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Watchdogs: Betsy DeVos Vote Tainted By Donations to Senators

January 31, 2017 | Laura Friedenbach

Grassroots campaign flooded Senate with calls and pressured senators with DeVos donations to recuse themselves

Washington, D.C. — The Senate HELP Committee vote today on Betsy DeVos’ nomination for Education Secretary is tainted by more than $250,000 in campaign contributions a handful of its members have received from DeVos and her family, according to money-in-politics reform groups Every Voice and End Citizens United.

Every Voice and End Citizens United launched a grassroots campaign calling on senators who have received donations from DeVos and her family and are facing conflicts of interests on her vote to recuse themselves.  DeVos has said she wants something in return for her contributions. Now, as DeVos’ nomination heads to the Senate floor, a total of 23 senators have received nearly $1 million in contributions from her and her family, according to FEC reports.

“The Senate HELP Committee vote today on Betsy DeVos’ nomination is tainted by the hundreds of thousands of dollars committee members have received from DeVos and her family,” said David Donnelly, president and CEO of Every Voice. “Serious questions have been raised about Betsy DeVos’ competence for the job she will be required to do, and these donations add to the uncertainty over whether the Senate is adequately scrutinizing DeVos’ qualifications for the role of Education Secretary.”

“The public has a right to expect that our government shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder,” said Tiffany Muller, Executive Director at End Citizens United. “The senators on the HELP committee who took campaign money from DeVos and her family put partisan politics ahead of the public interest. Now, as the full Senate prepares for a final vote, there are 23 senators with the same conflict of interest who must recuse themselves.”

Senators on the HELP committee who have received DeVos donations include Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana ($70,200), Tim Scott of South Carolina ($49,200), Todd Young of Indiana ($48,600), Lisa Murkowski of Alaska ($43,200), and Richard Burr of North Carolina ($43,200).

Ahead of the committee vote today, pressure mounted for senators who took money from DeVos and her family to recuse. Every Voice and End Citizens United gathered and delivered nearly 30,000 signatures from concerned constituents and as reported in the Hill and elsewhere, calls prompted by the campaign helped to “jam Senate phone lines” over concerns about DeVos.

As a result of the grassroots campaign, all five senators received media pressure in their state to recuse themselves. When asked about the campaign, Sen. Bill Cassidy told the Times Picayune that he does not plan to recuse himself and Sen. Richard Burr declined to answer the Winston-Salem Journal when asked if he plans to recuse. Letters to the editor demanding recusal ran in South Carolina, North Carolina, Alaska, and Indiana. Every Voice also had a letter to the editor published in the New York Times and End Citizens United penned an op-ed in the Alaska Dispatch News.

The groups also run video and graphic digital ads drawing attention to the donations HELP committee members had received from DeVos and her family.

Following the lead of Every Voice and End Citizens United, a diverse coalition of 27 progressive groups joined the call for recusal with a letter organized by the Center for American Progress and sent to 21 senators who took campaign contributions from DeVos. The former top ethics lawyers for Presidents Bush and Obama, Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, also questioned whether DeVos would get special treatment by the HELP committee because of her campaign contributions.

Learn more at recuseyourself.org where members are continuing to generate thousands of calls and emails to Senate offices.

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