"I have decided to stop taking offense," Betsy DeVos wrote in a Roll Call column, "at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point."
Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, knows plenty about buying influence and has plenty of money to do so. Dubbed "The New Kochs" by an article in Mother Jones
, Betsy and her husband Richard earned multiple mentions in Dark Money
, the authoritative book on the topic by Jane Mayer. True, among the über-rich who participate in the Koch brothers' seminars, Richard and Betsy rank a few notches below the top ten. Their almost $6 billion valuation isn't near the combined $86 billion of Charles and David Koch or the $31 billion of Sheldon Adelson. But $6 billion ain't chopped liver. It can buy you a whole lot of influence. And it has, in the pursuit of removing any restrictions from political donations and in promoting the spread of vouchers and charter schools.
Betsy DeVos, born Betsy Prince, came from a wealthy family, and she moved up a rung or two when she married into the Amway marketing empire fortune. Betsy and Richard have been part of the upper echelons of the state and national Republican Party. Richard ran for Michigan governor in 2006, unsuccessfully. In
Betsy was a founding board member of the James Madison Center for Free Speech, a group whose only purpose was to wipe out legal restrictions on spending money in politics. (A school choice group she ran still owes a $5.2 million fine to the Ohio Elections Commission for making illegal political contributions in 2008. One of the lawyer's arguments against paying the fine is that the contribution would have been legal if the Citizens United decision had been in place at the time.) In 2000, DeVos put $2 million into a state referendum pushing school vouchers, which was voted down by 68 percent of the voters. Vouchers lose when they're put to a popular vote every time, so she decided to devote her efforts to electing pro-voucher legislators who could enact the necessary legislation without needing voter support.
DeVos chairs the American Federation for Children (AFC), a 501(c)(4) dark-money group which I have written about in the past. It funds and endorses candidates who are voucher supporters. In this election cycle, AFC spent $218,000 in Arizona's primaries alone.
Our probable next Secretary of Education attended a private, religious high school. I don't know about her elementary education or her children's education. Unless someone can show me differently, I'm going to make a guess that public schools didn't figure into any of their schooling. DeVos has never taught or been connected with a public school based on anything I've read. Her college degree is in business administration and political science, not education. If she's well read in educational literature, it's a secret she keeps to herself. But she has her beliefs. She believes in the Republican Party, unlimited political donations, the use of money to buy influence, vouchers and charter schools. How this gives her the breadth of knowledge and understanding needed to make educational decisions affecting all the country's children, the great majority of whom attend traditional public schools, not private or charter schools, is a mystery to me.