Amway Families Finance Politics

May 26, 2005
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — A study released yesterday showed that Amway’s founding families were the nation’s largest individual campaign donors in the 2004 election cycle, with Republicans Dick and Betsy DeVos topping the list and the late Jay Van Andel ranking third.

A report by the Center for Public Integrity said the DeVos couple, of Ada, contributed more than $2.3 million in 2003 and 2004, including more than $1.8 million to Michigan party committees.

Van Andel, who died last December, gave $2.025 million, including $1.025 million to Michigan GOP groups.

The DeVos and Van Andel families founded Amway Corp. in 1959 and today hold the controlling interest in Amway’s parent company, privately held Alticor Inc.

Dick DeVos is considering a campaign to seek the GOP nomination to face Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Betsy DeVos was until recently chair of the state Republican Party.

The Washington-based watchdog group’s study noted the DeVos family’s considerable influence upon the nation’s political landscape. Alticor, Amway and DeVos family interests are among the nation’s top-five organizational donors, contributing more than $4.7 million in 2003 and 2004.

The donations ranked them just behind two major unions — the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

By comparison, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America gave $2.6 million, the AFL-CIO contributed $2.35 million, and the United Auto Workers provided $1.66 million.

Richard DeVos Sr. and his wife, Helen, also were among the nation’s top donors. The owner of the NBA’s Orlando Magic and his wife donated $185,000 to Michigan political committees.

The study also found a highly competitive environment between the state Democratic and Republican parties. Michigan is unique in this regard as its government is essentially split between the two — a Democratic governor, Republican control of the Legislature and a significant GOP edge in Michigan’s congressional delegation.

The Michigan Republican State Committee raised $14.3 million during the period, compared to $13.5 million by the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee. The Democratic organization outspent its GOP counterpart by more than $780,000.

Nate Bailey, a state GOP spokesman, told the Associated Press the report showed “how effectively using and spending money can really make the difference between winning and losing.”

Jason Moon, a state Democratic Party spokesman, said it provided evidence that the DeVoses are “kings of corporate and special interests. They spend their money to promote their right-wing ideals.”

Nationally, the study found overall fundraising for state political parties in the 2004 election cycle declined to $735 million, a decrease of $65 million compared to the 2000 election cycle and $85 million less than raised in the 2002 midterm elections.

The nonpartisan organization attributed the drop to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms, which barred unlimited “soft money” contributions to federal candidates or federal party organizations.    

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