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It’s not Philanthropy, It’s Ideological and Class Warfare: How the DeVos Family Foundation contributions complement their political donations

October 27, 2016

In the early part of 2013, we set out to look at the role of foundations in West Michigan, particularly those that are connected to the wealthiest families in the area. 

During that investigation we relied on the 2009 – 2011 990 reports that all foundations and non-profits must submit, which provides information for the public. These public disclosures are meant to provide a certain amount of transparency, although there is still plenty that is hidden from plain sight.


We know a fair amount about the funding patterns of the wealthiest people in West Michigan as it relates to campaign financing, particularly that of the DeVos Family, which continues to be the largest contributor to political campaigns in Michigan and out of state. Last year we wrote a piece about how much money the DeVos Family had contributed in the 2013-2014 election cycle. Based on a report from the non-partisan group, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the DeVos Family outspent every other individual, family or entity on elections during that two year period in Michigan. In fact, Rich Robinson, then the director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network said, The DeVos family doesn’t have a peer among individual donors, or as far as interest groups go.” 

More recently, we wrote two articles about the DeVos Family contributions in the current election cycle. On August 1, we wrote about their influencing of State races during a 56-day period this past summer. The DeVos Family was contributing $26,785 a day to influence the electoral outcome in November. The second article looked at the DeVos Family contributions to the 2nd and 3rd Congressional races. 

However, it is rare that the news media ever talks about the relationship between the DeVos Family’s buying of elections and their private funding through their foundations. More importantly, there is never really any investigation into how this one/two punch of monied influence serves essentially the same purpose.

In looking at the more recent 990 filing for the DeVos Family Foundations, we found that some of the largest recipients of their contributions complemented their political giving. For instance, in 2012, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation gave $100,000 to the Tampa Bay Host Committee, which was the organization behind the 2012 Republican Convention in Florida.

Other significant donations from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation were to pro-capitalist groups like the American Enterprise Institute ($500,000 for 2012/13)  the Acton Institute and the Heritage Foundation ($1 million).screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-2-57-25-am

Another significant political donation made through the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation was $2,000,000 to Donors Trust Inc. “DonorsTrust is a not-for-profit company that distributes millions of dollars in grants each year to groups, organizations and projects that are “dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise,” according to an excellent article on Desmogblog.

In fact, the largest contributor between 2013 and 2014 was the DeVos Family, through their DeVos Leadership Initiative. (pictured here on the right)

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has also been contributing significant amounts of money to most of the colleges and universities in West Michigan, like Calvin, Hope, GRCC, GVSU and MSU. These contributions, ranging from $1 million to $3 million a year clear are meant to influence school policy and curriculum.

However, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has also provided large sums of money to universities outside of Michigan, particularly to private, faith-based schools like Kings College. In a two year period (2012-2013), the foundation gave King’s College $10.5 million dollars. The mission of, “King’s College seeks to transform society by preparing students for careers in which they help to shape and eventually to lead strategic public and private institutions.” Richard and Helen DeVos are also on the Board of Trustees for the College. 

One last way in which the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation compliments their direct political giving is the money they donate to the Young America’s Foundation. Their mission reads:yafwallpaper_1024x768

Young America’s Foundation is committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.

As the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement, the Foundation introduces thousands of American youth to these principles. We accomplish our mission by providing essential conferences, seminars, educational materials, internships, and speakers to young people across the country.

YAF has a long history of countering progressive and radical organizing on campuses across the country and often brings anti-Islam and other proponents of White Supremacy speakers to campus.The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation gave Young America’s Foundation $2 million in 2012.

These are just some of the organizations and entities that are recipients of the DeVos Family money, organizations and entities that have a long history of opposing LGBTQ liberation, unions, racial justice and an economic system based on cooperation and equity.

In the coming weeks, we will look at other DeVos Family Foundations and how their political contributions coincide with their ideological spending as well.

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