DeVos family boosts key GOP U.S. Senate campaigns

By: - April 18, 2019 4:56 pm

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz, gestures to President Donald Trump during a rally at the International Air Response facility on October 19, 2018 in Mesa, Arizona. | Ralph Freso/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ family members have shelled out tens of thousands of dollars so far this year to help boost Senate Republicans’ re-election prospects, according to federal campaign finance data released this week.

DeVos’ in-laws — Michigan conservative donors and heirs to the Amway fortune — have plowed cash into the coffers of Republican U.S.Senate candidates across the country who are up for re-election in 2020, the records show.

They include Republican U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Martha McSally of Arizona, who’s facing a special election in 2020 to serve the remainder of the late U.S. Sen. John McCain’s term.

DeVos’ husband, Dick DeVos, has three siblings — Doug, Daniel and Suzanne — each of whom contributed $5,600 to each of those candidates in the first quarter of this year. Doug’s wife, Maria DeVos, also contributed $5,600 to those campaigns. That’s the maximum contribution allowed per election cycle under federal election law.

During a Mississippi special U.S. Senate election in 2018, the DeVos family donated to GOP U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who caused a firestorm while running against African American Democrat Mike Espy. Hyde-Smith said that she “would be on the front row” if one of her supporters “invited her to a public hanging.”

As the Advance reported, the DeVoses plunked down more than $10,000 to Hyde-Smith’s ultimately successful campaign.

As Trump’s education secretary, DeVos has been one of the administration’s most controversial cabinet officials.

She made waves during her January 2017 confirmation hearing when she cited grizzly bears as a reason that educators might need guns in schools. Since then, her policies on issues like school choice, campus sexual assault, civil rights and student debt have drawn ire from her critics.

Earlier this year, DeVos faced a firestorm on Capitol Hill as lawmakers grilled her for the administration’s proposal to cut federal funding for the Special Olympics. President Trump later reversed course on the issue, saying that he supports federal funding for the program.

McSally wasn’t yet serving in the Senate when DeVos was confirmed in 2017. Gardner, Tillis and McConnell were serving in the Senate then and voted to confirm DeVos.

The DeVos family members who contributed to other Republicans did not donate in the first quarter of this year to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican facing re-election in 2020 who was one of two Senate Republicans who voted against DeVos’ 2017 confirmation.

The U.S. Education Department did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Attempts to contact the members of the DeVos family who donated to the Republican campaigns were unsuccessful.

DeVos pledged that she and her husband would suspend their political contributions during her time as education secretary, although her husband later made contributions to two Michigan political action committees, the Detroit News reported.

Dick DeVos unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2006.

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

The DeVoses doled out more than $11 million in the 2018 election, mostly to Republicans and conservative causes, making them, by far, the most generous clan in Michigan.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.