Amway's ruling familes are biggest political spenders, study finds

DeVos couple and late Jay Van Andel top list of individual donors in 2004 cycle

Associated Press/May 26, 2005
By Ken Thomas

Washington -- Republicans Dick and Betsy DeVos of Michigan were the nation's largest individual campaign donors during the 2004 election cycle, according to a study released Thursday.

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

Jay Van Andel, who died in December 2004, was ranked third overall in individual contributions, giving $2.025 million of his personal fortune, including $1.025 million to Michigan GOP groups.

The DeVos and Van Andel families, who founded Amway Corp. in 1959, have been leading financial supporters of the Republican party. Alticor Inc., one of the world's largest direct marketing companies, is Amway's parent company and is privately held by the two families.

Dick DeVos is considering a campaign to seek the GOP nomination to face Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Betsy DeVos recently stepped down as chairwoman of the state Republican party.

The Washington-based watchdog group's study shows the DeVos family's considerable political clout. 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.

Other top donors include:

_ Richard DeVos Sr. and his wife, Helen, who donated $185,000 to Michigan political committees during the period. DeVos Sr. is the owner of the NBA's Orlando Magic.

_ C. Michael Kojaian, a Bloomfield Hills businessman, who gave $120,000 to Republicans during the cycle. He has been a leading financial contributor to President Bush's campaigns.

The study also showcases the highly competitive environment between the state Democratic and Republican parties in a state with divided government: 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, said 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 DeVos' are "kings of corporate and special interests. They spend their money to promote their right-wing ideals."

Messages were left Wednesday for Dick and Betsy DeVos.

Nationally, the study found overall fund-raising 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 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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