Politics & Government

Burr votes to confirm a Cabinet member – and big donor

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr AP

Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr’s vote for Betsy DeVos as U.S. education secretary Tuesday prompted Democrats to accuse him of “rewarding a billionaire donor.”

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted 12-11 along party lines to send DeVos’ nomination to the Senate floor.

DeVos is a wealthy Michigan philanthropist and political activist married to the former president of Amway. Her brother, Erik Prince, founded the private security firm Blackwater that is based in North Carolina.

She’s a strong supporter of school choice and charter schools. Critics question her commitment to traditional public schools.

“Betsy DeVos is going to put our children first,” Burr said in a statement after the vote. “I believe Mrs. DeVos is committed to helping our children succeed academically. I support her nomination and will work with her to ensure that every child in America receives a world-class education.”

DeVos’ family, business network and business donors have contributed heavily to Burr and other members of the education committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Her family donated $43,200 to Burr’s re-election campaign against Democrat Deborah Ross. It also gave $2.25 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, which spent $13.7 million on the N.C. race.

A Burr spokeswoman declined comment.

“It’s clear that Senator Burr’s main criteria for backing an Education Secretary nominee is not competence or support for strong public schools – instead he’s rewarding a billionaire donor with a plum job in the cabinet,” state Democratic Party executive director Kimberly Reynolds said in a statement.

The Center for Responsive Politics also found that Amway and its successor, Alticor, gave members of the committee over $143,000 since 1989.

The donations don’t bother everybody.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who voted against DeVos in the education committee, said he doesn’t worry about her political donations. He referred to President Barack Obama’s former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who also came from a wealthy family and was herself a prolific donor.

“It wouldn’t be the first time that a nominee has made political donations,” Murphy said, according to Politico. “Penny Pritzker was a fantastic secretary of commerce, and she probably made a few donations to Democrats over the years. I don’t worry about those donations.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill