Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation

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The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, incorporated in 1970, ranked ninth in total assets ($97,049,407) among the top 20 conservative foundations studied and third in total grants ($26,574,754) in 2001. The foundation's grantmaking has grown dramatically in the past decade, from only $4 million in 1990 to more than $25 million in 2001. The foundation is the oldest and wealthiest of the DeVos family foundations, which also include the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation(1990), the Daniel and Pamela DeVos Foundation (1992), and the Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation (1992).

Richard DeVos is co-founder of Amway Corp. and owner of the Orlando Magic (2004), and served as the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. He ranks in the Forbes 400 and is, according to Forbes, amoung the world's richest people, with an estimated worth of $1.7 billion in 2003[1].

DeVos attended the Christian Calvin College, and he has been associated with numerous other Christian and conservative organizatons, such as the Council for National Policy, the Chairman's Council of the Conservative Caucus, the Free Congress Foundation, and the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy. His foundation's grantmaking reflects these conservative Christian te3ndencies and affiliations. In fact, Helen DeVos told the Grand Rapids Press that "our biggest priority is to give back to Christian causes." The foundation ranks eighth in the top 50 U.S. foundations awarding grants for religion, circa 2000, as published by the Foundation Center[2].

Among the top 20 foundations studied, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation ranks fifth in total conservative policy giving, providing $12,159,101 between 1999 and 2001 to groups such as Focus on the Family, the State Policy Network, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and other nationally influential public policy organizations in the fields of education, advocacy, research, religion, media and law. The foundation also provides grants to local (for instance, western Michigan and central Florida) churches, arts groups, ministries, and Christian Schools. For example, the foundation contributed $4 million to the Grand Rapids Christian School Association in 2000. The foundation also established and continues to fund the Urban Leadership Initiative, a national program designed to "identify and train emerging youth ministry leaders in local urgban communities." However, DeVos cautions that the foundation's social servie grantmaking is intended to help people move out of poverty, not to "make 'em too comfortable there." Almost all of the grants are unrestricted.

The grantmaking of the other DeVos family foundations is similar to that of the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation provides funding to many of the same organizations as the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation (detailed below). However, the other smaller foundations tend to give less to large national organizations and more to local Christian, arts and social service organizations in Michigan.

The contributions of the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation have helped to promulgate Christian, conservative ideals.

  • People for the American Way calls Focus on the Family "the largest international religious-right group in the United States,"with almost 1,300 employees, a budget exceeding $120 million, 6,000 radio facilities worldwide, and 2.3 millino subscribers to its magazines. Using these resources, the organization endorses prayer in schools, private school vouchers, and "reparative therapy" for gays and lesbians, while it opposes female reproductive choice, hate crime legislation and comprehensive sexual education.
  • The Foundation for Traditional Values works to stop the deterioration of Judeo-Christian values "by clearly, and dynamically, revealing the role of God, faith, religion and morality in our national heritage."[3] The organization hopes that public education efforts in this vein will strengthen citizen involvement.
  • The Traditional Values Coalition acts as a lobbying and grassroots organizaton, lobbying Congress itself and organizing local churches in lobbying efforts. The coalition's work revolves around homosexuality, reproductive rights and school curricula regarding sexuality and evolution. It sponsors voter education programs that suppy information about how various candidates voted on certain issues. It has influenced a great deal of legislation at both the state and national levels regarding hate crime, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, political contributions by churches, and health education curricula.

In addition to its support for Focus on the Family and the Foundation for Traditional Values, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation also supports the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, where Betsy DeVos serves on the board. The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has supported the institute in the past. The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty attempts to link economics with religion and traditional virtues and sponsors workshops for business executives, religious leaders, professors and others involved in religion, business and economic research. The institute also publishes a number of documents in order to disseminate its view to the general public, policymakers and other leaders.

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation also contributes to the Council for National Policy, where Richard DeVos has served on the executive committee and board of governors and which has been described as "very dangerous and dangerously secretive"in the eyes of liberals. Because of its secretive nature, it is difficult to fully ascertain the activities of the council. However, it is clearly a conservative organization that works to effect public policy changes at the national level. It was founded in part by the Rev. Tim LaHaye, leader of the Moral Majority, and it strives to combat what it sees as liberal control over the country and focuses on issues in domains ranging from social to economic. ABC News reported that "it provided a forum for religiously engaged conservative Christians to influence the geography of American political power."The council supports a strong national defense, Christian values, conservative morals and limited government.

Like the F.M. Kirby Foundation, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation supports the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institue for Public Policy Research, and the Media Research Center. The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation also supports the State Policy Network, an association of 40 conservative state agencies nationwide. More locally, the foundation provides funding to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which uses its research to propose and promote various policies in Michigan. It analyzes issues such as private school vouchers, charter schools, privatization, taxes and welfare reform, and presents its evaluations and recommendations to individuals working in policy, academia, business and the media. Like many of the organizations listed abgove, the Mackinac Center promotes private, rather than government, solutions to policy issues.

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation also provides grants to the Free Congress Foundation (FCF), which claims that its main focus is on the "Culture War." It hopes to "return [America] to the culture that made it great, our traditional Judeo-Christian, Western culture."[4] It opposes multiculturalism, political correctness and liberal politics. The foundation's National Empowerment Television carries conservative Christian messages into millions of homes nationwide through its 24-hour programming, including Borderline (focusing on immigration policy), Cato Forum (taxes and government regulation), Legal Notebook (crime), Straight Talk (family), and On Target with the National Rifle Association (gun policy). The organization has four main centers to address issues like law and democracy, judicial selection, cultural conservatism and technology policy.

In addition to their contributions to the Council for National Policy, the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation also funds the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • The Competitive Enterprise Institute is "dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government."[5] It prides itself not only on researching regulatory issues (e.g., environmental policies and antitrust legislation) but also on publicizing and advocating its analyses and ideas to the general public, policymakers and judges. Thus, as the organization is "engaged in many phases of the public policy debate," it plays an important role in influencing policy at the national level.
  • The National Center for Policy Analysis endorses privatizing Social Security, as well as the few remaining public components of the nation's health care, education, welfare, and criminal justice systems.

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation also funds a number of academic sector organizations, including the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Leadership Institute. It has provided substantial funding to Calvin College, the Christian alma mater of Richard DeVos, which "pledge[s] fidelity to Jesus Christ, offering our hearts and lives to do God's work in God's world."[6] The foundation provided primary funding for the DeVos Center for Communication Arts and Science at the school. Richard DeVos comments that the center will provide a place where "our future leaders can be trained in the art of communications in the context of a Christian background." Similarly, the foundation has helped to fund a tennis center, a student recreation center, and, most recently, a new College of Education at Lee University, which calls itself a "Christ-centered liberal arts university."[7] Richard and Helen DeVos suppoort the school because of its "strong commitment to the cause of Jesus Christ."

The foundation has also supported broader efforts to bring Christianity to education facilities across the nation by funding groups such as Young Life at the high school level and Campus Crusade for Christ on college campuses. The mission of Young Life is "introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith,"[8] while Campus Crusade for Christ performs a similar function on the university level. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation also funds Calvin College.

Dick and Betsy DeVos have been leaders in the "school reform" movement. Dick DeVos served on the Michigan Board of Education in the early 1990s and strongly endorsed the use of school vouchers. Now, he and his wife work through organizations such as the Education Freedom Fund, Of the People, the Children's Scholarship Fund, the American Education Reform Council, and the Great Lakes Education Project to privatize public education. Dick DeVos sits on the board of the Children's Scholarship Fund (CSF), which provides scholarships to low-income families, so that their children may attend private schools.

In 1993, Michigan Republican State Sen. Dick Posthumus, a proponent of parental choice in children's education, invited Dick and Betsy DeVos to co-chair his newly established Education Freedom Fund (EFF). The EFF works in a similar capacity to the CSF but serves only families in Michigan. When the CSF provided $7.5 million to the EFF, Dick and Betsy DeVos matched the grant. Their foundation also covers all of the administrative costs of the organization. Dick DeVos also serves as chairman of the Great Lakes Education Project, a PAC that backs candidates who support education reform. Betsy DeVos was co-chairperson of Of the People, which has worked to get a parental rights amendment passed in a number of states. The amendment increases parental influence over public school curricula and provides for the implementation of vouchers for religious schools. The American Education Reform Council provides information about vouchers, tax credits and charter schools and works with individuals and groups interested in these programs. The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation also supports the work of several of these organizations through grants, even though the pair are not as intimately involved in the organizations themselves.

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