Let’s Go Lakers: Wanting a Loss for DeVos

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. Another leading member of the CNP was fellow Michigan-based billionaire Edgar Prince. In what Nation contributor Jeremy Scahill has described as a royal coupling in the tradition of feudal Europe, Prince's daughter Betsy married Richard's son Dick Jr. Scahill also writes, "[The DeVos family was] one of the greatest bankrollers of far-right causes in U.S. history, and with their money they propelled extremist Christian politicians and activists to positions of prominence."

Betsy Prince's brother, and Edgar's son, Erik Prince, would become first a Navy SEAL and later founder and CEO of the infamous Blackwater corporation. Blackwater is the company of private mercenaries hired to help occupy Iraq, Afghanistan and even post-Katrina New Orleans. Famous for rolling through Baghdad in black SUVs, rock music blaring and making far more money than US soldiers, they are an outsourced army, unaccountable to the government and inciting resentment and anti-Americanism wherever they are stationed. Since 2000, Blackwater has received nearly $1.25 billion in federal contracts, of which $144 million came in small-business set-aside contracts. This isn't a vast right-wing conspiracy: it has been an openly incestuous and highly beneficial coupling between the DeVos/Prince clan and the Republican Party.

None of this would matter to sports fans if the DeVos family kept its politics out of the Orlando Magic or if it didn't rely on public funds for the team. Neither is the case. At Amway Arena, the DeVos hold Faith & Family Nights, multiple home-school nights and other events replete with Christian rock and player testimonials. DeVos's use of the team for his own profile and profit has spurred protests in Orlando. To get people to protest in Orlando, you have to know you're doing something wrong. Outside Amway Arena, there have been demonstrations to raise awareness among fans of DeVos's contribution of $100,000 to Florida4Marriage, a group that supports Amendment 2, which would add Florida's existing ban on gay marriage to the state Constitution. Protesters believe the amendment could halt all domestic-partnership benefits for even straight unmarried couples. "He's the biggest contributor to the amendment from Orlando," protest organizer Jennifer Foster told the Orlando Sentinel. "And he's getting $1 billion in taxpayers' money to build the arena. That sends a bad message."

It's more than a bad message. The DeVos model is organized theft of public funds that then turns arenas into slush funds for radical right politics. As Foster mentioned, ground has now been broken for a $1.1 billion Orlando mega-entertainment complex, the center of which would be a $480 million new arena. DeVos and his people have publicly boasted about how much they are donating to the project. But as Neil deMause, co-author of Field of Schemes wrote, "The actual Magic contribution toward the $480 million price tag, then, is probably somewhere around $70 million."

It's a frighteningly effective political money-laundering scheme: our tax dollars are being funneled through a stadium and into the pockets of the DeVos family, where they are then spit out into think tanks, activist organizations and political efforts that most Americans would find noxious. For these reasons, I will do my political duty and root for the Lakers to win it all. We should all want to kick back, enjoy this series and keep politics and sports separate. Unfortunately, Dick DeVos won't let us.

21 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Disney offshoot

Isn't the Magic just an unofficial wing of the Disney Kingdom? No wonder the right-wing shadow exists with the owner...

"our traditional, Judeo-Christian, Western culture"...?

Totally agree that DeVos' social and political contributions are anti-freedom, but it is difficult for me to argue against what his Free Congress Foundation means by: "return[ing America] to the culture that made it great, our traditional, Judeo-Christian, Western culture."

So what overriding culture should the United States of America adopt? The supranational atheism of the European Union? The Islamic fundamentalism of the Arabian Peninsula? The religion-baiting autocracies of communist North Korea and Cuba?

To be against something you have to be for something or you're just a whiner. So, if one is against a "Judeo-Christian, Western culture" what would one be for? I just don't see anything inherently evil in this statement if all it does is grant value to the achievements arising from those of Judeo-Christian backgrounds. Of which there are a few.

Its Exclusive

The only problem with the use of the term Judeo-Christian, as in Judeo-Christian Tradition, is that it is fairly random, recent, and exclusive. Throughout most of its history, Christianity (as a human institution) has posed itself as in opposition to both Judaism and Islam. Nobody was talking about Judeo-Christian Tradition when the Crusaders were slaughtering Jews and Muslims alike both of whom were enemies of God, as they saw it. Of course not during World War II, either. So being that there are three main monotheistic faiths and that Islam shares the same Judaic roots as Christianity, (as well as counting Christianity in its roots), shouldnt it be Judeo-Christian-Islamic Tradition? (or Abrahamic Faiths for short). Peace out!

Good point Ashley

I also think Abrahamic Faiths are too exclusive and misleading, since Jews were not really involved in the conquest of the New World (since they were kicked out of Spain, Portugal and England beforehand). And regardless of what Obama says, neither was Islam, save for the Barbary Wars that helped burnish the rep of the Marines, and not much else.

If Free Congress Foundation wanted to be truly honest, they should say the Christian-West African tribal tradition, since black slaves, who were not previously Christian back in their homelands, helped build the United States.

One could also say Native-American-Christian-Tribal-West-African, although I am not sure the original inhabitants of North America would care to be looped in with building anything to do with the founding of USA.

What I am trying to get at, though, is the notion of some among the left that "Western" culture is inherently bad. Really, only Native Americans and pre-emancipation blacks should feel this way. Everyone else should be grateful we are not back in the Old countries getting killed by war or plague. I know I am.

How many....

....pre-emancipation blacks do you know jskillz?

Not any, FreedomNow

...But I was making a rhetorical point. However, if you want a personal perspective, in my work and educational milieu I have befriended and continue to interact daily with Blacks (most of 1st/2nd generation African and West Indian descent to be explicit), who see the North America of 2009 as a land of opportunity, regardless of it's "Judeo-Christian" origins, and have succeeded within that framework.

But you tell me "FreedomNow", what freedom are you lacking in today's pluralistic society? To tie back to the article, has Richard DeVos prevented you from having an abortion? If all he has done is wasted your taxpayer dollars on selfish projects to benefit himself and his associates, welcome to the club, I don't like it either.

It sometimes seems to me that Left-wingers like Dave Z feel Right-wingers do not have a right to assembly or should not have the opportunity to lobby the government to do their bidding. One could argue George Soros, Arianna Huffington and Oprah use their billions to do the exact same from the Left, and now Barack Obama is in power. But since they do not own sports franchises, a Rush Limbaugh-edition of edgeofsports.com has nothing to write about.

One more thing, Philip Anschutz, who actually owns the Staples Centre (as opposed to Buss, who is really a small player in comparison), also supports Christian and Conservative causes. So "cheering" for the Lakers over the Magic is, in fact, a false dichotomy.

Anyway, I do not want to hijack this thread so I will wait till Dave's next interesting article.

Lakers?

I haven't cheered the Lakers since they left the land of lakes. That even included the time that the Magic was forefront. But, then again, he & his old foe, Larry Bird, were at it again & I thought it was Bird's time. Jerry Buss would have to cure AIDS before I root for that lot.

Wow, Jskillz...

You've befriended blacks and you interact with blacks on a daily basis - how evolved you are! Do you break bread with "them" as well? Know any doctors who are black? When did you stop using the endearing term "colored?"

And "land of opportunity" - that was very cute, very quaint in a jingoistic simpleton kind of way. Still pounding your chest over Manifest Destiny?

Hey Steve

I was looking for your argument as to why jskillz was so wrong, but all I saw were personal attacks. Did I miss part of your post?

Thought Police?

My personal attacks, Junior, would be much funnier and stinging than that - my post was simply commentary on his (yours?) ludicrous discourse on "blacks," "left-wingers," "right-wingers," religious gibberish, etc.

DeVos

What an informative article! I was thrilled to read all the wonderful information regarding DeVos (being a Christian and all....=)

Right...Kill the babies, but save the whales....lol
I hope there is an equally friendly and infomative article about Planned Parrenthood and the informative things they "do"; It's too bad you can't see and grasp and enjoy the positive things that people can do in life but leaving the informative, you can only trash them by saying derrogitory things. Spare me. I enjoyed the vast informative article but am the less richer because of your bashing words that I could have certainly done without. Good grief.
Palm Springs, CA.

The right criteria for fans?

Dave,

You are a beacon of hope to lefty sports fans, and your columns are always provocative, funny, and insightful. However, I was disappointed with your piece on the the NBA Finals. Sure, DeVos is scum, but Lakers Owner Jerry Buss donated almost $30,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2008. This doesn't place him anywhere near the level of DeVos in terms of providing funding for insane wing-nuts on the right, but it does, I think, render your methodology for determining who to root for a bit problematic. What about the Magic players, who are under contractual obligation to play for the team? I doubt that Hedo or Dwight Howard are any more right-wing than Derek Fisher or Kobe. (Full disclosure: I'm a die-hard Celtics fan, but the historically racist Celtic ownership--to say nothing of the less-than-admirable racial attitudes of the Beantown faithful--is a legacy I stand far apart from.)

Rush Limbaugh

The significant problems with jskilz message speak for themselves. I do have to offer the sharpest possible disagreement with one comment he made...the idea that Dave's column compares in any way whatsoever to Rush Limbaugh's bigoted hate radio. Dave's raising progressive ideas out of concern for justice and equality. Rush's ideas are borne from selfishness and hate. Rush's message is consistant--hate those who disagree with you, they're just evil, just unAmerican.
Dave actually criticizes people with a REASON, and puts in the context of facts and reasons they're a problem, not just "God I hate those white people, God I hate those Christians,"

Dave's also not attempting to silence his opponents with absurd lie-filled attacks on the idea of Fairness Doctrine, which would do nothing but give both sides a chance at the publically owned airwaves.

why's it always A or B?

A. Kimbler,

There are plenty of children on earth. Whales? Not so much.

In the words of The Onion, "F--K the Children."

Thanks Dave

Glad to hear I'm not the only one who retched at the mention of "Amway Arena" during the finals. I can't stand the Lakers and Kobe's ridiculous "I'm so angry" face. But Devos funds the weirdest fascist groups we have out here today, much like the Texas oilmen did 50 years ago. Thanks for pointing it out Dave.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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