WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ family members spent $22,400 so far this year to help fund North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis’ re-election prospects, according to federal campaign finance data released this week.
DeVos’ in-laws — Michigan conservative donors and heirs to the Amway fortune — have plowed cash into the coffers of Republican Senate candidates across the country who are up for re-election in 2020, the records show.
DeVos’ husband, Dick, has three siblings — Doug, Daniel and Suzanne — each of whom contributed $5,600 to Tillis’ campaign in March. Doug’s wife, Maria DeVos, also contributed $5,600 to the campaign. That’s the maximum contribution allowed per election cycle under federal election law.
As Trump’s education secretary, DeVos has been one of the administration’s most controversial cabinet officials.
She made waves during her January 2017 confirmation hearing when she cited grizzly bears as a reason that educators might need guns in schools. Since then, her policies on issues like school choice, campus sexual assault, civil rights and student debt have drawn ire from her critics.
Earlier this year, DeVos faced a firestorm on Capitol Hill as lawmakers grilled her for the administration’s proposal to cut federal funding for the Special Olympics. President Trump later reversed course on the issue, saying that he supports federal funding for the program.
Tillis voted in 2017 to confirm DeVos, despite a campaign from liberal groups to convince him to oppose her nomination.
“I’m for her,” Tillis said in 2017, according to the News & Observer. The North Carolina senator pointed to DeVos’ stances on increasing opportunities for charter schools and school choice.
“She’s talking about giving states the ability to turn a trend around – which is (the trend of) failing public schools. Not all of them. There’s a lot of good ones,” Tillis said. “We owe to these kids to come up with solutions to fix it for this generation, not the next generation.”
Tillis’ office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Overall, Tillis raised about $1.2 million in the first quarter of this year for his 2020 campaign, and has about $2.9 million cash on hand, according to the reports.
The North Carolina Republican wasn’t the only incumbent GOP senator to receive donations from the wealthy DeVos family so far this year.
The education secretary’s in-laws also donated to Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Martha McSally of Arizona. Gardner and McConnell both voted to confirm DeVos; McSally wasn’t yet serving in the Senate.
Those same DeVos family members did not contribute to Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican facing re-election in 2020 who was one of two Senate Republicans who voted against DeVos’ 2017 confirmation.
The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Attempts to contact the members of the DeVos family who donated to McSally’s campaign were unsuccessful.
DeVos herself pledged that she and her husband would suspend their political contributions during her time as education secretary, although her husband later made contributions to two Michigan political action committees, the Detroit News reported.
Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.