Senator accuses DeVos of breaking donation pledge

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A Democratic senator is accusing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ husband of breaking a pledge she made that the couple would suspend political giving while DeVos is a member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet.

Betsy DeVos

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, wrote to DeVos this week saying that her husband Dick’s political contributions this year were “in direct opposition to the commitment you made to me.”

“It has come to my attention that, despite your assurances to me during your nomination hearing, your husband has continued to make political contributions and use your vast family wealth to influence Congress and local politics,” Murray wrote.

“I thought you provided me with a direct response and commitment at your hearing, but if your response meant something different, please let me know.”

Dick DeVos

Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also asked DeVos for a full accounting of every political contribution she and her husband have been involved in at the local, state and federal level since her Jan. 17 confirmation hearing.

As the Detroit News first reported this week, Dick DeVos contributed $3,000 to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce PAC in April and $2,000 to the Friends of West Michigan Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce PAC in July, according to state disclosure reports. The DeVos family is from the Grand Rapids area.

Murray also found that Dick DeVos contributed $10,000 to the Compete Michigan PAC, a leadership PAC for Republican state Sen. Mike Shirkey of Clarklake; and $5,000 to the MAC PAC, a leadership PAC for GOP Sen. Peter MacGregor of Rockford.

Murray also cited DeVos for donations to the campaigns of three Republican federal candidates – U.S. Sen. Luther Strange of Alabama and Reps. Karen Handel in Georgia and Greg Gianforte of Montana.

But those donations were given by Dick DeVos’ father, Richard DeVos Sr., DeVos family spokesman Greg McNeilly said Friday.

McNeilly told The Detroit News that Dick DeVos understood the pledge to apply to candidates for federal office, and said the couple has not donated to federal candidates.

McNeilly criticized Murray’s description of political contributions as “pressuring” candidates.

“Senator Murray’s attempt’s at partisan warfare against the DeVos family rest clearly on misinformation or sheer incompetence,” McNeilly said by email.

“Murray’s assertions that the freedoms of political speech amount to pressuring candidates is a form of ontological fascism that represents the worst of Washington, D.C.’s swamp culture.”

The U.S. Department of Education did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

The extended DeVos family has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in political contributions to promote the Republican Party and its candidates, prompting Murray to ask Betsy DeVos during her Jan. 17 confirmation hearing whether she and her relatives would continue to do so.

“If I am confirmed, as you know, I will not be involved in or engaged in political contributions, and my husband will not either,” DeVos replied.

DeVos previously served as chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

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Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.