Thursday, November 24, 2016

Betsy DeVos: Conflict of Interest Concerns Arise on Future Secretary's Twitter Account

So it's done.
"Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a statement. “Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families."
When I first heard the news I took to Twitter to check out her account. Here's the first thing I noticed. 

Let's play a little game for a moment to try and lighten the mood. Did you catch the missing word in that tweet? The missing word is public. Our new Secretary of Education can't bring herself to utter the word public in the same sentence as education while announcing that she will soon oversee the education of 50 million American students in public schools.

Here's what I noticed next. Her header photo.

At  first glance this just looks like a lovely photo of DeVos in conversation with a student. But huh, isn't it a little odd that there is a carton in front of each of them? And not just any carton, a carton of water. That's not something you see everyday.

It looks like a product placement, doesn't it? But nah, she's savvy enough to keep any products her family business may be associated with far away from the Twitter account where she's tweeting about her appointment, right? She can't be involved in that company, that would look like a conflict of interest! 

So let's just get on with our story.

DeVos is from Michigan. Betsy and her husband, Dick, have funded countless Republican candidates in Michigan, going back to the 1990s.
Nowhere has the family made its presence felt as it has in Michigan, where it has given more than $44 million to the state party, GOP legislative committees, and Republican candidates since 1997. "It's been a generational commitment," Anuzis notes. "I can't start to even think of who would've filled the void without the DeVoses there."
Governor Rick Snyder has been the recipient of the DeVos family's largesse.
Employees of Blue Cross/Blue Shield are the biggest funding source for the governor so far, having donated $112,131. Fifteen members of the DeVos family have contributed $85,600. They are followed by employees of CMS Energy, $82,975, and DTE Energy, $75,800.
The DeVos family uses their money and influence for any number of vile endeavors; vouchers, right-to-work laws, anti-gay marriage efforts, etc. But school choice is Betsy Devos' bread and butter.
But they are perhaps most ardent about their support for school choice, leading a movement to promote vouchers and charter schools for years.

Betsy DeVos founded and serves as chairman of the American Federation of Children and its associated political arm, a platform she has used to support candidates who endorse vouchers and charter schools and to attack candidates who don’t.
The DeVos clan has a ton of money (5.1 billion to be exact) from multiple business interests, and they use it to bust unions, privatize schools and deny rights to gay Americans.

Here's a quick peek at some of the family's business, political and foundation connections from Muckety.

Whew, nothing about a boxed water business, so my earlier suspicions must be unfounded. 

But I just can't shake the feeling that something is off about those water cartons being in the photo. Like it's more of an advertisement than a snapshot of an educational leader engaging in a genuine moment with a student. 

So I looked up the company.
We started with the simple idea of creating a packaged water brand that is kinder to the environment and gives back.
We focused on purity and sustainability, delivering our first carton to our favorite lunch spot in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2009. Since then, we’ve continued to spread our message of healthy and thoughtful living, one box at a time.
Huh, they started in Michigan. DeVos is from Michigan. So maybe the boxes are in the photo just because this is a nice, local brand! 

A do-gooder local company must have pitched in to help with the Flint water crisis, right? This is from a press release from the company.
"We feel for the local community and those impacted by the Flint water crisis, and as a Michigan based water company, we strongly believe it's our responsibility to help the community during this time," commented David Lee, Chief Operating Officer for Boxed Water. "We encourage everyone involved to continue donations and continue volunteering time and energy to raise awareness for this issue and to help those in need during this time."
A little tacky to send out a press release about your good works, but okay, I still want to buy the do-gooder routine.

Until I search for "Boxed Water is Better" and "Betsy DeVos", just because in my heart of hearts, I really am deeply cynical. I just can't help it.

And what did I find?

Founded in 2009, Boxed Water is a portfolio company of DeVos family office The Windquest Group.
Boxed Water is just one of many ventures that are a part of The Windcrest Group, which is described on their website as a "privately held enterprise and investment management firm with diversified projects in technology, manufacturing, clean-tech, hospitality, and nonprofit solutions."

And Betsty DeVos is the Chairwoman of the Windcrest Group.

So wait a minute. Let's skip past the whole "I knew it!" part and unpack this a bit. 

A water company the DeVos family has invested in donated water to the people of Flint, and touted the donation via a press release in February of 2016. This was just a month before a panel, commissioned by the governor, concluded that that same governor (who, remember, the DeVos family helped put in office with almost $100,000 in campaign contributions) and other state officials were "fundamentally accountable" for the lead that poisoned the people of Flint. 
The Flint water crisis is a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction and environmental injustice,” said Chris Kolb, a co-chairman of the task force and president of Michigan Environmental Council, a nonprofit coalition of environmental groups in the state.(emphasis mine)
A story of government failure. Let that just sink in for just a moment. 

How opportunistic is if for a business funded by the DeVos family to send out a press release about donating boxed water to Flint, when their 44 million dollars in campaign contributions helped elect Republican legislators that have failed the people of Flint for decades? 

Disaster capitalism at its finest.

Hard not to draw comparisons to DeVos and her penchant for privatization and school choice, isn't it?

Wreck the public schools by underfunding them and busting their unions, and then offer the desperate masses for-profit charters and vouchers to private schools!

And as it so happens, one of the many "enterprises" that is listed as part of The Windcrest Group portfolio, right on the same page as the Boxed Water company, is the charter school started by DeVos' husband, the West Michigan Aviation Academy.

Because to people like Trump and DeVos, a school is just another business.

So here is the big question - at a time when questions swirl around the Trump family's business empire and the unavoidable conflicts of interest, what about DeVos? In how many businesses does the DeVos family have an interest, and how many of those businesses could potentially benefit from her new position?

After all, if she's not above using her official Twitter account to shill boxed water sold by a company she has invested in, what other products might her family sell that could lead to conflicts in her new role as a government official? 

Will she divest from her business interests now that she is poised to become a government employee? Or does Trump believe that the "law is on the side" of the Secretary of Education as well, and she can't have a conflict of interest?

Can she shill boxed water that pays her dividends on her Twitter account, President Trump? 

Are you OK with that?


  1. The Amway people are involved in charter schools?? I didn't realize it at the time, but I guess it's probably not a coincidence then that John Oliver called out both charter schools and MLMs this season, right?

    I recently came across your blog and wanted to say thank you! I haven't lived in NJ for >10 years, but most of your blogs are someone directly relevant in some way to where I am (MD) and the ones that aren't, are still a good read. :)

  2. Thank you for taking the time to research and post this timely, great piece of activist investigation!

    Lots of interesting info in here, e.g., DeVos supports the Federalist Society. The purpose of the FS is, basically, to undo the "liberal" affect on the judicial system, including through presence at universities.

    This concept of undoing "liberalism" in universities is straight from the "Lewis Powell Memo." Please read the Memo. Corporations/Chamber of Commerce have been undermining progressive advancements in society, including environmental protection for decades (see current anti FDA art on FS website - sound familiar, as in coming from Trump?). But I meet so many people who are not aware of this grand plan by corporations to "take back" America.

    Progressives see the results of the Memo but, apparently many, including grassroots political leaders and lawyers, don't know the source or mechanics, which is needed to fight it.

    We need broad exposure of the insidious nature of this corporate plan, e.g., buying professorships in dozens of universities, that has largely gone unnoticed until we have more than a generation of anti-liberal citizens in every aspect of society/government that affects corporate profits.

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  4. Thanks for the blog. I didn't know Betsy DeVos has boxed water interests (I also didn't know that was a thing ala' school milk cartons). But then again, I live in Minnesota and not Michigan, so hopefully her brand of crazy will be held off a bit longer locally.

  5. It is funny that a religious billionaire would box up water, that which is required for Life, and sell it to the masses. It is sad that anyone would buy it.

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