Dick DeVos Puts His Money Where His Mouth Isn't
The GOP candidate for governor of Michigan, Dick DeVos
, has has invested tens of millions of dollars in building the organizations of the religious right and the wider conservative movement. The money comes primarily from family foundations related to AMWAY company. But according to an article in the Detroit Metro Times
, he doesn't like to talk much about the profoundly Christian right views that inform his philanthropy and certainly his politics. And although he does his best to be a stealth candidate in this regard, the truth is that if you like James Dobson, you'll love Dick DeVos.
DeVos currently trails incumbent Governor Jennifer Granholm
according to the latest polls
, however if elected, as governor of a major state, and a possible candidate for higher office, he will be one of the most prominent Christian right elected leaders in the United States.
Fortunately, author and journalist Russ Bellant has been researching the DeVos empire for many years, and agreed to be interviewed by the Detroit Metro Times for a piece on the DeVos family philanthropy -- which for starters contributed $570,000 to James Dobson's Focus on the Family between 1996 and 2004 (the last year for which there are public records available.) Here are a few details from this important story.
The agenda has been clear-cut: tax cuts that primarily benefit corporations and the wealthy, industry deregulation, school privatization, militarism, the promotion of so-called "traditional values" that cover everything from undermining the rights of gays to re-criminalizing abortion to breaking down the wall separating church from state, opposition to the environmental movement and organized labor and affirmative action, and cuts in funding to social services.
The DeVos family has been at the epicenter of this movement. It started with Richard DeVos Sr., the candidate's father and co-founder of Amway (now renamed Alticor), a direct-marketing company decried by its many critics as a scheme that enriches those at the top while providing little to the legions of independent contractors who peddle soap and such, but more importantly, sell the supposed virtues of the company itself as they attempt to recruit even more people into the fold.
That company spawned a vast fortune for its founders since it began in 1959. As of 2005, Richard DeVos Sr. was estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $3.4 billion. In 2004, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation distributed $34.5 million to about 175 civic groups, churches, medical associations, activist organizations and other nonprofits.
The foundation controlled by Dick and Betsy DeVos, though not as richly endowed, is nonetheless substantial, and its list of beneficiaries largely mirrors those receiving contributions from the foundation controlled by the elder DeVoses.
Both are generous contributors to a range of causes, a number of which are completely within the mainstream. The American Cancer Society, museums and symphony orchestras are all recipients. For the past several years, the single largest recipient has been the Education Freedom Fund, which provides scholarships that allow needy kids to attend private schools.
But of the $3.2 million doled out by the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation in 2004 - the last year for which financial statements filed with the IRS are available - the vast majority of recipients were overtly Christian groups....
Going through the foundation financial reports - known as 990 forms - Bellant points out the groups those on the left consider part of the hard right. Nationally there's the Heritage Foundation, Federalist Society, American Enterprise Institute and the Council for National Policy among others. Closer to home, there's the Michigan-grown Acton Institute, Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Traditional Values Coalition.
According to the article, he is a slippery character when it comes to the issues, avoiding direct statements about many of the hot button issues dear to the religious right. He says he is prolife, but he won't get into detail. He won't talk about stem cell research, because it is "too complicated." On the other hand, he finaces the Thomas More Law Center, founded by Dominios Pizza mogul Tom Monaghan, that helped litigate the intelligent design battle in Dover, Pennsylvania, and in a rare moment of candor, acknowledged that he supports teaching intelligent design in the public schools
"I would like to see the ideas of intelligent design that many scientists are now suggesting is a very viable alternative theory," DeVos told the AP. "That theory and others that would be considered credible would expose our students to more ideas, not less."
Richard DeVos wife Betsy is the treasurer of an Ann Arbor based religious right agency called the Acton Institute, which opposed the Kyoto treaties on global warming, and has a recent record of attacking opponents of global warming. The Richard and Betsy DeVos foundation has kicked in $290,000 from 1996 to 2004. the Exxon-Mobil Founation contributed $200,000 to Action from 2001 - 2004.
The DeVos campaign's John Truscott told the Metro Times,
that its unfair to draw inferences on how DeVos will govern based on donations made as a private citizen.
"On a lot of issues, you cannot impose your personal beliefs," says Turscott. "What you believe as a private citizen doesn't transcend into elected office."
"The job of governor," he adds, "is turning around Michigan's anemic economy."
Asked about the preponderance of giving to Christian groups, Truscott assures that "Dick believes in separation of church and state. He believes in freedom of speech. He believes in protecting the sanctity of the Constitution."
Truscott says, too, that DeVos may often disagree with individual positions taken by a group but continue to provide support because of its underlying principles. It's in those philosophical underpinnings, though, that there is agreement among many of the nonprofits and politicians DeVos funds. There's a broad consistency to these groups that transcends individual issues.
"If a candidate has a history of personal beliefs, and he's not going to act on those beliefs, then what will he act on?" asks an incredulous Bellant.
As far as the candidate's belief in separation between church and state, Bellant asks why is it he supports an organization like Michigan's Foundation for Traditional Values. That group, according to its mission statement seeks to return America to "Judeo-Christian principles" embraced by our Founding Fathers. The group received more than $136,000 from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation between 1996 and 2004.
"It sounds to me," says Bellant, "like he's not being honest."
Indeed, white DeVos may not agree with every action or statement of every grantee, he may be fairly held accountable for, as Truscott says, their philosphy and underlyuing principles. By this standard, we find Richard DeVos at the more extreme end of the spectrum on abortion, gay and lesbian civil rights; separation of church and state, school privatization, teaching the religious doctrine of intelligent design as science, opposition to affirmative action, pooh poohing global warming, and much more.
It is understandable that DeVos would like to focus soley on the state's economy and what he would do about it. But of course, the economy is only one part of the job.
Based on the record of his personal philanthropy, DeVos philosophy regarding the basics of civil and human rights and constitutional democracy -- sounds a lot more like the leaders of the religious right than business-oriented Republicanism.
No wonder he doesn't want to talk about it.