Updated: Feb. 7, 2017
DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education after Vice President Mike Pence broke the Senate’s 50-50 tie vote. How did a completely unqualified billionaire and enemy of public schools get this job? Easy: she bought it.
From Politico: “Over the past two and half decades, the couple donated more than $7.7 million to Republican candidates and parties across the country, the analysis found. The center also examined donations by DeVos’ entire extended family, and found more than $20 million in contributions to Republican candidates, party committees, PACs and super PACs since 1989.”
These are just the donations we know about. There are plenty of other ways to make “dark money” donations, so DeVos and her family have almost certainly contributed more than this.
Today, Trump picked Republican megadonor Betsy DeVos as his education secretary. DeVos, daughter of a billionaire and wife of another billionaire, is an avid proponent of charter schools, and will likely “funnel public education dollars to places like charter and private schools, including religious schools.” Based on education policy alone, I oppose everything DeVos stands for.
What’s so striking about this appointment, however, is how clearly it illustrates that we are living in an oligarchy. To get the full picture of who DeVos is and what she stands for, read Jane Mayer’s full article on her. Some quick excerpts:
DeVos, whose father-in-law is a co-founder of Amway, the multi-level marketing empire, comes from the very heart of the small circle of conservative billionaires who have long funded the Republican Party.
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.
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.”
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.
The DeVos family belongs to the deeply conservative Dutch Reformed Church, and has pushed for years to breach the wall between church and state on education, among other issues.
Betsy DeVos . . . brashly explained her opposition to campaign-finance-reform measures . . . “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.”
What Mayer’s article leaves out is something she addressed in her indispensable book about the Koch brothers and other billionaire political donors, Dark Money. And what Mayer exposes about Betsy DeVos, in particular, is that DeVos was a major financial backer of the legal efforts that eventually led to the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision that said corporations have the same free speech rights as people, and ultimately eradicated all meaningful limits on campaign spending. From Mayer’s book:
[F]ew issues were more central to the DeVos family’s mission than eradicating restraints on political spending . . . Ground zero in this fight was the James Madison Center for Free Speech, of which Betsy DeVos became a founding board member in 1997. The nonprofit organization’s sole goal was to end all legal restrictions on money in politics . . . the driving force behind the organization was a single-minded lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, James Bopp Jr.
“We had a 10-year plan to take all this down,” [Bopp] told the Times. “And if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law.”
Bopp, and DeVos, succeeded.
On the campaign trail, Trump consistently lied about how he was self-funding his campaign so he could claim that no billionaires would have sway with him, and how he was going to “drain the swamp” when he won. Unsurprisingly, though, his donors are already reaping their rewards. Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, gave $100,000 to the super PAC supporting Trump during his campaign, and now his sister is in Trump’s cabinet. Erik himself will almost certainly see a huge return on his investment, as well: he is under investigation for money laundering (among other things), and, for the cherry on top, security firm TigerSwan (an iteration of Prince’s Blackwater operation) is coordinating intel on the water protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Erik Prince gave $100k+ to Trump. His mom also gave big. Sister is going to be in cabinet. Prince will thrive & get protection from the law.
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) November 24, 2016
It’s not surprising Trump campaigned on the “self-funding” lie: a large majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, hate how big money has infiltrated our government. However, appointing an oligarch like DeVos, one of the billionaires most responsible for our broken democracy, exposes Trump for the true fraud that he is. Trump himself, after all, is an oligarch.