DeVos contributions help give Michigan Republicans big money lead

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A surge in contributions from West Michigan's DeVos family has helped give Republicans in the Legislature a substantial fundraising advantage over their Democratic counterparts to start 2020.

Members of the DeVos family, whose patriarch co-founded Amway, gave $251,850 to the main fundraising committee of state House Republicans and $293,825 to the main fundraising committee of state Senate Republicans in December, according to disclosures released Friday.

As a result, the House Republicans' committee reported having $3 million in the bank at the end of 2019 — a $2.3 million advantage over House Democrats' committee, which had only $697,130 on hand. That difference is the largest to start an election year in at least two decades.

Michigan House of Representatives, 2018.

"Our team is fired up and putting in the work we need to hold the majority and continue to lead for another two years," said Rep. Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, co-chair of House Republicans' campaign efforts, in a statement. "This team is raising funds in record amounts, recruiting the best candidates and setting their colleagues up for success this fall."

Republicans currently hold 58 of the 110 seats in the state House. Democrats, who picked up five seats in 2018, would need to flip four additional seats in 2020 to control the chamber for the first time since 2010.

The Senate, where Republicans hold 22 of the 38 seats, won't be up for election again until 2022.

Democratic lawmakers blasted the Republicans this week for the amount of money they received from members of the DeVos family.

House Minority Leader Chris Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said the contributions told the story of concentrated wealth and influence in the country's political system.

"It's one of the reasons the failed DeVos education system still exists here in Michigan," Greig said. "Voters should be outraged."

Rep. Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, who is leading House Democrats' election efforts in 2020, noted that Democrats reported 330 individual contributions during the final fundraising period of 2020, from Oct. 21 through the end of the year. Republicans reported only 77 individual contributions over that time, according to their disclosure.

But the Republicans' committee still raised $761,318 during the period while Democrats' committee raised only $304,159.

Stu Sandler, a political consultant who works with the House Republicans, said it was hypocritical for House Democrats to criticize the GOP's disclosed contributions from Michigan residents while taking money from out-of-state donors and groups.

Sandler mentioned a PAC called Future Now Fund, which gave $40,000 to the House Democrats in July while receiving large amounts of funding from individuals from New York.

"It’s absolutely hypocritical for Democrats to criticize this type of money," Sandler said. 

The DeVos family has traditionally given the most political contributions among Michigan families. For the 2018 election, family members combined to spend $11.3 million on federal and state-level contributions, according to the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Among the DeVos family members who contributed to state Republicans in December were Daniel DeVos, president of DP Fox, and Dick DeVos, president of the Windquest Group.

Besty DeVos, wife of Dick DeVos and the current U.S. secretary of education, didn't make contributions to the caucuses as she vowed not to financially support candidates when she took the position in President Donald Trump's administration.

In this Dec. 18, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump listens as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks during a roundtable discussion on the Federal Commission on School Safety report, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.

Six DeVos family members made maximum contributions of $41,975 to the House Republican Campaign Committee, according to the committee's report. Seven DeVos family members made maximum contributions of $41,975 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. But the same family member, Suzanne DeVos, appeared to be listed on two of the max contributions to the Senate Republicans.

A spokesman for the DeVos family didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Michigan law caps contributions to the caucus committees on an annual basis, meaning family members could make another round of maximum contributions in 2020 ahead of the November election. Limits on giving to candidates in Michigan are capped per election cycle.

The top donors to the House Democratic Fund in 2019 included the Michigan Education Association, the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. All three groups gave the max, $41,975, according to fundraising disclosures.