Friday, January 6, 2017

The DeVos in the Details

The United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (yes, HELP has apparently taken a position on the Oxford comma) has a basic form that executive branch nominees have to fill out. The nice folks at Politico are hosting an on-line copy of the 23-page public portion of that paperwork as filled out by USED Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos (thanks, Jennifer Berkshire). So even though we've all been digging after DeVos and examining the leaves in her high-priced tea, this is an opportunity that cannot be passed up. What does her job application for the post of Secretary of Education tell us?

DeVos and I would have been in the same classes in high school if I had gone to an exclusive private Christian school (for exclusive private Christians). She attended Calvin College (a private Christian liberal arts college in Grand Rapids) from the fall of 1975 until graduation in 1979.


I've accused DeVos of never working a day in her life. Turns out I'm a little bit wrong on that count. DeVos held down two jobs in college. First (January '76) came a job at Gantos, a Grand Rapids retailer specializing in "private label and name brand apparel." Then in May of '76, she added a third shift at the visor factory operated by Prince Corporation, the auto parts company founded by her father, Edgar Prince. She kept both till February of her senior year.

After that, she worked for Amway as a marketing analyst until November of '82, also spending most of '82 as an Amway Independent Business Owner and a Color One Consultant. She stayed with Color One until January of '84, which was the same year that Richard DeVos was promoted to Amway vice-president.

Lining any of this up against any personal milestones turns out to be a challenge-- I cannot find any statement about the DeVos-Prince wedding more specific that "in the early 80s." Nor is it clear when, exactly, the four children were born. Youngest Ryan appears to have graduated from college in 2013. Oldest son Rick was a self-described "visionary" at the age of twenty-one in 2003. [Update: According to the NYT, they married in 1979, so, right after she graduated from college.]

At any rate, Betsy was out of the workforce until 1989, when she helped launch the Windquest Group. From there on, her career is a list of directorships of various corporate money-managing and investment entities. She also has held honorary/advisory positions with the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs, The Kennedy Center, and the Library of Congress Trust Fund.

Awards and Memberships

DeVos has been handed oodles of awards, starting with a Travis City Chamber of Commerce Athena Award (a business excellence award for the ladies), some more chamber and business awards, some historical preservation awards, and then, more recently, some awards like the 2014 William F. Buckley Jr. Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty and Leadership in Political Thought and a whopping four awards in 2016, including the Michigan Information Research Service Political Figure of the Year.


DeVos has belonged to a wide variety of groups. Three yacht clubs and three country clubs. The Windsor Club ("the premier private business and social Club in Windsor and Essex County," where you can "dine in elegance" and "impress everyone"). The Detroit Athletic Club ("Before the era of country clubs and long before the Civil Right's Revolution opened opportunities for women, there were exclusive clubs in most cities where powerful men met to discussion deals, finances and politics"). Some business groups. She's a long-time member of the advisory council for the Potters House School, the institution she cites for sparking her edu-reformster fervor. And, oh, that fervor.

DeVos's edu-poli-reformster groups include: the Education Freedom Fund, GLEP Education Fund, Great Lakes Education Foundation, Kids Hope USA, Advocates for School Choice, All Children Matter Inc., Alliance for School Choice, American Federation for Children, Foundation for Excellence in Education (the Jeb Bush group), Excellence in Education in Action, The Philanthropy Roundtable, the American Enterprise Institute, Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, and American Opportunity Alliance.

It's an impressive list, a sign of just how invested in reformsterism DeVos is. It's one more reminder just how little investment she has in the public school system she's about to take responsibility for.

Political Activity

DeVos was sent to her first Michigan GOP convention in 1980, when she was just a twenty-two year old heiress. She scored her first national GOP convention gig as an alternate in 1984. She has never not been involved in the GOP's business, including two state chairperson gigs-- and those are elected. The GOP in Michigan likes her just fine, and she has been active in the party her whole adult life.

Political Contibutions

Holy shniekies. Nine and a half pages, at about 47 items per page. So around 450. Did I mention that this list is for the last five years only?

DeVos has spread her money far and wide. Let me just hit some alphabetical highlights so you can see just how far:

AFC Action Fund for Pennsylvania-- $15,000 (2014)
Alabama Federation for Children-- total of $150,000 (2014, 2016)
Allen West for Congress-- $1,000 (2012)
Altipac (the PAC arm of Amway's parent company)-- $15,000 (2014-2016)
American Federation for Children-- grand total of $1,070,000 (2012, 2014-2016)
Arkansas Federation for Children Action Fund-- $25,000 (2016)
Bennet for Indiana-- $5,000 (2012)
Bryan Holloway for NC House-- $750 (2012)
Carly for President-- $2,700 (2015)
Citizens for Rauner, Inc-- $1,000 (2014)
Conservative Solutions-- $100,000 (2016)
Deal for Governor, Inc-- $1,000 (2014)
Eric Holcombe for Governor of Indiana-- $10,000 (2016)
Friends of Scott Walker-- $10,000 (2013)
GLEP-- $235,000 (2012, 2013)
Great Lakes Education Project-- $100,000 (2015,2016)
House Republican Campaign Committee-- $320,000 (2012-2016)
Jeb 2016-- $2,700 (2015)
Jindal for President-- $2,700 (2015)
John McCain for Senate-- $1,000 (2016)
Joni for Iowa-- $2,600 (2014)
Julie Killian for NY State Senate-- $500 (2016)
Kasich for America-- $2,700 (2015)
Liz Cheney for Congress-- $1,350 (2016)
Louisiana Federation for Children-- $100,000 (2015)
Marco Rubio for President-- $2,700 (2015)
Marco Rubio for Senate-- $5,400 (2016)
McCrory for Governor-- $4,000 (2012)
Michigan Chamber PAC-- $30,000 (2012-2016)
Michigan Republican Party-- $652,000 (2012-2016)
Missouri Republican Party-- $10,000 (2016)
Nevada Federation for Children PAC-- $55,000 (2016)
New Hampshire for Scott Brown-- $5,200 (2014)
New Mexico Republican Party-- $5,000 (2016)
Pam Bondi (yes, that one) for Attorney General-- $500 (2013)
Republican Governor's Association-- $125,000 (2012-2016)
Republican Party of Florida-- $10,000 (2016)
Romney for President-- $5,000 (2012)
Sean Bradley for Denver City Council-- $500 (2015)
Senate Leadership Fund-- $300,000 (2016)
Steve Daines for Montana-- $5,200 (2014)
Tennessee Federation for Children PAC-- $115,000 (2014)
Weiser for U of M Regent-- $10,200 (2014, 2016)
Wisconsin Federation for Children-- $45,000 (2014,2016)
Young Guns for Congress-- $227 (2012)

This is just the tip of the iceberg-- particularly because this is only her personal giving, and not an account of family giving, or a track of all the DeVos-backed groups that function as arms of the family's political empire. With a few free days, you could track every name on the large list showing DeVos supporting everything from all the GOP Presidential contenders EXCEPT her new BFFs and patrons, Pence and Herr Trump, down to a guy running for county sheriff. Betsy's money is very, very busy.


A whole lot of letters to the editor and opinion columns, as well as one press release. That's it. You may have imagined that a Secretary of Education might have some even-slightly-scholarly publications or articles or plain old white papers, but no. Letters to the editor will cover it, thanks.

Conflicts of Interest

The 'supplemental" portion of the questionnaire includes some open-ended questions, like asking the applicant to list any business dealings or investments or other stuff that might cause a conflict ofm interest, and if so, what do you plan to do about it?

DeVos replies that she will check with the ethics office and file a Form 278 to see if there are any such conflicts. We will reportedly have to wait to see whether Trump's cabinet picks declare these conflicts before or after they are confirmed. You know-- whatever's convenient for them.

The next question asks, "How will you resolve any such conflicts of interest." DeVos, like a good student who has been trained on how to answer these sorts of questions by recycling the prompt, replies "I will resolve any potential conflicts of interest that arise during the course of my service..." and the sentence rambles on a bit, but never arrives at the how. DeVos will resolve her conflicts by resolving her conflicts. Are we clear on that?

Then we get to the "you have to be an idiot to answer these wrong" section, where she is asked such stumpers as "Will you show up to be grilled by the Senate?" and she says yes, which I suppose, given the current future state of the Executive branch, is not a given, no matter how obvious it may seem.

Also, she indicates that yes, she will stop being employed by the family business, and yes, she does intend to return to the family business when she's done in DC but, no, nobody at the family business has "promised" her a job when she gets back, which I suppose is strictly true-- her husband may very well say in four (please, God) years, "Sorry, honey, but I decided to hire another person to serve as my life and business partner." So this line of questions is a little silly. But we can get sillier.


DeVos also swears that she has "never been registered as a state or federal lobbyist" and I suppose that is technically true, as you don't need to be a registered lobbyist when it's your own money you're throwing around with the expectation of changing how the government works. DeVos has done nothing her whole adult life except be a lobbyist, but she still falls outside the specific definition and so we can continue with the same sort of unvarnished swamp-steeped baloney that Trump lied about getting rid of.

There's more to dig through, particularly in the long list of contributees. There are no surprises here, but we do get one more piece of the DeVos picture, a few more details, a few more reasons that she would make a lousy Secretary of Education.

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