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The Fruitless Ethics Argument Against Betsy DeVos

January 13, 2017

Diane Ravitch wrote a compelling ethical argument against Betsy DeVos nomination for Secretary of Education based on a post from the Center for American Progress identifying Ms. DeVos’ many conflicts of interest, one of which is that she made substantial campaign contributions to 10 of the 12 Senators on the committee that will review her fitness for office. But, as the Center for American Progress noted, neither Ms. DeVos nor the President who is nominating her have any illusions about the donations they make to politicians:

For her part, DeVos, a long-time Republican megadonor, has made clear that her extensive campaign donations are meant to sway policymakers. “I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence,” DeVos once remarked. “Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return.”

It’s an approach she shares with her potential future boss, President-elect Donald Trump, who has also bragged about the political pull of his campaign donations. “I’ve given to everybody. Because that was my job,” Trump crowed at a rally last January. “I gotta give it to them. Because when I want something, I get it. When I call, they kiss my ass.”

After witnessing Congress’s reaction to Mr. Trump’s ethics challenges, I am not at all confident that an argument against ethics will carry the day against anyone. Most in Congress cannot launch an ethical argument against either Ms. DeVos or Mr. Trump because they operate on the same assumptions as both, though they do so in a polite and stealthy fashion. By failing to launch a full throated protest against Mr. Trump’s unethical conduct Congress has shown its true colors. And if anyone believes the Democrats have a corner on ethical conduct, I offer the vote on Bernie Sanders amendment on lowering pharmaceutical costs as Exhibit A: thirteen Democrats who received over $3,000,000 in campaign contributions from Big Pharma since 2011 opposed the amendment.

We are now witnessing why it is important to get money out of politics. MAYBE if we get the money out we can get ethics back in.

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