January 27, 2017

HELP Committee Members Raise Fresh Concerns About Education Secretary-Designate Betsy DeVos's Conflicts of Interest in Higher Education

Washington, D.C. - Today, members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee wrote to Education Secretary-Designate Betsy DeVos, raising concerns about Betsy DeVos's potential conflicts of interest that may not be resolved by her public ethics agreement, particularly potential conflicts in higher education. In their letter, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) request a response to a series of questions about their concerns before the HELP committee votes on her nomination.

The senators wrote, "On January 19, 2017, you provided the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) with your Office of Government Ethics (OGE) filing indicating the steps you have agreed to take in order to comply with federal conflicts of interest laws if you are confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of Education. We have carefully reviewed the information you provided, and we are concerned that, rather than allaying concerns, your ethics arrangement raises additional questions about your potential conflicts as Education Secretary."

The senators raised concerns about the Education Secretary-Designate's agreement that allows her to maintain financial interests in eight different entities, some of which have investments that could present conflicts. It also raises concerns about family trusts in which she will retain an interest, and the lack of transparency in the investments of these trusts. Finally, it notes potential conflicts of interest concerns related to the holdings of Ms. DeVos's extended family.

"Compliance with the ethics agreement you have reached with OGE will ensure that your behavior with your financial holdings does not result in criminal conflicts of interest. But it does not appear to fully guarantee the elimination of all conflicts of interest that could influence your decisions as Secretary of Education."

"(Y)ou have disclosed financial connections to a debt collector and for-profit colleges that depend on the Department of Education for their revenue. Given the fact that you will continue to hold positions in family trusts that are not transparent in their holdings, we ask for additional information to allay concerns that both the investments you will soon divest of, and your family's trusts that you will continue to hold, will not create conflicts for you as Secretary of Education. It is important not only that you comply with your ethics agreement, but that you answer HELP Committee members' questions about additional concerns raised by the information contained in that agreement."

Full text of the letter is available here.

The letter is one of two sent by HELP members today requesting information on DeVos's conflicts of interest. Several HELP members sent another letter urging DeVos to come clean about her connections to "dark money" groups. That letter is available here.