Before Donald Trump tapped her to be the nation’s next Secretary of Education on Wednesday, Betsy DeVos was known largely as a Michigan philanthropist who, with her husband, raised money to support pro-school choice candidates. But the patriarch of the DeVos family may provide a better idea of what kind of Republicans our new nominee for Education Secretary comes from. So who is Richard DeVos, and what can we learn about Betsy DeVos from her father-in-law?
First, the Devos’ are stinking rich. Forbes pegged the family fortune at $5.1 billion dollars which, if you got it in single dollar bills and lined them up end to end, would wrap around the globe sixteen times. It also means they out-rich President-elect Trump by a cool billion or so.
Second, DeVos made his fortune by founding Amway, a “direct marketing company” in the same vein as Avon or Mary Kay cosmetics, which was accused of being a“pyramid scheme,” as noted in a report by USA Today's Jayne O'Donnel. In 2011, the company agreed to pay $55 million to settle a lawsuit brought by distributors.
Third, DeVos and his children are pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a conservative, religious billionaire family: extremely financially supporting of anti-LGBT causes.
A partial list of the conservative causes that DeVos family members have raised and/or given money to, include:
- The Alliance Defending Freedom, which at one point described its mission as seeking “to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.” According to ThinkProgress, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation gave it "at least $235,000 in unrestricted grants between 2001 and 2010."
- Focus on the Family, who are probably best known for allegedly "manipulating research data to say gays and lesbians are not good parents," as the Washington Post noted in 2006. The organization denied the allegation. The Human Rights Council also noted that the group promoted conversion therapy. According to Conservative Transparency. According to OpenSecrets.org, the Richard and Helen Devos Foundation gave Focus on the Family $400,000 in 2010 alone.
Ricahrd DeVos also took a pretty horrifying stance on AIDS in the 1980s when asked by President Reagan to sit on a commission:
I listened to 300 witnesses tell us that it was every body else’s fault but their own. Nothing to do with their conduct, just that the government didn’t fix this disease. At the end of that I put in the document, it was the conclusion document from the commission, that actions have consequences and you are responsible for yours. AIDS is a disease people gain because of their actions…. Conduct yourself properly, which is a pretty solid Christian principle.
I suppose it’s worth noting that DeVos also is the owner of the Orlando Magic, though don’t get too excited, sports fans: he earns the rank of fifth worst owner in sports, according to Rolling Stone.