By: Emma Brown
Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, is not just a prospective Cabinet member seeking confirmation from the U.S. Senate.
During the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, DeVos and her relatives gave at least $818,000 to 20 current Republican senators, including more than $250,000 to five members of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), according to a Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission records.
DeVos personally made a relatively small percentage of those donations: at least $31,400 to committee members and $96,000 to all senators. But her giving appears to have been coordinated with her family: In most cases, senators received donations from more than a half-dozen DeVos family members, including her husband, his parents and his siblings, on the same day.
To money-in-politics watchdogs, the DeVos family’s contributions create a conflict of interest for senators now charged with judging Betsy DeVos’s fitness to helm the Education Department.
“She’s acknowledged that her family gives, and gives a lot, because it’s aiming to buy influence,” said Robert Weissman of Public Citizen, who said the scale of the DeVos family’s political donations is unusual for a prospective Cabinet member. “Against that backdrop, how are the senators supposed to evaluate her nomination in an unbiased way? They can’t.”
Trump’s transition officials and DeVos supporters say that members of the DeVos family have been exercising their right to support candidates who share their political views and that it’s nothing new for senators — including Democrats — to vote on the confirmation of wealthy nominees who make donations to them.
On Friday, two groups that advocate for reform of money in politics — End Citizens United and Every Voice — called on senators who have received donations from DeVos to recuse themselves from voting on her confirmation. Absent those recusals, “it is impossible to be sure she will receive the scrutiny this important position deserves,” said David Donnelly, of Every Voice.