CAN MICHIGAN’S SECOND RICHEST FAMILY BUY THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION?
The short answer to that inquiry is, “Probably not.” The long answer is, “Probably not, but that won’t prevent them from generously using their wealth to influence causes, think tanks, political action committees (PACs), and politicians determined to create a nation where the interests of a few prevail over the voices of the many.”
The family of influence is the DeVos family of Amway fame, the second richest family in Michigan. The top spot belongs to the Meijer family whose supermarkets are fixtures in Michigan and neighboring states.
Forbes lists patriarch Richard DeVos among the 400 richest people in America with a net worth in the area of $6 billion. More importantly, Richard DeVos regularly makes the list of “Forbes Top 50 Givers” in America. With multiple spinoff businesses and four children — one of whom with a Van Andel scion runs Amway, a privately owned company built on a multi-tiered sales strategy of “independent owners” who sell Amway household products and nutritional aids — it is difficult to estimate the total net worth of the family. The DeVoses are among the elite 1% of the 1%.
West Michigan has been a steady recipient of DeVos generosity. In Grand Rapids, the DeVos name appears on the downtown convention center, on hospitals, and on Grand Valley State University buildings. Both Calvin and Hope colleges are beneficiaries, as well as the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America, along with numerous faith-based charities. The DeVoses are deeply religious and take their faith seriously.
Without question, the resurgence of Grand Rapids in the last twenty years is not unrelated to the generous spirit of the DeVos family (as well as the Van Andels, the Meijers, the Weges and others).
The public gifts of the DeVos family are well known, less so their private donations. The DeVoses are no friends of the LGBTQ community and through their family foundations have donated generously to oppose marriage equality throughout the country. If the DeVoses and the candidates they financially support get their way, Planned Parenthood will no longer receive federal funding and women will not have the right to make reproductive decisions about their own bodies. They are adamant about destroying the collective bargaining influence of labor unions. The numerous super PACs (who are not required to reveal their donors or dollar amounts) and candidates DeVos money supports view government regulations and taxes on businesses and industries as a direct assault on free enterprise and capitalism.
I admit my bias, and this is what I hear, “Doing what’s best for the rich is best for the rest of us; the benefits will trickle down.”
Alas, in this tiresome political season I’m left wondering: Why do I feel closer to the holiness of God and to the biblical prophetic tradition when a non-religious Jew like Bernie Sanders talks about the highest ideals of government — a government that should provide quality public schools, free college education, health care for all its citizens, full rights for marginalized groups including LGBTQ persons, and an end to the flow of “dark money” into super PACs that undermine the democratic process?
I admit my bias, and this is what I hear, “The common good is the highest good and always a Godly good.”
Should you be interested, I commend to your reading Jane Mayer’s, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.