DeVos, and Dick’s two brothers, have spent decades donating to Republican causes.
Aside from a focus on anti-equality, the family has contributed to groups advocating small government and for electing more Republicans to office. According to Vanity Fair, Richard DeVos and his offspring have given “as much as $200m to the GOP” since the 1970s, championing Republican candidates nationally and in their home state of Michigan.
It was a Michigan organization that has landed DeVos in the news over the past two weeks. The Michigan Freedom Fund, which “fights to champion conservative policies on behalf of Michigan taxpayers” – including lower taxes – helped promote a rally in Michigan against the state’s stay-at-home order.
The MFF, which is chaired by Betsy and Dick DeVos’ longtime political adviser, Greg McNeilly, helped promote, rather than organize, the Michigan rally.
But the MFF exists, in large part, due to the DeVos family’s largesse.
The organization has received more than $500,000 from a slew of family members. As well as Betsy DeVos, her husband donated $80,000 just last year. Betsy DeVos’ brother-in-law Daniel and sister-in-law have also handed over tens of thousands to the fund.
While Betsy DeVos has stopped donating to political causes while she serves as education secretary, her family has kept up the flow of cash. In the 2018 midterm elections, the DeVoses splashed at least $7.6m on Republican candidates and committees.
They didn’t end up with much to show for their money, as Republicans lost the House of Representatives. If that was an example of the DeVoses not getting what they wanted, in 1997, DeVos herself outlined what she did expect to get for her money.
“I have decided,” she wrote in RollCall, “to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.
“We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.”