If you thought that the Republicans were the party of law and order, think again. Common Dreams and the Washington Post report that Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, ran a Political Action Committee (PAC) that deliberately violated Ohio election law and never paid the fine the state imposed. Five Democratic senators wrote a letter to DeVos asking that she pay the $5.3 million fine before her confirmation hearings next month.
What Betsy DeVos Did
Betsy DeVos headed a national PAC, All Children Matter (ACM), which promoted the use of public funds for vouchers for students to pay tuition to private schools. ACM formed an Ohio affiliate and asked the Ohio Elections Commission whether the state’s $10,000 limit on donations to state PACs applied. The Election Commission responded that yes, donations exceeding $10,000 were prohibited. In 2008, DeVos’s ACM then donated $870,000 to the state PAC.
The Ohio Elections Commission imposed fines against both the national and the state PACs for the violation. The PACs fought the fine in court and lost. Late fees were added. But they never paid the fines. The PACs just stopped operating in Ohio. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the state attempted to collect for several years without success.
To Be Fair
Two years after Ohio imposed these fines, the United States Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which removed limits on corporate contributions. So the same contributions would not have been illegal if they were made after that decision. It’s also true that the individuals who were officers and directors of the PACs were not personally liable for the fines. So Betsy DeVos has no legal obligation to pay them. Freedom from personal liability is one of the main reasons that people establish corporations when they start a business or nonprofit activity.
Still, under DeVos’s leadership, the organization deliberately chose to violate the law. Then, again, under DeVos’s leadership, it chose not to make good on a fine that it owed the state of Ohio after it had its day in court. And it has not ever asked that the fine be forgiven in light of the Citizens United decision. It just ignored the fine. Do you think she’d let you ignore your student loans?
Democratic Senators have sent a letter to Trump's Ed Sec'y pick Betsy DeVos, calling on her to pay $5MIL in overdue elections fines: pic.twitter.com/RMIrSeEHs0
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 14, 2016