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Foundation Profile: Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation

February 20, 2013

This is the second posting in our investigation into the Non-Profit Industrial Complex in Grand Rapids. A few days ago, we looked at the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation and today we look at the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation.Picture 1

There are already some noticeable differences between the first generation of Amway owners to the second generation. Dick DeVos ran for political office in 2006 and the marriage between Dick DeVos and Betsy Prince strengthened ties between two of the most conservative families in Michigan.

While they have carved out their own niche, Dick & Betsy DeVos have also continued the commitment to conservative Christianity and Capitalism that Richard & Helen have served.

Again, we looked at the 990s for the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation from the online source Guidestar. The most recent years available for this foundation were 2008 through 2010.

There were certainly some similarities between whom the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation provided funds to and whom the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation provided funds to.

Both foundations have donated large sums to groups like the ultra conservative Christian organizations, the Haggai Institute ($2,250,000) and the Acton Institute ($110,000). The Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation have also generously donated to places like Norwood University ($200,000), which promotes global capitalism as an overt mission of the school.

However, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation has also directed funds to groups that Dick’s parents have not. Some of these groups further the family commitment to conservative Christianity and free market capitalism, such as the mega-church, Willow Creek ($1.5 million). Willow Creek also is involved in sponsoring a major global leadership conference each year, which has features speakers such as former Bush Cabinet member Condoleeza Rice, school privatization icon Michele Rhee and CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz.

Another recipient of major funding from the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation that promotes free market capitalism is the Thunderbird School of Global Management ($1.2 million). Dick DeVos sits on the school’s Board of Fellows, along with many other corporate leaders.

Other free market-focused organizations that have received large sums of funding from the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation are the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women ($425,000) and the local group Grand Action ($235,000). Dick DeVos is one of the chairs of Grand Action and using his foundation money to fund Grand Action projects has financially benefited his family’s downtown businesses, as we have noted in a previous posting.thepublicenemy

One of the political arenas that Dick & Betsy DeVos have distinguished themselves in is their interest in promoting private schools, charter schools and school voucher policies.

Schools and non-public school campaigns have received sizeable amounts of funding from the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation between 2008 and 2010. Groups such as the Alliance for School Choice ($50,000), the Educational Freedom Fund ($305,000) and the Florida School Choice Fund are just some of the anti-public school groups to receive money from the couple’s foundation.

Researcher Rachel Tabachnick identifies Betsy DeVos as the Four Star General of the School Privatization Movement, in an article she wrote for the Political Research Associates. The article states:

Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State described Betsy DeVos as the “four-star general” of the school privatization movement shortly after DeVos announced the formation of the “new” American Federation for Children (AFC) in March 2010. As Boston noted, the American Federation for Children was not new, but a rebranding of an organization called Advocates for School Choice.

The American Federation for Children is now the umbrella organization for two nonprofits that have been at the center of the pro-privatization movement for over a decade. In addition to the renamed Advocates for School Choice, it includes the Alliance for School Choice, formerly known as the Education Reform Council. Both entities received extensive funding from the late John Walton, one of the Wal-Mart heirs. The boards of the two related entities included movement leaders Betsy DeVos–scion of a Christian Right family who married into the Amway home goods fortune–William Oberndorf, Clint Bolick, John Kirtley, Steve Friess (son of Foster Friess), James Leininger, John Walton, and Cory Booker.

These two nonprofits–Alliance for School Choice, a 501(c)(3) and Advocates for School Choice a.k.a. American Federation for Children, a 501(c)(4)– provided over $17 million in grants to 35 other national and state-level pro-privatization nonprofits from 2006 to 2010. These grants represented a significant portion of the total budgets for many of the state organizations. Today Betsy DeVos and John Kirtley are the chair and vice chair of both boards.

Dick DeVos has his own history with pushing for privatization of public schools, a subject we looked at in an article written after DeVos commented that the Grand Rapids Public Schools might need some attention.

The other distinctly different area of funding that Dick & Betsy DeVos have provided funds to, which is different than the first generation of Amway, is the area of arts and culture.a1_wednesday1

The Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation has provided a significant amount of funds between 2008 and 2010 to groups such as the JFK Center for the Performing of Arts ($581,755), the Grand Rapids Art Museum ($82,500) and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts ($1,143,000). Dick & Betsy’s son Rick DeVos sits on the board of both UICA and the Grand Rapids Art Museum, both of which have been major partners in the other major Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation funded effort, ArtPrize.

ArtPrize is run by their son Rick and has been bankrolled primarily through their foundation. The financing of their son’s project, ArtPrize, has also been financially beneficial to the DeVos family with all of its downtown businesses. However, even more important is to look at why the couple has decided to fund arts and culture.

Richard Kooyman, in a 2010 article, explores the motives behind the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation’s funding of art and culture. In that article Kooyman notes that we should all be concerned about what impact their funding has in this area, since they have been forward about wanting to inject the values of morality and free market capitalism into art and culture.

Much more could be said about the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation, but it is clear that they have continued the family’s commitment to conservative Christianity and capitalism that began with their parents Richard & Helen DeVos and Edgar & Elsa Prince.

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