DeVos money big in Indiana politics

News stories about Betsy DeVos, selected by President-elect Donald Trump to be the next U.S. secretary of education, often say she’s not well known outside of Michigan. But you can bet Indiana Republican legislators know who she is. DeVos money has been key to building the state’s GOP super-majority.

Betsy DeVos chairs the American Federation for Children, which promotes private school vouchers and deregulation of charter schools. According to campaign finance reports, she and her husband and their adult children have given the group’s political action committee over $1.4 million since 2010.

The American Federation for Children PAC also has had big contributions from for-profit charter school companies, hedge fund managers and the Walton family, majority owners of Walmart.

The federation funds school choice initiatives in several states. In Indiana, its on-the-ground affiliate is Hoosiers for Quality Education, formerly Hoosiers for Economic Growth. American Federation for Children has given the advocacy organization $1.2 million since 2010, according to campaign reports.

Hoosiers for Quality Education in turn helped fund the campaigns of Republican candidates for Indiana superintendent of public instruction: It gave $90,000 to Tony Bennett’s losing campaign in 2012 and $130,000 to Jennifer McCormick’s successful campaign this year. But the bulk of the $3 million it has spent on Indiana campaigns since 2008 has gone to GOP candidates for the state House and Senate. Typically, the money is targeted to contests that could be competitive.

Fred Klipsch, the founder of Hoosiers for Quality Education, boasted at an American Federation for Children-sponsored policy summit in 2012 that the group and its allies had spent $4.4 million to push an agenda of vouchers, expanded charter schools and other reforms through the state legislature.

Betsy DeVos, writing in Roll Call in 1997, pooh-poohed the idea that it was unseemly for mega-donors like herself to buy influence with their campaign contributions.

“We do expect something in return … We expect a return on our investment,” she wrote.

So when Republican lawmakers support spending state money to send students to private schools, including religious schools, it’s fair to wonder: Do they think it’s a good idea, despite evidence to the contrary? Or are they thinking about who’s writing the checks?

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