Betsy DeVos' senate confirmation delayed amid concerns over her political donations

The incoming education secretary has channelled $818,000 to 20 Republican senators - the Office of Government Ethics has asked for more time before appointing her

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The Independent US

The senate confirmation hearing of Donald Trump’s chosen education secretary has been delayed after the Office of Government Ethics requested more time to carry out a background check amid concerns that she and her family have consistently bankrolled Republican senators. 

Betsy DeVos, the billionaire and education reformer, has funded $818,000 to 20 current Republican senators, according to the Washington Post.

In an unusual move, her senate confirmation hearing has been delayed until 17 January. Ms DeVos was not immediately available for comment.

Her family gave $250,000 to five of the 12 politicians who sit on the Committee of Health, Education, Labour and Pensions, as shown by Federal Election Commission records. Critics have suggested this funding could cause a conflict of interest when she becomes part of that committee herself.

The five members - Richard Burr, Lisa Murkowski, Tim Scott, Bill Cassidy and Todd Young - have each received more than $40,000 from the family over the last four years. The committee chairman, senator Lamar Alexander, has not received any direct donations.

Mr Alexander and Democratic senator Patty Murray released a joint statement about the delayed hearing but did not mention the fundraising concerns.

They said the delay came "at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule."

Ms DeVos, a heir of the Amway fortune, made a small percentage of those donations herself: at least $31,400 to committee members and $96,000 to all senators. Yet many of those senators received donations from Ms DeVos, her husband, parents and siblings, on the same day, amounting to larger total donations from the family as a whole.

Ms DeVos’s supporters said she and her family have made political contributions for decades because they were ideologically aligned with Republicans, not because they were plotting for her to enter the government. Since 1989 they have given more than $20.2 million to Republican candidates, party committees and lobbying groups, as shown by OpenSecrets.org.

In the 2016 cycle alone, they donated $10 million.

The numbers provide a stark contrast to the rallying cry of "drain the swamp" from the President-elect, who vowed to rid Washington DC of large, lobbying powers and corporate interests.

"If you accept the faulty premise that political contributions create a conflict of interest, then any amount is problematic," said Ed Patru, spokesman for Friends of Betsy DeVos, a group of supporters, told the Washington Post. 

"I don’t remember a single Democrat, citing conflicts of interest, recusing themselves from a vote on billionaires like Penny Pritzker."

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Billionaire Ms Pritzker donated $20,000 to Democratic senators who then voted on her confirmation as President Barack Obama’s commerce secretary.

Bernie Sanders and a group of Democrats have also urged Ms DeVos to pay more than $5 million of election fines accrued by her former SuperPAC.

She is strongly pro-school choice, expanding charter schools and funding religious schools, which would arguably divert funds from free educational institutions.

Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University and former assistant secretary of education and counsellor to the secretary of education under President George H W Bush, said Ms DeVos threatened the "cornerstone of democracy".

"She has no experience or qualifications for the job. She is a lobbyist for alternatives to public schools," she said 

"Eighty-five percent of the students in the US attend public schools. Her only plan is to weaken and destroy them by diverting public money to charter schools and vouchers for religious schools."

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