Detroit lawsuit stops just short of accusing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of bribery
A new lawsuit all but accuses U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of bribery for her role in influencing Detroit schools legislation last year.
The suit, filed this month by the former Detroit school board and Detroit parents, seeks potentially millions of dollars from the billionaire Michigan philanthropist, asserting that she used campaign contributions to kill a controversial education commission.
“I am not accusing her of bribery,” said lawyer Tom Bleakley, who this month filed the suit in Detroit’s Wayne County Circuit Court. “What I do in all fairness is I set out what she has done and then I give the definition of bribery in the state of Michigan and I contend that it’s up to a jury to draw any reasonable inferences.”
The suit refers to the fierce political battle in Lansing last year over a package of bills that were designed to keep the Detroit Public Schools out of bankruptcy.
Early drafts of the bills would have created a Detroit Education Commission that would have had influence over the opening and closing of district and charter schools in the city.
The commission had broad support from community leaders in Detroit but was strongly opposed by DeVos and some charter school advocates, who feared the commission would favor traditional district schools over charters.
The DeVos-founded Great Lakes Education Project, a political organization, worked aggressively to block the commission.
In the weeks after lawmakers removed the commission from the final bills, the DeVos family poured $1.45 million dollars into the campaign coffers of Republican lawmakers who took her side in the fight — contributions that amounted to $25,000 a day for seven weeks.
“It’s up to a jury to draw any reasonable inference from the amounts as well as the timing of the money and whether it influenced any state officials,” Bleakley said.