Senators Vote for Big Donor Betsy DeVos, Despite Constituent Calls for Recusal
Grassroots campaign flooded Senate with calls and pressured senators with DeVos donations to recuse themselves
Washington, D.C. — Money-in-politics reform groups Every Voice and End Citizens United criticized senators for confirming Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, despite constituent demands that senators with donations from the DeVos family recuse themselves from voting on her nomination to avoid conflicts of interest.
A total of 23 senators have received nearly $1 million in contributions from DeVos and her family, according to FEC reports. The tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence – something that’s never previously occurred on a cabinet secretary confirmation vote – also came with its own conflicts of interest. The DeVos family gave $26,000 in contributions to support Pence’s runs for Congress and Governor and $545,000 to boost the Trump-Pence presidential campaign.
“Betsy DeVos once bragged about using political contributions to get something in return, and the Senate just provided DeVos the return on her investment: her inexperienced hands on the wheel of our nation’s education policy,” said David Donnelly, president and CEO of Every Voice. “Concerned constituents rose up during this confirmation process to voice loud and clear their concerns and to demand that Betsy DeVos receive the scrutiny this high-ranking government job deserves, in spite of her role as a big donor. People are fed up with a government that rewards wealthy donors, and that anger will not recede.”
“Tens of thousands of Americans spoke out and told their senators that they don’t want a government up for sale to the highest bidder,” said Tiffany Muller, Executive Director at End Citizens United. “They’re tired of a rigged system where mega-donors can buy access, influence, and even cabinet appointments. This vote will further motivate people across the country to take action. Our grassroots members will fight even harder to fix our broken campaign finance system and restore the power in our democracy to the people.”
Ahead of the vote today, grassroots pressure mounted for senators who took money from DeVos and her family to recuse:
- Money-in-politics reform groups, Every Voice, End Citizens United, and Rootstrikers gathered 150,000 petitions demanding recusal.
- Thousands of calls prompted by the campaign helped to jam Senate phone lines over concerns about DeVos. The campaign also produced thousands of emails to senators.
- The groups ran video and graphic digital ads viewed by over a million people to draw attention to the donations senators had received from DeVos and her family.
- A letter to the editor campaign produced published letters demanding recusal and highlighting the DeVos family’s donations in South Carolina, North Carolina, Alaska, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Michigan, Montana, and elsewhere. Every Voice also had a letter to the editor in the New York Times, End Citizens United penned an op-ed in the Alaska Dispatch News, and Every Voice and the Latino Victory Fund wrote an op-ed in the American Prospect.
- Constituents, including teachers, sat in on senator’s offices and protested in the streets to demand recusal.
- In at least a dozen GoFundMe campaigns raised money to try and “buy” senators votes including in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
- Following the lead of Every Voice and End Citizens United, a diverse coalition of 27 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 because of her campaign contributions.