About a week ago, as attorneys and staffers helped Betsy DeVos prepare and file paperwork required as part of her confirmation process to become the next U.S. education secretary, somebody asked her about her ties to her mother’s foundation.
“She said, ‘Well wait a minute. I’ve never been on that board or never been involved with that foundation.’ Nor did she ever give consent for her name to be used,” DeVos family spokesman John Truscott said. “Best we can figure it was an error on behalf of the foundation staff and was never run by her.”
DeVos’ parents founded The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation in 1977. Since at least 2006, DeVos has been listed on the foundation’s filing documents as one of the directors.
Senate democrats questioned her involvement in the foundation during her confirmation hearing Tuesday night. Senator Maggie Hassan, a democrat from New Hampshire, asked twice about it.
“That was a clerical error. I can assure you I have never made decisions on my mother’s behalf on her foundation board,” DeVos told the committee Tuesday.
Hassan noted the Prince Foundation had donated millions of dollars to the conservative Christian organization called Focus on the Family. Senator Al Franken asked DeVos if, like the organization, she supported "conversion therapy," a discredited treatment that purports to change a person's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.
DeVos said she’s never believed in it.
“I fully embrace equality and I believe in the innate value of every human being,” she said, adding that she’d hope the committee members wouldn’t hold her responsible for contributions made by her extended family members.
Truscott says DeVos used her and her husband’s foundation to funnel money to causes they support, not her mother’s.
“She was never involved in any of those decisions, and you never try to get involved in parents' decisions on things, they’re quite capable on their own, but realizing you have your own philosophical view on things,” he said.
“This was just a form that’s filed, it’s more of a formality and somebody put her name down on it,” Truscott said.
He says they believe the former director, Robert Haveman, is probably to blame. Havemen, a former investor who became close to the Prince family, was sentenced in October to more than three years in prison for stealing $16 million from DeVos’ mother.
“He has a history of filling things out inaccurately so the best we can figure is he just put her name on it and never double-checked with anybody,” Truscott said.
Requests for comment from Haveman's attorney were not immediately returned.
Only Betsy DeVos’ name was removed from the Prince Foundation’s board of directors in the filings sent last week to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. DeVos’ two sisters, her brother Erik Prince, who founded the private security firm Blackwater USA, along with her stepfather, apparently remain on the board of directors, according to the filings.