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Monday, December 19, 2016

DeVos-Led Group Should Pay $5.3M Campaign Fine, Democratic Senators Say

From Education Week

By Andrew Ujifusa
December 15, 2016

Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos should ensure the political group she founded that backs school choice pays a campaign fine it has owed to Ohio for several years, according to five Senate Democrats.

In a December 12 letter, the Democrats single out All Children Matter, the PAC founded and previously led by DeVos, for not paying the outstanding 2008 fine resulting from a finding by the Ohio Elections Commission that the PAC broke the contribution limit to its Buckeye State affiliate.

They say the PAC's "blatant disregard" for the law is "deeply troubling."

This is an early and prominent shot across the bow from Democratic lawmakers, who could make DeVos' confirmation process a rocky one. The five Democrats to sign the letter were Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Tom Udall of New Mexico. (UPDATE: Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, has also registered her concern with the outstanding fine.)

Noting that while DeVos as education secretary would be in charge of federal student loan programs and borrowers' timely repayment, the five senators wrote that,

"[T]he PAC that you chaired failed to pay fines that were imposed on it over eight years ago. This demonstrates a serious lack of judgment by the PAC's board and a willingness to avoid paying legally obligated public debts."

The letter also notes that the group has shut up shop and ceased operations in the wake of the fine.

"Betsy DeVos' long history of using her fortune to influence elections in ways that hurt students and public education will certainly be something that Democrats on the Committee will be asking about," Helen Hare, a Murray spokeswoman, said in a December 14 statement.

"And, of course, any campaign finance violations or other illegal acts or improprieties by Ms. DeVos or groups she funds will need to be explained and responded to as Democrats work to evaluate if she can be a Secretary of Education who truly stands with students."

In response to the Democrats' letter, Matt Frendewey, a former DeVos spokesman and national communications director at the American Federation for Children, said in a statement:

"Ms. DeVos was never a party of the All Children Matter lawsuit and as a matter of fact the Ohio state trial court ruled that neither the officers nor board members of the organization could be held liable for the judgement. The United States Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case renders this case against a now defunct PAC moot. Choosing to ignore these facts demonstrates this is nothing more than an attempt to impugn Ms. DeVos' reputation as a nationally recognized education reformer."

Frendewey added that DeVos hasn't had any "affiliation or dealings" with All Children Matter since 2008, and that the lawsuit leading to the fine was "baseless."

All Children Matter has figured prominently in DeVos' advocacy to support school choice. Greg Brock, the director of the American Federation for Children, the school choice lobbying group that DeVos chaired until she was nominated by President-elect Donald Trump, also previously had a leadership role at All Children Matter.

Read the full letter from the senators below:

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