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Names in the News: Michigan’s DeVos Family

The DeVos family of Michigan—Republican stalwarts who have given large contributions to socially conservative ballot measure committees—didn’t hesitate to take advantage of Michigan’s new campaign finance law.1 2 The law, which doubled contribution limits, had a little-noticed quirk in timing that the DeVos family used to contribute more than $700,000 to the state’s Republican house and senate campaign committees during the course of two days.3 4

Though substantial, the $700,000 was a drop in the family’s bucket. Members of the Devos family—Richard Sr. and Helen, their sons Daniel, Douglas, and Dick, along with the sons’ spouses, Pamella, Maria, and Betsy, and grandson Richard III—have contributed $45.6 million to state campaigns since 2000. The fortune for such prolific giving stems from Richard DeVos Sr.’s role in co-founding Amway, the direct sales corporation. The family has since widened its holdings to include a variety of businesses, including an NBA franchise.

The recent spate of giving is striking for not only the size of the contributions, but because the DeVos family has not previously focused on giving to state legislative campaign committees. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics data since 2000, members of the DeVos family had given $464,394 to house and senate Republican campaign committees up until the new law took effect—meaning that in just two days the family far exceeded its previous lifetime contributions to Michigan Republican legislative campaign committees.

Previously, the DeVos family had contributed primarily to state political parties. Family members donated $5 million to the Michigan Republican Party (which Betsy DeVos chaired from 1996 until 2000), $3.7 million of which came from Richard DeVos, Sr. The family also contributed $1.1 million to the Republican Party of Florida.

TABLE 1: DeVos Family Giving to Michigan Party Committees 2000–2012
Committee Total
Michigan Republican Party $4,937,500
Michigan House Republican Campaign Committee $267,394
Michigan Senate Republican Campaign Committee $191,500
TOTAL $5,396,394

Most of Dick DeVos’ giving occurred in 2006, when he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan. Of the DeVos family’s $45.6 million in giving since 2000, $35.4 million came in the form of self funding by Dick DeVos and his wife, Betsy DeVos, who donated $130,596 to his campaign. Other members of the family combined to contribute $21,935 to his gubernatorial campaign.5

TABLE 2: DeVos Family Contributions Totaling More Than $50,000 to Ballot Measures, 2000-2012
State Year Committee Amount
MI 2004 Citizens for the Protection of Marriage $50,000
FL 2006 Florida4Marriage.org $100,000
MI 2008 Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science & Experimentation $275,000
MI 2008 Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Kids $60,000
FL 2010 Protect Your Vote $100,000
MI 2012 Protecting Michigan Taxpayers $1,750,000

The DeVos family has also contributed generously to ballot measure campaigns in Michigan and Florida. Richard Sr., and Douglas and Maria DeVos, gave a total of $50,000 to support Michigan’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In 2008, Richard DeVos6 gave $100,000 to a similar measure in Florida, while other members of the DeVos family contributed $60,000 to fight the legalization of medical marijuana in Michigan, and $275,000 to fight an attempt to legalize stem cell research in Michigan. In 2010, Richard Sr. and Helen each gave $50,000 to opposeefforts to reform redistricting in Florida. Members of the DeVos family combined to contribute $1.8 million to oppose a 2012 Michigan constitutional amendment that would have guaranteed a right to collective bargaining.

-Just a small tidbit to inform people where a great deal of the DeVos family’s money goes; into hate speech, insuring inequality, bigotry and keeping the working person in line. 

The rich JUUUST get richer!!

Aside
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Congressman Paul Ryan says America has a problem in culture of poverty
  • Eric Liu: Actually, we live in a dysfunctional culture of concentrated wealth
  • He says certain antisocial values and behaviors have taken root among the rich
  • Liu: The wealthy rigged the political and economic games to amplify their gains

Editor’s note: Eric Liu is the founder of Citizen University and the author of several books, including “The Gardens of Democracy” and “The Accidental Asian.” He served as a White House speechwriter and policy adviser for President Bill Clinton. Follow him on Twitter@ericpliu. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) — When Congressman Paul Ryan opined recently that there was a “real culture problem” in poor communities, “in our inner cities in particular,” and that this culture was behind some of the country’s economic troubles, he didn’t realize how half right he was.

People are continuing to debate fiercely what Ryan said and whether he meant to propagate racially coded explanations of poverty’s roots. But put that aside for a moment. Here’s what he was right about: There is indeed a culture in America that is pathological and now threatens our social fabric. It’s not the culture of poverty, though. It’s the culture of wealth.

We live in an age of extreme concentration of wealth in America. The problem is not just that the 1% have managed to nearly triple their share of national income in the last three decades. Nor is it just that the 1% increasingly are fed, schooled and housed in a bubble apart from the rest of their fellow citizens.

Eric Liu

Eric Liu

The problem is that today’s concentration of wealth is breaking the golden link that Ryan and others take pains to emphasize — the link between work and reward.

Economist Thomas Piketty’s landmark new book “Capital”unpacks this delinking in great statistical detail. It turns out that increasing numbers of Americans in the 1%, .1% and .01% have done little to “earn” their wealth or privilege.

Contrary to myth, most of today’s plutocrats are not the kind of Steve Jobsian visionary risk-taking entrepreneurs or superstar celebrities. The .01%, for instance, tend overwhelmingly to be high-end corporate managers and executives, particularly on Wall Street, operating in interlocking networks that inflate the standard of what an executive is “worth.” Or they are the heirs of the great entrepreneurs (4 of the 10 richest Americans are children of Sam Walton), inheritors of fortunes of which it can truly be said, “someone else built that.”

An aristocracy is emerging in America, a class of insiders that corrodes the promise of equal citizenship. And with this compounding of unearned advantage, certain antisocial values and behaviors have taken root among the superrich — norms that threaten to corrupt the rest of American society.

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What’s in this dysfunctional culture of concentrated wealth? Look around Wall Street. You’ll find tribal insularity, short-term thinking, personal irresponsibility, cynicism about playing by the rules, an aversion to socially productive labor, a habit of shameless materialism, an inability to defer gratification and a lack of concern for what “message” all this sends to the youth raised in such an environment.

In short, you’ll find the very things typically imputed to the culture of poverty.

Now, to be sure, there are poor people who do exhibit these antisocial values and norms. And there is no question that plenty of poor people are poor because they made bad choices and behaved in self-destructive ways.

But rich people who exhibit such values have something the poor don’t: Money. Money buys exemption from bad choices. Money confers power — in particular, over the poor. It confers the power to frame public narrative and policymaking and to determine whose behavior — whose culture — is (and isn’t) called pathological.

Today, as it was during the last Gilded Age, the concentration of wealth gives the rich the political clout to further concentrate their wealth. (And now, as then, the Supreme Court greases the skids in the name of “liberty“). This clout is wielded in plain sight now, without any pretense of civic equality. And it calls to mind the warning attributed to Justice Louis Brandeis: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

When the richest 400 families in America have more wealth than the bottom 155 million Americans combined, the danger to the republic is far more clear and present than that posed by the “welfare queens” of lore or by anecdotes of shiftless inner-city men.

That would be true even if the super-rich today had entirely benign or merely neutral policy preferences. But in fact they’ve rigged the game of policy, subsidies and tax preferences to amplify and hoard their gains.

This isn’t to suggest that all super-wealthy people are “welfare kings” (they’re not) or to imply that they have a monopoly on selfishness or sociopathic attitudes (they don’t). Yet if it’s unfair to paint everyone in the 1% with the same unflattering brush of “dysfunctional culture,” isn’t it far worse to do the same to the poorest 20%?

Wealth and advantage are as strongly self-reinforcing as poverty and disadvantage. It’s possible to recognize this fact while also championing grit, gumption and good values. In fact, it’s essential. But culture doesn’t explain everything. And where it matters isn’t only among the poor or nonwhite.

If we’re going to reform the norms in this country so that opportunity is truly reflective of effort and talent, we have to do more than pick on those with the least. We have to start at the top.

-Again, start with the 90 Billion in church tax breaks, the NFL tax exempt status and all other huge corporate tax breaks and you have a good start. Applying skeptical and critical thinking along with a good bit of research and you will find the gap between the rich and poor exponentially widening. This is due to the fact that when you have enough money and influence you can load the dice in your favor.

The billionaires do not have to observe the laws that their paid minions write because they contain built-in loop holes dictated by said overlords, AND when the politicians get out of office, they just go to consulting jobs offered by the very same businesses that paid to have the laws written in the first place, yayyyy Sheldon Adelson, Koch Bros. George Soros and the people at ActBlue!!.