Sunday, February 24, 2008

Funding the Far Right in West Michigan: The Prince and DeVos Families


The Far Right in West Michigan: MEDIA RESEARCH CENTER

Media Research Center is an Alexandria, Virginia-based organization formed in 1987 that seeks to methodically demonstrate liberal bias in the news media through media monitoring. The organization is one of the most well-funded media monitoring organizations and takes credit for making the phrase "media bias" a household term. Other media watchdog groups, including Media Matters and Fairness and Accuracy in reporting, have released studies showing that the Media Research Center often crumble under scrutiny (1, 2).

The organization was founded by and is led by L. BRENT BOZELL III who also heads the Parents Television Council, a group claims that it "offers private sector solutions" to remove content from the broadcast media that it does not like although its primarily known for organizing conservatives to file indecency complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Brent Bozell and Friends

Bozell is a member of the Council for National Policy and has strong roots in the religious right, launching the conservative news site

Funding from West Michigan

The organization is funded by the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation and the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.


SourceWatch Profile of Media Research Center

The Far Right in West Michigan: Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation

The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation is endowed with money from the DeVos (Amway/Alticor) and Prince (Prince Automotive) families. Dick DeVos and Betsy Devos not only fund a variety of religious right groups including the Council for National Policy, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Michigan Family Forum, and others, but they are also actively involved in conservative politics.

Dick DeVos is a former member of the Michigan State Board of Education while Betsy DeVos was a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

See the Media Mouse article Dick and Betsy DeVos Funding the Far Right through Foundation Grants for a detailed look at the organizations that Dick and Betsy DeVos fund.

Dick and Betsy DeVos Funding the Far Right through Foundation Grants

A review of grant data for the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, compiled as part of the Media Mouse’s Far Right in West Michigan database, reveals that the couple are major funders of far right organizations. The grant data, covering the years 2002 to 2004, shows that the couple has supported a variety of organizations of the religious and economic right, as well as conservative churches. The Grand Rapids-based couple, both of whom are children of prominent funders of the religious right in West Michigan and nationally (Dick DeVos is the child of Richard and Helen DeVos; Betsy DeVos is the child of Edgar and Elsa Prince), have given millions of dollars to organizations that are working to promote rightwing policy through a network of organizations doing advocacy, educational, and legal work.

In addition to simply funding the far right, Dick and Betsy DeVos are personally involved with several organizations of the far right, most often through board appointments. While serving on the boards of several organizations, the couple has often generously funded these organizations through their Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. An example is the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute, a rightwing think-tank that seeks to blend free-market ideology with religion. As such, the organization has opposed environmentalists using religion as an organizing tool, has supported biotechnology, opposed the Kyoto Protocol, and taken several other positions designed to promote the supremacy of the free-market system. The organization, in addition to being funded by prominent rightwing families in the area, has also received a money from corporate sources, most notably receiving $160,000 from Exxon-Mobil since 1998. Betsy DeVos was a member of the Institute’s board for several years and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation has contributed $107,000 in the years surveyed. The couple also operates the Education Freedom Fund, an organization designed to give scholarships to low-income students in order to help them attend private schools. Their foundation has given the organization $978,000. Similar organizations across the United States have been used by the right to generate support for voucher programs and other means of privatizing public schools. In continuing their work against public schools, the Foundation gave $101,000 to the American Education Reform Council, Choices for Children, and Children First America all of which Betsy DeVos was involved with, as well as $25,000 to the Children’s Scholarship Fund on whose board Dick DeVos serves. The couple has also given over $60,000 to the James Madison Center for Free Speech, an organization fighting campaign finance laws for religious conservatives and on whose board Betsy DeVos serves.

As shown through the organizations that the couple is involved, they place a particular emphasis on funding organizations working to either privatize the public school system through charter schools or to render it obsolete via voucher systems. Aside from the aforementioned organizations, the couple has given substantially to Christian schools, with $125,000 going to Ada Christian School, $88,000 to the Grand Rapids Christian School Association, and $36,000 to Holland Christian Schools. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation has funded the charter school movement as well, providing $25,000 to the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a group supporting the charter schools movement, and $179,000 to New Urban Learning, a charter school management nonprofit in Detroit. They have also given $50,000 to Grove City College, a college that has received national attention for its refusal to abide by Title IX of the Civil Rights Act and now refuses students who receive federal tuition assistance. In addition to funding nonprofits through their foundation, the couple has funded and taken active roles in political advocacy groups around the country as well as organizing the failed Kids First! Yes! ballot proposal in 2000 that would have provided partial tuition vouchers to all parents sending their children to private or religious schools, regardless of income.

The couple’s funding of efforts to privatize schools must also be seen within the context of their funding of the economic right. In addition to funding the Acton Institute, the couple has funded a variety think-tanks promoting free-market economics and the privatization of public services. Here in Michigan, the couple has provided $30,000 to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an organization that has aggressively attacked national health insurance, welfare, unions, and the minimum wage, while promoting unrestricted free-market economics. It is also worth noting that Dick DeVos served on the Mackinac Center’s board in the 1990s. The couple has given several thousand dollars to nationally recognized think-tanks promoting similar positions, with the couple giving $30,000 to the Heritage Foundation and $5,000 to the American Enterprise Institute. The Heritage Foundation is an influential new right think-tank that aggressively promotes conservative public policy based on the principles of “free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense” while the American Enterprise Institute is an influential pro-business think-tank that promotes the advancement of free enterprise capitalism. Dick and Betsy DeVos have also funded the Hudson Institute, a think-tank heavily subsidized by corporate money that has attacked critics of biotechnology and issued reports expressing confusion over the health effects of using tobacco.

The couple’s funding of the economic right—specifically through the Acton Institute’s work promoting a union of free-market economics and religion and their funding of organizations working to bring children into religious schools through vouchers and private scholarship programs—ties in with their funding of the religious right. The group has given $150,000 to the Institute for Marriage Policy, an organization taking up the popular religious right cause of attacking same-sex marriage. The Michigan Family Forum, connected to the national Focus on the Family organization, received $6,000 from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, while also organizing against same-sex marriage and making other anti-gay attacks. The DeVoses have also funded the local Dove Foundation that has organized to promote “family-friendly” (from a conservative religious perspective) entertainment and the National Day of Prayer Task Force, an organization that has organized to use the National Day of Prayer as a tool for mobilizing evangelical Christians. Similarly, they have given the Michigan-based Foundation for Traditional Values $70,000. The Foundation for Traditional Values works to promote the idea that the United States is a Christian nation and that it is the responsibility of Christians to return the country to this Christian foundation via political action. Dick and Betsy DeVos have funded other organizations promoting the need for Christian civic participation—long a tactic of the religious right—including the Student Statesmanship Institute and the Family Resource Network. The couple has also funded a variety of anti-abortion organizations, including Baptists for Life, the Pregnancy Resource Center, Right to Life, and the Justice Foundation who has been fighting to overturn Roe vs. Wade in the courts. They also have provided $194,000 to Compass Arts, on whose board Betsy DeVos serves (Compass Arts offers internships to students to make promotional materials for anti-abortion groups such as Right to Life).

James Madison ... who opposed everything the James Madison Institute represents

The couple has also funded a variety of other far right organizations including those that use the courts to advance the far right’s agenda and evangelical missionary organizations that engage in activities both in the United States and around the world. The couple has funded the Federalist Society ($10,000), a conservative legal organization that has organized to promote individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law through the courts. The organization counts several prominent conservatives, including Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and former Senator and Attorney General John Ashcroft as past members. They have also provided funding to Ann Arbor’s Thomas More Law Center, which offers legal support to the religious right by challenging laws restricting what the religious right has termed as attacks on Christians such as “banning Christmas,” in addition to funding the previously discussed Justice Foundation and the James Madison Center for Free Speech. The Foundation has also funded missionary organizations such as InterDev out of Seattle, International Aid in Spring Lake, the Haggai Institute, and Kids Hope USA, a program that essentially inserts pastors in the public schools as means of providing religious recruitment. A compelling argument could be made that funding such organizations, some of whom, like International Aid, have had relationships with the United States government to advocate a particular foreign policy goal or Rehoboth Christian School, founded in the early 1900s and operating out of the context of the effort to assimilate the indigenous population of North America through forced removal into boarding schools in an act of cultural genocide), serve a function of cultural imperialism, which like Manifest Destiny in the 1800s, promotes the notion that Christianity is a superior form of religious expression and evangelizes for it by undertaking aggressive missionary activities.

Dick DeVos

Even as Dick DeVos has undertaken a campaign to become the next governor of Michigan, his financial ties to the far right have received scant attention. Aside from a few articles mentioning his funding of efforts designed to privatize public schools, there has been little attention given to his foundation. Due to this lack of attention, people are much more likely to view DeVos as a “philanthropist” who funds civic institutions such as museums and cultural organizations, rather than as a financer of the far right who uses “philanthropy” as a tool to advance a political agenda.
The Far Right in West Michigan: Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos (maiden name Prince) is married to Dick DeVos and is the daughter of EDGAR and ELSA PRINCE. She has been involved in a variety of right-wing organizations and funds them through the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation.

In 2004, she was a Bush-Cheney "pioneer" raising over $100,000 for the campaign (source).

Board/Leadership Positions

Acton Institute, former Board of Directors

Advocates for School Choice, Board

American Council of Young Political Leaders, Board of Trustees, 1995 to present (source)
American Education Reform Council, Board of Directors, 2001

Choices for Children, Chairperson, 2001

Compass Arts, Board

Education Freedom Fund, Board of Directors, 1995 to present

Great Lakes Education Project, Chairperson, 2001

Michigan Republican State Committee, former Chairperson May 1996 to February 2000

Republican National Committeewoman for Michigan, 1992-1997

Restoring the American Dream PAC, Finance Co-chairperson, 2001

Notable Statements

"[M]y family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican party... I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now, I simply concede the point.

We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government.

Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections (source)."
Erik Prince and his Family Significant Backers of Republican Politicians from Michigan

October 14 2007

Blackwater USA founder Erik Prince, a native of West Michigan's Holland, hails from the politically influential Prince family. For years, the Prince family has been influential in both Michigan politics and national politics by distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to primarily Republican candidates for office. These contributions to candidates come in addition to significant contributions to nonprofit organizations seeking to shape the public policy agenda in Michigan and the United States. While those contributions are not the focus of this article, Prince family foundations including the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation, the Freiheit Foundation, and the Eagle Foundation have disbursed millions of dollars to rightwing organizations.

Over the past several years, Erik Prince's political contributions have received some degree of scrutiny in the media, although there has been little coverage of these contributions in West Michigan. While Prince lives in Virginia, he has consistently made donations to political candidates and committees in Michigan. Prince has contributed to $2,500 to the campaigns of Pete Hoekstra, the US House Representative from his hometown of Holland. Prince contributed $3,000 to the campaigns of former Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham as well. Prince also contributed $3,400 to the Dick DeVos gubernatorial campaign in 2006. Interestingly, DeVos--who is Prince's brother-in-law--visited Blackwater's North Carolina headquarters during his campaign. Prince has also contributed $10,000 to DeVos' Restoring the American Dream PAC that has funded Republican candidates around the United States. Prince has also made significant contributions to the Republicans on the national level, including a $68,000 contribution to the Republican National State Elections Committee in 2000, $25,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2004, and a recent $20,000 contribution to the National Republican Congressional Committee. According the Center for Responsive Politics, his federal contributions have totaled $226,750 since 1992.

Erik Prince's political contributions follow in the footsteps of his parents, Edgar and Elsa, who made significant contributions to the Republicans during the past several decades. Before his death in 1995, Edgar Prince gave $25,000 from 1993 to 1994. This includes $6,000 to the Ottawa County Republican Committee, $4,000 to the Kent County Republican Committee, and $1,000 to the Michigan Republican State Committee. Prince also gave $2,000 to former Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham's campaigns.

Edgar Prince's widow, Elsa Prince, has continued the family's legacy of supporting Republican causes. Since 1992, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that Elsa Prince has made $153,493 in political contributions. These include $20,000 in contributions to the Republican Party of Michigan, at least $36,000 to the Ottawa County Republican Committee, and thousands of dollars given to Republican Party committees across the United States. The Restoring the American Dream PAC run by Prince's son-in-law Dick DeVos received at least $25,000. Prince has supported candidates for federal office from Michigan including Representative Pete Hoekstra ($2,250), former Senator Spencer Abraham ($4,000), and Senate candidate Mike Bouchard ($6,300). At the Michigan level, Prince has supported numerous candidates including gubernatorial candidates Dick DeVos and Dick Posthumus ($3,400 each), Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land ($2,000), and State Senator Bill Hardiman ($1,000). Her current husband, Ren Broekhuizen, has also made $66,972 in contributions to political candidates and parties at the national level since 2001, in addition to $2,800 in contributions to candidates in the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives.

In addition to the contributions of Erik Prince, the Prince family's other children have also continued the family's legacy of giving significant amounts of money to Republican politicians. None of the family's children have been as involved in Republican politics as Betsy DeVos, who has held leadership positions within the Michigan Republican Party. DeVos has been a career activist for much of her life, participating in a number of public policy efforts including the national and Michigan campaigns for school vouchers. DeVos was a 2004 Bush campaign "pioneer", raising $100,000 for President George W. Bush's 2004 campaign. In 2006, DeVos gave at least $127,196 to her husband's campaign for governor, while in 2003 she gave $475,000 to the Michigan Republican Party. She has given $25,981 to federal candidates according to the Center for Responsive Politics, including $2,000 to former Senator Spencer Abraham, $4,000 to Representative Vern Ehlers, $1,000 to Tim Walberg, and $36,000 to Joe Knollenberg.

Of her family's role in funding Republican Party politics, Devos once said:

"[M]y family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican party....I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now, I simply concede the point. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections."

The Prince family's Emilie Wierda, daughter of Edgar and Elsa and sister of Betsy and Erik, has also made contributions at the state and national levels. At the state level, Wierda has contributed $3,400 for the DeVos for Governor campaign, $1,000 for the Smietanka for Attorney General campaign, $1,000 for the William Van Regenmorter for Senate campaign, and $100 for the Bill Huizenga for State Representative campaign. Since 1992, Wierda has made $32,850 in contributions at the federal level, including $10,000 to Dick DeVos' Restoring the American Dream PAC, $3,000 to former Senator Spencer Abraham's campaigns, $1,000 to Mike Bouchard's campaign for Senate, and $6,000 in contributions to Gary Bauer's Campaign for Working Families PAC.

The Princes other daughter, Eileen Ellens, has also given to Republican candidates. She has contributed $1,000 to Representative Pete Hoekstra and $1,000 to family friend Gary Bauer's 2000 presidential bid, as well as $5,000 to the Campaign for Working Families and Restoring the Dream PACs. At the state level, Ellens contributed $3,400 to Dick DeVos 2006 gubernatorial campaign, $1,500 to entities related to Wayne Kuipers Senate campaign, and $500 to Andy Mulder's judicial campaign.
Hoekstra Admits Close Ties With Blackwater's Erik Prince

October 11 2007

In column printed in Sunday's Grand Rapids Press, editor Mike Lloyd mused on the role of private security firms in Iraq. The column, titled "Debate on private security in Iraq hits home," is notable not so much for Lloyd's comments on Blackwater and his paper's coverage of it, but rather for his interview with Holland representative Peter Hoekstra and Hoekstra's discussion about his connections to Blackwater founder and Holland native Erik Prince.

At one point in Lloyd's column, Hoekstra says "we're all connected in Holland Bingo" after responding to questions about his connections with the Blackwater founder. Hoekstra told the Press that his connection goes "way back," explaining that he attended the same Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church as the Prince family, that Erik Prince is related to Hoekstra's best friend from high school, and that Prince is friends with Hoesktra's in-district director, Bill Huizenga. Hoekstra says that he has talked to Prince regularly, stating "I've called him, and he's called me. Erik has people on the ground all the time. I get a different perspective from him than I do from our own military."

Not surprisingly, Hoekstra says nothing ill of Erik Prince. He criticized the recent hearing at which Prince testified about the role of Blackwater in Iraq, arguing that Prince was unfairly targeted. Hoekstra said that the hearings "set up a situation where the media coverage made Erik the poster child for a war policy run amok. It was unfair." Hoekstra--who has been protected by Blackwater each of the nine times that he has visited Iraq--says that Blackwater is very good at providing security. He says that it is worth the money and that the United States is "not using these private contractors because we want to. We are using them because we have to." He further says that Prince is "professional" and "intense"

Beyond this, it worth thinking about what is excluded from Lloyd's comments on Blackwater. Lloyd--the editor of West Michiga's largest and Grand Rapids' only newspaper--essentially gives Hoekstra space to defend Blackwater. Hoekstra is never challenged by Lloyd, nor are any of his claims about Blackwater. Instead, his claims go unchecked and Lloyd never asks the big questions--why it is acceptable for the chair of the House Intelligence Committee to be getting intelligence information from or why Hoesktra claims that Blackwater's mercenaries are "needed" in Iraq. Similarly, Lloyd never takes the time to disclose the fact that Prince--not just his family--is a significant donor to the Republican Party. In fact, Erik Prince himself gave $1,000 to Hoekstra's campaign in both 2004 and 2005, and $500 in 1999.

Finally, it is important to remember that this is essentially the second time that the Press made room in its paper for Blackwater to either defend itself or be defended. Back in the spring of this year, the Press ran a "guest column" from Erik Prince giving Prince room to defend his company.

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