DeVos family doles out $11 million in 2018 election

By: - February 22, 2019 4:19 pm

Susan J. Demas graphic

West Michigan’s DeVos family again stands as the state’s most generous clan when it comes to political giving.

Doug DeVos | Twitter

That’s according to a new report published Thursday by the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) that tracks money in politics. The report was based on publicly available filings with the state’s Secretary of State and other state and federal agencies.

The wealthy family, which owns Amway and a slew of other business ventures, contributed $11.3 million ahead of the 2018 election.

All told, just 40 families spent about $56 million on political activities leading up to the November election, according to MCFN. That accounts for about 18 percent of reported political spending in the state.

Craig Mauger, the organization’s executive director, said on Twitter that compiling all the data required a “very large number of spreadsheets.”

The DeVos family has a long history of donating to Republican candidates and causes at both the state and federal level.

Betsy DeVos, daughter-in-law of late Amway founder Richard DeVos, is U.S. Secretary of Education under President Donald Trump. She’s recently attracted the ire of U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and other Democrats due to unanswered questions about an attempt to fire the department’s internal watchdog.

The MCFN report notes that DeVos has ceased making political donations since taking the post. She was chair of the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000.

Her husband, Dick DeVos, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2006, did donate last cycle, along with his brothers, Amway President Doug DeVos and Dan DeVos, CEO of DP Fox Ventures.

Dan DeVos gave $200,000 to a superPAC affiliated with former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who lost the Republican gubernatorial primary to former Attorney General Bill Schuette. Multiple family members also donated money to Schuette, who fell to now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, according to campaign finance reports.

Another committee affiliated with state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) received 10 different $5,000 donations from a variety of DeVos family members.

Dick DeVos

As the Advance first reported, members of the DeVos family were among those who donated to the 2018 campaign of U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who was accused of making racist comments on the campaign trail.

Mauger notes that lax campaign finance laws mean the public doesn’t always know the extent of political spending in Michigan and elsewhere.

“We know about a lot of the DeVoses’ giving because it’s disclosed,” Mauger has previously told the Advance. “We don’t know if that’s all they’re giving. My suspicion is that it is not.”

Trailing the DeVos family in 2018 Michigan political giving were a handful of self-funded individuals seeking office, per the MCFN report.

Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar, who came in third in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, spent $10.4 million of his own money. Sandy Pensler, a Grosse Pointe Park businessman, deployed $5 million of his fortune in his failed U.S. Senate bid, according to the MCFN report. He lost the GOP primary to John James, who was then defeated by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) in November.

Outgoing Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser and his wife, former State Board of Education Member Eileen Weiser, also were generous last year, spending about $2.1 million on a variety of GOP candidates and causes.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Jon Stryker, a Kalamazoo businessman and heir to the Stryker fortune, doled out $1.5 million to Democratic causes at the federal level, according to the MCFN analysis.

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.