Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald J. Trump's pick to be secretary of education,and her husband, Dick — the son of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos — have made charitable contributions totaling nearly $139 million through their foundation.
According to its most recent annual report (7 pages, PDF), the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation awarded grants totaling more than $11.6 million in 2015 — an increase over the $10.4 million it awarded in 2014. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the foundation focuses a large part of its grantmaking on educational causes, awarding more than $3 million, or 26 percent of its grant dollars, to such causes in 2015, and $32.7 million, or 24 percent of its total grantmaking since 1989. Among other things, the DeVoses have actively supported school vouchers and charter schools and were also instrumental in founding the Great Lakes Education Project, a school-choice advocacy organization with an active political action committee.
"I think it just became clear to us over time that the current system was not fulfilling the American dream. In other words, this was increasingly a civil rights problem," Dick DeVos told MLive and the Grand Rapids Press. "Kids growing up in the wrong ZIP codes were not able to access the American dream and achieve the education necessary to have a shot at the American dream."
Critics of the DeVoses argue that the vouchers and charters schools they champion siphon tax dollars away from traditional public schools, and that the couple uses political and charitable contributions to pursue an ideological agenda. Over the last five years, Betsy DeVos has reported making $5.3 million in donations to political campaigns.
"I think if people look through the expenditures they will see through it for what it really is," said Mark Brewer, attorney and a former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party. "I think the release of these charitable contributions is nothing more than a smokescreen to divert attention away from the disclosures of the political contributions."
Originally scheduled for January 11, the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos was rescheduled to January 17 after Democrats raised concerns about her incomplete financial disclosures and a not-yet-completed ethics review, Politico reported last week. While DeVos submitted her financial disclosures to the Office of Government Ethics last month, she has not yet finalized or signed the paperwork.
In addition to education, the DeVos Family Foundation has directed over its lifetime some $26.8 million (20 percent of its grantmaking) to "civic, community, and other" efforts and more than $19.8 million (14 percent) to arts and culture, including support for the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland. And while the foundation's grantmaking for religion has totaled a relatively modest $11 million (8 percent of its total grantmaking), the foundation's annual report highlights the fact that 22 percent of the grant dollars awarded by the foundation in 2015 went to faith-based organizations.