December 14, 2016

Democratic Senators Call on Trump Education Secretary Nominee DeVos to Pay $5.3 Million in Unpaid Fines for Election Violations

Senators say group run by DeVos, nominated to administer nation's student loan programs, showed blatant willingness to 'avoid paying legally obligated public debts'

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced that they are calling on President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to ensure payment of the $5.3 million in fines and penalties owed by DeVos' All Children Matter Political Action Committee (PAC) for campaign finance violations dating back to 2008. All Children Matter broke Ohio election law by illegally funneling $870,000 in contributions from its nationwide PAC to its Ohio affiliate - and accordingly, the state of Ohio levied a record fine of more than $5 million against DeVos' group. Yet nearly a decade later, the PAC has not paid the debts for its illegal activities.

In a letter to DeVos, the senators expressed their deep concern at the willingness of DeVos' PAC to both brazenly disregard election law and blatantly refuse to take responsibility and pay its fines. The senators noted that, as Secretary of Education, DeVos would be responsible for seeing to the timely repayment of debt from student loan borrowers - even as the PAC she chaired refused to pay fines that are nearly a decade old. Roughly 44 million Americans owe nearly $1.3 trillion in federal student loans, creating a crushing debt burden for individuals struggling to make their payments. But when All Children Matter broke election law and was fined a record $5.3 million, DeVos' group chose to simply cease operations and disband, rather than taking responsibility for its debts.

"The blatant disregard for the law that your PAC demonstrated is deeply troubling. However, when the organization's violations of law were punished by the Ohio Elections Commission, the PAC's refusal to take responsibility and pay the fines is unconscionable," the senators wrote. "If confirmed as Secretary of Education, you would be responsible for administering our nation's student loan programs and ensuring that borrowers repay their loans in a timely manner. However, the PAC that you chaired failed to pay fines that were imposed on it over eight years ago. This demonstrates a serious lack of judgment by the PAC's board and a willingness to avoid paying legally obligated public debts."

"Prior to your confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, we request that you take the necessary steps to ensure payment of all fines and penalties imposed on the All Children Matter PACs by the Ohio Elections Commission and the state courts," the senators continued.

DeVos' leadership role in the All Children Matter PAC is one of her many activities as a longtime billionaire mega-donor for conservative causes, with DeVos stating her own goal to be "buying influence." As DeVos wrote in a 1997 op-ed for Roll Call, "my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican party.... I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now, I simply concede the point. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections."

The full text of the letter can be found below and here.

Betsy DeVos
Secretary-Designate
U.S. Department of Education

Dear Secretary-Designate DeVos:

We are writing to express significant concerns about the failure of the All Children Matter Political Action Committee (PAC) to pay Ohio $5.3 million in fines and late fees for violating the state's campaign finance laws. At the time of the violations, you were the head of the organization, and you and your husband were one of the PAC's biggest contributors.

In 2006, the federal All Children Matter PAC sought an advisory opinion from the Ohio Elections Commission to determine whether it was allowed to contribute more than the $10,000 statutory limit to its Ohio based affiliate. The Commission provided an advisory opinion stating that aggregate contributions of greater than $10,000 in a year to the Ohio affiliate would violate the law. Inexplicably, your PAC ignored this advisory opinion and proceeded to contribute $870,000 to the Ohio affiliate.

The bipartisan Ohio Elections Commission unanimously found both the federal and Ohio All Children Matter PACs to have violated the state's campaign finance laws and imposed fines of $5.2 million. An Ohio court subsequently upheld the fine and imposed additional late fees for failing to pay. Rather than pay the fines for violating the law, the All Children Matter PACs simply ceased operation and never paid the significant sum it owed to the state of Ohio.

The blatant disregard for the law that your PAC demonstrated is deeply troubling. However, when the organization's violations of law were punished by the Ohio Elections Commission, the PAC's refusal to take responsibility and pay the fines is unconscionable.

If confirmed as Secretary of Education, you would be responsible for administering our nation's student loan programs and ensuring that borrowers repay their loans in a timely manner. However, the PAC that you chaired failed to pay fines that were imposed on it over eight years ago. This demonstrates a serious lack of judgment by the PAC's board and a willingness to avoid paying legally obligated public debts.

Prior to your confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, we request that you take the necessary steps to ensure payment of all fines and penalties imposed on the All Children Matter PACs by the Ohio Elections Commission and the state courts.

We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.