Updated with a comment from a spokesperson for the DeVos family.
There were quite a few moments at her confirmation hearing Tuesday when Betsy DeVos floored lawmakers with her answers, but the nominee for education secretary left senators puzzled by denying her documented involvement in a foundation that has funneled millions of dollars to anti-LGBT causes.
DeVos, from 2001 to 2013, was listed in tax filings as vice president of the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, a nonprofit group founded by her mother that has been a generous donor to controversial groups like Focus on the Family and Family Research Council. Yet when pressed by Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) to explain her role at the foundation, DeVos insisted her name should not have been included in any tax forms and that she had nothing to do with the organization.
“That was a clerical error — I can assure you,” DeVos said. “I have never made decisions on my mother’s behalf.”
A paper trail documenting DeVos’s involvement in the foundation has existed for years, but just last week the organization filed a certificate of correction with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to have her name removed as a director.
“Betsy was never apart of the foundation, had no idea her name was lists, never consented, never attended a meeting or anything like that,” said John Truscott, speaking on the behalf of the DeVos family.
He said the person who once ran the Prince Foundation, Robert Haveman, is responsible for the error and had made many “sloppy” mistakes before being sent to prison for embezzling $16 million from Elsa Prince, DeVos’s mother. Asked why Haveman would name DeVos as a director,Truscott said there was never an explanation, but he figures the former investor made the mistake once and copied the same list of names year after year.
“It is hard to believe that Mrs. DeVos could be listed as vice president of the Prince Foundation for 13 years and yet have no involvement with, or knowledge of, the millions of dollars in donations made to anti-LGBTQ groups that promote intolerance,” Hassan said, in an email Wednesday. “For Mrs. DeVos to try to explain away these donations by claiming that her title was simply a ‘clerical error’ is concerning, to say the least.”
During the time DeVos was listed as an officer, the Prince Foundation gave $5.1 million to Focus on the Family, an advocate of “conversion therapy” — counseling designed to make gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer people become straight. The same group has railed against anti-bullying programs that even mention homosexuality as a covert way to introduce sexual orientation to children.
The organization also poured $6.1 million into Family Research Council, a conservative think tank labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for saying such things as homosexual men are more likely to engage in child sexual abuse than heterosexual men.
“There may be different rules for billionaires, but most people will find it difficult to believe that Ms. DeVos was officially listed as being on the board of her parents’ foundation for at least thirteen years and had absolutely no idea,” Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said Wednesday. “It’s understandable why she would want to distance herself from that foundation and its troubling contributions to anti-women and anti-LGBT causes, but scrubbing the record after thirteen years doesn’t seem like a credible way to do that.”
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