As the Orlando Magic face off against the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2009 NBA championship, casual hoops fans may wonder where their rooting interests should lie. If the players or teams don’t excite you, I humbly suggest that you choose your team based not on players, colors or coaches but on owners. Why? Because the victorious owner, whether Lakers boss Jerry Buss or Magic helmsman Richard DeVos, stands to make a fortune by winning, as well as elevate his personal profile. If you do choose to root for a team based on its owners, there is absolutely no contest for progressives: break out the lavender and gold and pray for a Lakers victory. It’s not that Buss is any great shakes; it’s the fact that DeVos operates the Magic like the sporting arm of a radical right- wing empire whose reach extends from makeup to militias.
As co-founder of Amway, the 83-year-old DeVos has amassed a fortune of more than $4.4 billion. Through Amway, he popularized the concept of what is known as network marketing, where salespeople attempt to lure their friends and neighbors into buying products. Sixty percent of what Amway salespeople traffic are health and beauty products. The rest of their merchandise is a veritable pu pu platter of homecare products, jewelry, electronics and even insurance. To put it mildly, DeVos doesn’t do his political business off company time. Amway has been investigated for violating campaign finance laws by seamlessly shifting from network marketing to network politicking. DeVos has used not only his company but his own epic fortune at the service of his politics. He could be described as the architect, underwriter and top chef of every religious-right cause on Pat Robertson’s buffet table. The former finance chair of the Republican National Committee, DeVos is far more than just a loyal party man. For more than four decades he has been the funder in chief of the right-wing fringe of the Christian fundamentalist movement. Before the 1994 “Republican Revolution” made Newt Gingrich a household name, Amway contributed what the Washington Post called “a record sum in recent American politics,” $2.5 million. In the 2004 election cycle Amway and the DeVos family helped donate more than $4 million to campaigns pumping propaganda for Bush and company, with around $2 million coming out of Devos’s own pocket.
During the Bush years DeVos received a decent return on these investments, with tax cuts that saved him millions and tax exemptions for people who sold Amway out of their homes. He then used these extra gains to further empower his nonprofit, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, to direct millions to groups that support radical reparative gay therapy, antievolution politics and other “traditional” family values. The organizations they support include Focus on the Family, the Foundation for Traditional Values, the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Media Research Center, among many others. They also supply grants to the Free Congress Foundation, 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.”
DeVos is also a senior member of an organization called the Council for National Policy. Imagine the most shadowy right-wing organization, and CNP is the sort of group that rests in its shadows and inspires fevered talk of “vast right-wing conspiracies.” The CNP makes members of the Masons look like paparazzi-hungry starlets. Its membership includes the elite of the John Birch Society. Richard DeVos served on both the executive committee and the board of governors for the CNP.