By Andrew Ujifusa
January 6, 2017
Six Senate Democrats have a message for Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for education secretary: You owe us a lot of information.
In a Thursday letter to DeVos, the Democrats asked her to provide them information about her role in founding advocacy groups supporting school choice, those groups' expenditures and donor lists, and other connections she has to various oganizations.
"Understanding your leadership roles in this complicated web of political and not-for-profit organizations is necessary for us to be able to evaluate any conflicts of interest you may bring to the position, and whether you should recuse yourself from any particular matters that may come before you as secretary," reads a portion of the letter, which was signed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
The infomation Democrats are requesting from DeVos includes:
- Her roles in establishing and operating the American Federation for Children and the Great Lakes Education Project, which have supported vouchers and other forms of choice around the country.
- A list of all donors who have contributed to AFC and GLEP, including their donation amounts and affiliations.
- A list of all expenditures exceeding $1,000 by both AFC and GLEP.
- A list of all federal and state legislation and regulations that have been the subject of AFC and GLEP lobbying, and DeVos' role in that lobbying.
- Donations she and her family have made to 501(c)4 organizations. (These are classified as "social welfare" organizations.)
Ed Patru, a spokesman for Friends of Betsy DeVos, which has been supporting DeVos' nomination and responding to her critics, said in an emailed statement:
"The letter helps shed some light on why the country voted for change. None of these signatories were losing sleep over the influence of money in politics prior to Election Day, but today it's keeping them up at night. I think the American people recognize hypocrisy when they see it."
The letter is another clear signal that Democrats don't intend to give DeVos an easy path to confirmation. On Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and the top Democrat on the Senate committee that will first consider her nomination, expressed ongoing worries about what Murray called DeVos' "long record of working to privatize and defund public education" and opposition to accountability for charter schools.
And since Trump nominated her, Democratic senators have also demanded that DeVos act to ensure that a pro-school-choice advocacy group (now defunct) that she led repay an election-related fine in Ohio.
Last month, we reported on DeVos' extensive history of political donations, including to five GOP members of the Senate education committee. (Remember, as we noted in that post, the Obama administration can't claim to be totally clean on the issue of big campaign donors becoming cabinet nominees.)
Read the full letter from the six Democrats below: