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Michigan

In wealth, DeVos runs in 1st place

He'd make a rich governor

April 1, 2006

BY DAWSON BELL

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

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Dick DeVos said he revealed his holdings, which is not required by law, because voters have the right to know about them.

Related links:

Deep-pocket politics

  • A few wealthy politicians and what they spent to win (or lose):


    National winners


    Michael Bloomberg, Republican: New York City mayor (two campaigns), $130 million


    Jon Corzine, Democrat: New Jersey governor and U.S. senator, $100 million


    National losers


    Tom Golisano, Democrat: New York governor, $73.9 million


    Michael Huffington, Republican: California U.S. senator, $28 million


    Michigan losers


    Dick Chrysler, Republican: governor (1986), $3.3 million


    Geoffrey Fieger, Democrat: governor (1998), $5.5 million

Dick DeVos, the Grand Rapids businessman and Republican candidate for governor who is believed to be the wealthiest candidate to seek statewide office in modern Michigan history, disclosed a list of his holdings and ownership interests Friday.

The list is long and varied -- a stake in the Orlando Magic basketball team, an interest in a resort under development in the Bahamas and ownership of four homes plus a vacation home he shares in Snowmass, Colo. -- and confirms what was well known:

DeVos is immensely rich.

His personal fortune, especially the portion of it he is willing to spend on the race for governor, has the potential to become controversial.

Estimates of DeVos' net worth start in the $500-million range, but no public figure is available. His father, cofounder of Amway Corp. in Ada, has an estimated net worth of $3 billion, according to Forbes Magazine's list of America's richest people, released in February. Dick DeVos took over as chairman of the company, now called Alticor, after his father's retirement. He left the company in 2004.

His latest disclosure does not include a calculation of his net worth or copies of recent tax returns.

Dennis Cawthorne, an expert on Michigan political history, said DeVos is almost without question the richest man to run for office in the state in the last century. The only other candidate who was routinely referred to as a millionaire in recent times was the late Gov. G. Mennen (Soapy) Williams, who was elected governor in 1948 and served six terms. But his wealth was likely "pretty modest," Cawthorne said, compared with DeVos' wealth.

Cawthorne also said the attacks on DeVos' wealth may be wasted. It can cut both ways, he said.

"Some people may view him as out of touch. But others see such a person and think, 'At least he's not susceptible to corruption.' "

DeVos said he made the revelation, which is not required by law, because voters have the right to "complete transparency" about potential conflicts from someone seeking to become the chief executive.

He said the only potential conflict came from his part ownership in the Amway Grand Hotel in Grand Rapids, which state government uses for some conferences. In a telephone interview Friday afternoon, DeVos said his holdings are mostly noncontroversial, "plain vanilla businesses."

A spokesman for Gov. Jennifer Granholm's re-election campaign immediately denounced Friday's disclosure as inadequate. "DeVos' arrogant refusal to open his tax return to public inspection, the way Gov. Granholm and every other recent candidate has done, makes it clear that he is hiding something," said spokesman Chris DeWitt.

DeVos' spokesman John Truscott called that allegation "ludicrous." The documents released by the DeVos campaign were certified by accountants and reviewed by a law firm, he said. Truscott said the tax returns were withheld because DeVos' financial affairs are intertwined with business associates and family whose privacy would be compromised by their disclosure.

DeVos said he regarded the list of companies, real estate and other ventures as a more complete picture of a candidate's financial interests than a tax return. He said he hoped Granholm would make a similar disclosure. To which DeWitt responded, "We'll consider it."

Democrats, including the party chairman and Granholm's campaign director, have increasingly highlighted DeVos' personal wealth as a sign that he is out of touch with ordinary voters and a warning -- often coupled with a plea for campaign contributions -- that he will try to buy the election.

DeVos said Friday he finds that rhetoric disheartening.

Democrats didn't have a problem with the fortunes of presidential candidate John Kerry or New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, he said.

"Since when has personal success been a disqualification for office?"

Rich Robinson, director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which monitors money in politics, said his general rule is: The "more that gets disclosed the better." But Robinson said he understood why someone in DeVos' financial position might be reluctant to release complete returns.

Contact DAWSON BELL at 313-222-6604 or dbell@freepress.com.