Dick DeVos is the presumed Republican candidate for governor in Michigan, and he has a lot to hide. To win the Republican nomination, he has spent millions of his personal fortune on a glitzy television attack ad campaign. But when it comes to the issues that concern real people in Michigan, DeVos’ record reveals the truth about his agenda, his character and the danger he poses to working families.
DeVos pretends he cares about working families, but the truth is that he has never had to work a day in his life. Born into a family fortune worth over $3 billion as owner of the Amway Corp., DeVos has held various odd jobs. In 1990, he won election to the Michigan State Board of Education, quitting after only two years of an eight-year term. He then founded and directed an ultra-right, pro-corporate Republican political action committee.
In 1996, DeVos was appointed to the Grand Valley State University Board of Control. There, he won recognition for the poorest attendance at board meetings of all the appointees. He quit that job before his term ended in 2000. Between 1993 and 2000 he headed Amway. After this brief tenure, he spent a couple of years of doing little other than promoting right-wing politics, and has now taken on his campaign for governor as a full-time position.
Between 1991 and 1997, public disclosure documents show, he and his family gave more than $4 million to various Republican Party causes, organizations and campaign committees. This investment paid off in 1997 when congressional Republican leaders inserted a provision into the 1997 federal budget to give tax breaks that benefited DeVos’ company by over $300 million.
When Tom DeLay rose to power in the Republican Party in the late 1990s, DeVos began a personal and financial relationship with him. Thousands of dollars were swapped back and forth between DeLay-controlled political action committees (PACs) and DeVos.
Their relationship was so tight that DeLay held the first Republican Majority Issues Committee fundraiser on DeVos’ private yacht, a party which was attended by no less a personage than “Casino Jack” Abramoff, according to the Washington Post. Ultimately, in September 2005 DeLay was indicted in Texas for laundering illegal campaign funds through PACs not unlike DeVos’.
DeVos’ hot-button issues are helping the rich avoid their fair share of the tax burden, promoting outsourcing and “free trade,” and gutting public schools. Aside from the 1997 Amway tax giveaway scheme, DeVos also supports a dishonest campaign, secretly funded to the tune of $490 million since 1998 by the 18 wealthiest families in the country, to repeal the estate tax. This campaign misleadingly claims that the estate tax affects ordinary working families, small business owners and family farmers. The truth, however, is that it really only affects billionaire families like DeVos’. Its repeal would gut $1 trillion from the federal treasury in 10 years, according to Public Citizen.
While he was the head of Amway in 2000, DeVos ordered the cutting of 1,400 jobs. Three years later, the company announced a $220 million increase in its investments in its overseas facilities. DeVos has aggressively used his wealth to influence Republican Party support for free trade deals like NAFTA, which, the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute estimates, has cost Michigan about 63,000 jobs.
DeVos is a fanatical devotee of the failed Republican concept of deregulation of industry and tax cuts. He claims that they create jobs. The truth is that Republican governors and state legislatures in Michigan have passed tax cut after tax cut, deregulation bill after deregulation bill, for the last 16 years, according to the Detroit News. And still, unemployment in Michigan is almost 50 percent higher than the national average and Michigan’s manufacturing sector has been in steady decline.
Throughout the 1990s, DeVos and his family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting a school privatization ballot initiative, which failed in 2000, and other campaigns to shift public resources to private schools. DeVos recently told the ultra-right Heritage Foundation that he would bring his anti-public-school fight back to Michigan “when the time is right.”
DeVos’ real record shows that he would make any misleading claim, spend any amount of cash and use any means to advance his personal agenda. And the record shows that his agenda is about increasing his personal fortune at the expense of Michigan workers and their families.
Some observers have called the 2006 gubernatorial election in Michigan a referendum on Republican ideas and policy as well as a bellwether for the 2008 presidential race. Let’s make it so by going all out to stop dangerous DeVos. It’s a powerful argument for re-electing Jennifer Granholm.
Joel Wendland (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Michigan and is managing editor of Political Affairs.