Betsy DeVos, Corporatism, Education — January 27, 2017 at 9:26 am

Betsy DeVos paid for a Grand Rapids school superintendent to support her at her Senate confirmation in Washington, DC


Betsy DeVos, Pr*sident Donald Trump’s pick to be his Secretary of Education, is rightfully being exposed nationally for her anti-public education agenda. As I and Mitchell Robinson have been explaining repeatedly, Betsy DeVos isn’t just unqualified, she’s DANGEROUS.

She’s never attended a public school.

She’s never sent her children to a public school.

She’s never taught in ANY school.

She’s funded efforts disgustingly and euphemistically called “School Choice” that are little more than charades designed to destroy our public school system in order to promote private, for-profit charter schools and religious schools to siphon tax dollars into the bank accounts of “education” corporations and religious groups.

She and her family have even given millions and millions of dollars to Republicans over the years, some of whom will be voting on her confirmation. She herself concedes that it might be as much as $200 million. (She neglected to mention on her financial disclosure to the US Senate for her confirmation hearing that she had given over $100,000 to an anti-union group called Protecting Michigan Taxpayers.)

The scope of her financial largesse to Republicans and anti-public education groups is breathtaking. NOTE: See update below.

Last night, WOOD-TV dropped another bombshell: Betsy DeVos’s anti-public schools group American Federation for Children agreed to give an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to Grand Rapids Schools superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal along with her spokesman, John Helmholdt. The purpose? To park Weatherall Neal in front of Senators at DeVos’s confirmation hearing to praise the billionaire and encourage them to approve her confirmation:

Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal recently broke from the education crowd when she supported President Donald Trump’s nomination of West Michigan philanthropist and activist Betsy DeVos for secretary of education.

Now, emails and correspondence obtained by Target 8 show how far the superintendent planned to go to show her support.

The correspondence shows plans for a trip to DeVos’ confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., paid for by DeVos’ nonprofit, American Federation for Children. It also included “talking points” provided by the organization. […]

DeVos’ American Federation for Children took the superintendent up on her offer, offering to send Weatherall Neal and her spokesman, John Helmholdt, to D.C. — all expenses paid — for the Jan. 11 confirmation hearing.

“Thank you for agreeing to attend Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos’s hearing,” the federation wrote to the superintendent.

The email included a background summary of DeVos, her experience and “responses to some of the more outrageous attacks on Betsy’s record.”

“Each of Betsy’s guests have a unique perspective and relationship and we want to share that with the press. Don’t worry or stress, just tell your story, how you know Betsy and why you (think) she’s qualified to serve as Secretary of Education,” the email read. […]

“We also ask that you be willing to give media interviews supporting her nomination following the hearing,” the federation wrote in an email to Weatherall Neal.

So, not only was AFC going to pay for Weatherall Neal’s trip, they gave her talking points to use, and demanded that she give media interviews to amplify her testimony before Senators at her confirmation hearing. Even more astonishing, DeVos herself paid $67,000 for a “management coach” for Weatherall Neal when she became superintendent, thereby securing her loyalty for future events such as this. And, apparently, it worked.

Make no mistake: If there’s one thing Betsy DeVos is in desperate need of, it’s someone – ANYONE – from the education community who actually likes her and doesn’t see her as the enemy of public education that she is.

Thankfully, DeVos’s confirmation hearing was rescheduled from its original day and Weatherall Neal was unable to attend.

Progressive watchdog group Progress Michigan is calling on Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to launch an investigation into DeVos’s use of what are essentially bribes to secure support from within the education community.

“Dick and Betsy DeVos have used their money to buy influence all over Michigan — and on it’s face this situation looks extremely troubling and demands immediate scrutiny,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “Attorney General Bill Schuette‘s office must investigate this matter further. Due to the fact that Attorney General Schuette has heaped praise on DeVos despite her lack of qualifications and because he has accepted gratuitous amounts of DeVos family money in political donations over the years, he may need to appoint a special Attorney General to investigate on his behalf. The deal that the DeVos family has created for themselves with the Grand Rapids Public Schools reeks of corruption and the people of Michigan and the country deserve to know how deep this type of behavior goes. Any Senator who votes to support her confirmation before there are transparent answers and we know the true depth of this corruption is clearly doing so because they too have been bought and paid for by DeVos money. That, or they truly don’t care about the education of children around the country. It’s sad that the only person with any education experience who has spoken in support of DeVos turns out to have deep financial ties to her corporate cash. Buying influence seems to be the only thing Betsy has experience doing.”

Betsy DeVos and her family are the epitome of the billionaire class using their wealth to establish a shadow corporatocracy in our country. Don’t forget, DeVos herself has made it clear that she expects “a return on our investment” when they purchase lawmakers in this way:

In a 1997 op-ed that DeVos wrote for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, she pointedly admitted, “my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican party.” She also said that she decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that they were buying influence and simply concede the point, admitting “we expect a return on our investment,” to make America reflect their vision for it.

Sadly, thanks to her strategic “investments” over the years, DeVos is all but assured of being confirmed. That will only change if Senators who will vote on her confirmation hear from us. If you are in a state whose Senators have not come out against her confirmation like Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters from Michigan have, NOW is the time to call them to express your outrage that this unqualified, dangerous woman is even being considered for this position and make it clear you demand a “NO!” vote from them when her confirmation is up for a vote next week.

Please, make the calls.

UPDATE: A report out this afternoon from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network shows that, at the very minimum, the DeVos family has made $82 million in political donations since the 1999:

While it’s impossible for the public to find out exactly how much money West Michigan’s DeVos family has spent on politics over the years, the number must fall somewhere above $82 million. […]

The $82-million figure is likely far from a complete picture. It doesn’t include political giving that falls outside of campaign finance reporting requirements, like giving to groups that only spend money on issue ads, or giving at the local level that’s reported to county clerks.

For example, in the 2014 election , the Michigan Republican Party spent $5.7 million on issue ads in the gubernatorial campaign and $4.2 million in the Supreme Court campaign. The donors behind that money never had to be disclosed.

The $82-million figure also doesn’t include all of the family’s contributions that had to be reported because many were reported on paper records that don’t show up in digital database searches. MCFN looked through paper records from the Michigan Republican Party dating back to 1999 and from the 2000 ballot campaign Kids First Yes!, which aimed to institute a voucher program in Michigan, to find some of these contributions. The Michigan Republican Party started filing its reports digitally with the Michigan Secretary of State in 2004.

As I said: breathtaking.

[CC image credit: Keith A. Almli | Wikimedia Commons]