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Winston-Salem Journal: Critics call for U.S. Sen. Richard Burr to recuse himself in vote for education secretary, cite campaign donation

Jan 08, 2017

By: Bertrand M. Gutierrez

Two Democratic-leaning organizations said Friday that U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., should recuse himself from voting on Betsy DeVos as President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary because she and relatives contributed money to his campaign.

DeVos and relatives contributed a combined $43,200 during the 2016 election cycle, according to a review by the Winston-Salem Journal of reports filed by the Burr campaign with the Federal Election Commission.

“If Sen. Burr does not recuse himself after benefiting from DeVos’ donations, we’ll have the appearance of a high-ranking government position that can be bought by and sold to the highest bidder,” said David Donnelly, the president and chief executive of Every Voice.

 Tiffany Muller, the executive director of End Citizens United, said DeVos represents the “rigged system” on which Washington operates.

“This is outrageous pay-to-play politics. Our members are calling on Senator Burr to acknowledge his conflict of interest and recuse himself from the vote on her nomination,” Muller said.

Burr aides declined to comment.

Democratic politicians are not immune to situations in which they appear to have similar conflicts of interest.

In 2013, for example, several Democratic U.S. senators declined to recuse themselves from voting on the nomination of Penny Pritzker, President Barack Obama’s pick for commerce secretary, though they had received donations from her.

Pritzker, a Chicago businesswoman, comes from a family connected with the Hyatt hotel chain. Before her nomination, she had been a standout fundraiser for Obama.

Among the beneficiaries of a campaign donation by Pritzker was U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate education committee. Last month, Politico reported, Murphy said he does not put that much weight in DeVos’ political contributions while he disagrees with her views on education.

DeVos will try to strengthen private charter schools at the detriment of public schools, critics say.

“It wouldn’t be the first time that a nominee has made political donations,” Murphy said, according to Politico. “Penny Pritzker was a fantastic secretary of commerce, and she probably made a few donations to Democrats over the years. I don’t worry about those donations.”

Asked whether Murphy should have recused himself from Pritzker’s nomination, Adam Bozzi, spokesman for End Citizens United, said that the organization advocates for getting money out of politics and a better campaign-finance system — but did not refer directly to Murphy.

Continuing, Bozzi said: “We find this (DeVos nomination) particularly egregious because she has said she’s looking for something in return.”

According to End Citizens United and Every Voice, DeVos and relatives also gave more than$20 million to Republican campaigns, their super-PACs and allies.

Click here to read the full article at the Winston-Salem Journal.