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Mayer writes: "After choosing for his cabinet a series of political outsiders who are loyal to him personally, Donald Trump has broken with this pattern to name Betsy DeVos his Secretary of Education. DeVos, whose father-in-law is a co-founder of Amway, the multilevel marketing empire, comes from the very heart of the small circle of conservative billionaires who have long funded the Republican Party."

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. (photo: Jabin Botsford/WP)
Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. (photo: Jabin Botsford/WP)

Betsy DeVos, Trump's Big-Donor Education Secretary

By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker

27 November 16


fter choosing for his cabinet a series of political outsiders who are loyal to him personally, Donald Trump has broken with this pattern to name Betsy DeVos his Secretary of Education. DeVos, whose father-in-law is a co-founder of Amway, the multilevel marketing empire, comes from the very heart of the small circle of conservative billionaires who have long funded the Republican Party.

Trump’s choice of DeVos delivers on his campaign promise to increase the role of charter schools, which she has long championed. But it also flies in the face of his fiery anti-establishment campaign rhetoric. Steve Bannon, who was named Trump’s senior counsellor and chief strategist, has mocked what he called “the donor class,” arguing that it and the politicians it bankrolls have little understanding of the needs of working-class and middle-class voters. Such populist rhetoric fuelled Trump’s campaign, in which he presented himself as an outsider who would govern independently of the corrupt and out-of-touch private interests that he said had “rigged” American politics.

But it would be hard to find a better representative of the “donor class” than DeVos, whose family has been allied with Charles and David Koch for years. Betsy, her husband Richard, Jr. (Dick), and her father-in-law, Richard, Sr., whose fortune was estimated by Forbes to be worth $5.1 billion, have turned up repeatedly on lists of attendees at the Kochs’ donor summits, and as contributors to the brothers’ political ventures. In 2010, Charles Koch described Richard DeVos, Sr., as one of thirty-two “great partners” who had contributed a million dollars or more to the tens of millions of dollars that the Kochs planned to spend in that year’s campaign cycle.

While the DeVoses are less well known than the Kochs, they have played a similar role in bankrolling the rightward march of the Republican Party. Starting in 1970, the DeVos family, which is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, began directing at least two hundred million dollars into funding what was then called “The New Right.” The family supported conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation; academic organizations such as the Collegiate Studies Institute, which funded conservative publications on college campuses; and the secretive Council on National Policy, which the Times called “a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.” The Council’s membership list, which was kept secret, included leaders of the Christian right, such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Phyllis Schlafly, and anti-tax and pro-gun groups. Richard DeVos, Sr., liked to say that it brought together “the doers and the donors.”

In 1980, the DeVos family contributed heavily to the election of Ronald Reagan, and DeVos, Sr., was named the finance chair of the Republican National Committee. Two years later, he was removed, after calling the brutal 1982 recession a “cleansing process,” and insisting that anyone who was unemployed simply didn’t want to work. That same year, DeVos and his Amway co-founder, Jay Van Andel, were charged with criminal tax fraud in Canada. Eventually, Amway pleaded guilty and paid fines of twenty-five million dollars, and the criminal charges against DeVos and his partner were dropped. Despite these incidents, the DeVos clan remained a major political force. “There’s not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last fifty years who hasn’t known the DeVoses,” Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, told Mother Jones, in 2014.

The marriage of Dick DeVos to Betsy Prince only increased the family’s wealth and power. Her father, Edgar Prince, had made a fortune in auto-parts manufacturing, selling his company for $1.35 billion in cash, in 1996. Her brother Erik founded Blackwater, the private military company that the government infamously contracted to work in Afghanistan and Iraq, where its mercenaries killed more than a dozen civilians in 2007.

DeVos is a religious conservative who has pushed for years to breach the wall between church and state on education, among other issues.* (The Washington Post reports that Betsy DeVos has been an elder at Mars Hill, in Grand Rapids.) Betsy, who served as the chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party in the late nineties and again in the early aughts, spent more than two million dollars of the family’s money on a failed school-vouchers referendum in 2000, which would have allowed Michigan residents to use public funds to pay for tuition at religious schools. The family then spent thirty-five million dollars, in 2006, on Dick DeVos’s unsuccessful campaign to unseat Jennifer Granholm, then the Democratic governor of the state. After that campaign, the DeVos family doubled down on political contributions and support for conservative Christian causes. Members of the family, including Betsy and Dick DeVos, have spent heavily in opposition to same-sex-marriage laws in several states. According to the Michigan L.G.B.T. publication, Devos and her husband led the successful campaign to pass an anti-gay-marriage ballot referendum in the state in 2004, contributing more than two hundred thousand dollars to the effort. Dick Devos reportedly gave a hundred thousand dollars, in 2008, to an amendment that banned same-sex marriage in Florida. That year, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, Betsy Devos’s mother, was a major contributor to the effort to pass Proposition 8, which made same-sex marriage illegal in California.

Trump may have run against big money in politics, but his choice for Education Secretary has made no apologies about her family’s political spending. Betsy DeVos has been a major financial backer of legal efforts to overturn campaign-spending limits. In 1997, she brashly explained her opposition to campaign-finance-reform measures that were aimed at cleaning up so-called “soft money,” a predecessor to today’s unlimited “dark money” election spending. “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,” she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. “I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something 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.”

“People like us,” she added archly, “must surely be stopped.”

In the 2016 campaign, DeVos continued to spend heavily, but not in favor of Trump, who, she declared, “does not represent the Republican Party.” Evidently, she has changed her mind about that, and he has changed his about the merits of “the donor class.” your social media marketing partner


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+62 # PeacefulGarden 2016-11-27 12:02
Wow! Can you say capture!

I think it is now beyond buying influence. She bought her way into becoming the Education Secretary.

Ya' think she ever taught a classroom of children; urban, suburban or rural? Ya' think she ever read research about child development?
Nah... she is just "soft money lady".

Ya gotta love Mrs. Soft Money!
+7 # economagic 2016-11-27 17:51
Look up Obama's Commerce secretary -- the current one. She was on tap for the post in 2008 but was still embroiled in the untangling of the collapse of a bank owned by members of her family c. 2002, resulting from its careless investments in (can you believe it?) mortgage backed securities. Be sure to note her place in the Forbes 400, and those of at least a half-dozen other members of her family, whose hotel chain has one of the worst labor records in this country.
+30 # MidwestDick 2016-11-27 18:31
Penny Pritzker?
Pritzker family is a long time backer of the Democratic party, and part of the reason the Dems are still powerful in Illinois.
Commerce secretary always comes from a business background.
Political elites are largely comprised of the wealthiest Americans. Consider the first four presidents.
The everyone does it argument is a POS crossed with a red herring.
DeVos wants to privatize the American educational system, mainly to destroy the unions who are still the only credible opposition to Plutocratic control. That is a very bad idea. Doesn't matter if the President farts fire and has a pointy tail hidden in his pants, the idea still sucks.
+49 # ReconFire 2016-11-27 12:20
Agree PeacefulGarden

Progressives look at the picture at the top of this story....This is the face of the enemy of democracy since the Raygun years.
+53 # mashiguo 2016-11-27 14:49
This is Trump's most dangerous appoinment by far.
Fighting racism, etc, is easy.
Fighting something as fragmented and hidden as the educational system is almost impossible.
Hang on, idiocracy is coming on full speed ahead
For those who think Jesus is the solution, DeVos is proof that Jesus is the problem.
+21 # Jim Rocket 2016-11-27 17:31
Where do these people get the idea that Jesus would be on their side? Maybe it's the forgiveness can be a vicious b***tard 6 days a week, get forgiven on Sunday and do it all over again.
+21 # economagic 2016-11-27 17:54
On behalf of mashigou I will rephrase his comment to read, "DeVos is proof that the claim of anyone that s/he is a follower of the teachings of Jesus is NOT proof -- or even evidence -- that they do."
0 # Texas Aggie 2016-12-01 08:47
Or go to confession on Fridays. Same thing.
+11 # Floridatexan 2016-11-28 10:53
Jesus is not the problem, but the people who use His name for their nefarious deeds are definitely the problem.
0 # newell 2016-11-29 08:19
In fact, Jesus the man, not the supernatural god, is the answer. It is the poor that will overthrow the rich--not the middle class.
+40 # Blackjack 2016-11-27 14:49
Since Raygun, dimwitted Dems have had the hardest time recognizing "the face of the enemy," In fact, their most common tactic is to join with the enemy, and then calling it "compromise" because "we have no choice." Funny how, when the Dems were in power, the Repukes never thought they had to compromise!
+6 # dquandle 2016-11-27 15:48
Obama, his stooge and chief profiteer and subverter of education, Arne Duncan, and Bill Gates et al. have been pushing the selfsame garbage that De Vos is pushing, and "Liberals" gave the Obama/Duncan Department of Cannon Fodder carte blanche throughout his despicable 8 years in office.
+39 # ChrisCurrie 2016-11-27 15:16
So the wealth of Betsy DeVos comes from a family whose business model borders on being a Ponzi scheme that has made some people rich while impoverishing many times as many succors.
+38 # margpark 2016-11-27 15:38
Some people on this list just love to make up derogatory names for politicions. Mrs. DeVos is a sworn enemy of public schooling. She favors unregulated private schooling. She will be a disaster for public schooling.
+39 # PeacefulGarden 2016-11-27 15:46
She will be a disaster for all schooling. PreK - College. It does not matter, public, private or religious. She wouldn't know the difference between a curriculum from a roll of toilet paper. She wouldn't, as most people in the good old USA, know the difference between a good and bad teacher.

The whole package is a mess. Ya' got Mrs. Money Bags as the leader of Education in the entire nation.
+33 # oakes721 2016-11-27 15:42
Remember Amway's "Golden Pyramid Schemes" where all the work and promises floundered at the bottom while all the profits were funneled to the tip top players...
+12 # economagic 2016-11-27 17:57
Gee, where else have we seen that model? (Hint: It is an economic system the name of which begins with a "c.")
+33 # Indie 2016-11-27 16:41
Each of Trump's appointees seem worse than the previous one. If there ever was a team of swamp creatures ready to destroy the United States, this is is it. If Trump was a paid agent of Putin's, he couldn't do a better job than he is doing, even before he is even inaugurated, of destroying our country.
+18 # Glen 2016-11-27 18:33
To come up with another version of comparisons - don't insult "swamp creatures" by comparing them to this new group of slick savages. Trump and his court are the perfect example of why this government sorely needs restructuring.
+17 # GF4A 2016-11-28 04:54
Trump has not broken his pattern with the appointment of DeVos.

His administration looks like a Who's Who of Hate.

His picks so far include a white supremacist, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, militaristic war hawks, climate change deniers, right-wing Christians who are fueling the right's advancement in the takeover of our government.

Yep, he's doing well. (sarcasm fully intended.)
-17 # joejamchicago 2016-11-28 06:32
We provide food to the hungry in the form of vouchers, i.e., food stamps. Yet, despite sixty years of abysmal failure that is our government monopolized delivery system for education for the poor, we insist that vouchers must, at all costs, be eradicated. Barack and Michelle Obama chose nongovernment schooling for their children at the same time that President Obama killed the nascent voucher program then in operation in D. C. Hypocrisy?
+3 # Patriot 2016-11-28 16:51
No, Joe, not hypocrisy--simp le necessity. The Secret Service would need an army of people to protect two of any president's children in a public school system. Sad, but true. Private schools are smaller, more secluded, and mch easier to secure.

Say quite a bit more about the failure of parents of school children and the general public to take the slightest interest in the US public school system.
+1 # Texas Aggie 2016-12-01 08:57
Instead of going into hypothetical comparisons, why don't you look at what has happened when educational vouchers were used. They have been a dismal failure, nurturing a bunch of scam artists sucking at the government teat and damaging the education of thousands of kids.

Instead of your beautiful theory, face the ugly facts.
+8 # DongiC 2016-11-28 08:59
Did Amway produce anything other than inflated fortunes for those at the top of the pyramid? And, now, we have one of these fine folks as Secretary of Education. From this position she can do irreparable harm to the entire public education movement. She is another addition to the cabinet from hell and a strong piece of evidence that what counts in evaluating Trump are his actions not his words.
-3 # joejamchicago 2016-11-29 06:13
Jimmy and Roslyn Carter sent their daughter, Amy, to a DC public school. Check out what happened in Kansas City when funding for its public school system was tripled in one year: the bureaucrats stole the money: test scores went down, class sizes were NOT reduced. Two-thirds of public school teachers send their own children to private schools. Empower the people: give parents the right to choose, instead of forcing the poor to have to be segregated in inferior hellholes that are but holding pens between cradle and penitentiary.
+1 # Texas Aggie 2016-12-01 08:54
Wouldn't it be nice if you hadn't created those "hellholes" in the first place. And as for the Carter's, as anyone with more than a single neuron remembers, back in those days, gun nuts and right wing terrorists weren't everywhere.

And you really don't want to mention Kansas because your BFF running that state has had to cut educational spending and it has resulted in schools closing early, shutting down and laying off teachers.

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