Jay Van Andel Dies at Age 80: A Critical Look at the Philanthropy of Van Andel and Devos

While the media has touted Jay Van Andel’s philanthropy, he and Amway co-founder Richard DeVos have used their fortunes to promote their own far right political agendas.


According to the latest Forbes list of the worlds billionaires, the late Jay Van Andel was worth 2.3 billion dollars while his business partner Rich DeVos is worth 2.4 billion. Yesterday, Media Mouse looked at how these two men accumulated their vast fortune. Today we will look at how they have used their fortunes to promote their own far right political agendas. Here is a list of some of the more prominent organizations that have received money form Van Andel and DeVos

(The following information reprinted, edited and updated from the article “Giving till it Hurts others: Another look at Rich and Jays Benevolence” Vol. 7 #3 of The Fundamentalist, Summer 1998 issue.)

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

The DeVos Foundation has given this Florida based church nearly fourteen million dollars from 1991 to 1998, and a further five billion from 1998 to 2002. Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is a “mega church” and seminary headed by pastor James Kennedy. Kennedy was an original board member of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority organization, a group that is anti-gay, promotes patriarchal gender relationships and also is an unequivocal supporter of the policies of the state of Israel. Kennedy has also served as a spokesperson for the Promise Keepers and been a board member of the Coalition for Religious Freedom, a front group for the pseudo-fascist Rev. Moon.

More disturbing is the Reconstructionist theology that Kennedy and the Amway co-founders endorse. This type of theology believes that civil law should be replaced by Christian biblical law. According to author Fred Clarkson, Kennedy said that “Nobody has the right to worship on this planet any other God than Jehovah. And therefore the state does not have the responsibility to defend anybody’s pseudo right to worship an idol.” (Eternal Hostility, Clarkson 1997)

Kennedy, who also hosts a national conference called Reclaiming America for Christ, has a weekly TV Program that airs on 550 stations, three cable networks, and three satellite networks. Truths That Transform, Dr. Kennedy’s daily half-hour radio program, airs on over 500 outlets across America. The Kennedy commentary, a daily three-minute radio feature, is heard on over 300 facilities. In 1995, CRM launched the D. James Kennedy Center For Christian Statesmanship in Washington, D.C., in an effort to lobby Capitol Hill. The Center conducts weekly Bible studies for Capitol Hill staff, “Evangelism Explosion” training and an annual “Christian Statesman of the Year” banquet.

Michigan Family Forum

Closer to home the Michigan Family Forum (MFF) promotes hatred towards gays and lesbians, has close ties to former governor John Engler, and has been actively creating political action committees in churches across the state.

In his book The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, author Russ Bellant states that the MFF works closely with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family to organize Community Impact Committees. Standard reading material for these groups have included works such as Randall Terry’s Operation Rescue, a fanatically anti-choice text and Fr. Enrique Rueda’s Gay’s, Aids and You, which teaches hate toward gays and lesbians. Another author recommended is Paul de Parris whose name appeared on a letter endorsing the murder of Dr. David Gunn by anti-abortionist Paul Hill. Former Senior Vice President of “Focus on the Family”, Gil Alexander-Moegerle wrote a book about Dobson in which he describes Dobson as “a creature of inner rage, intense racism, sexism, and homophobia .”

MMF supported the recently passed Proposition 2, misleadingly called the “gay marriage amendment.” MMF also has pushed for a state “marriage preservation” bill as well as abstinence promotion in place of sex education.

The Heritage Foundation

A major recipient of both the DeVos and Van Andel Foundations, the Heritage Foundation is the most active right-wing think tank in the US. Founded in 1973 by beer baron Joe Coors (a close friend of DeVos) this organization has promoted White superiority and a contempt for the poor. From 1973 – 1982 the Chairman of the board for Heritage was former congressman Ben Blackburn, who once said “voting is not an inherent right but a privilege that should be qualified by some sort of literacy test.” In testimony before a House committee Blackburn advocated for publicly hanging housing tenants who fell behind in their rent payment.

Most notable has been the Heritage Foundation’s promotion of conservative economic programs. They wrote the incoming Reagan administrations policy guide Mandate for Change that advocated the elimination of Food Stamps, Medicare, child nutritional assistance, farm assistance, legal services for the poor, and the repeal of a $1,000 tax exemption for the elderly. Heritage’s current director is Ed Feulner. Feulner has been a member of numerous organizations that have promoted various dictators throughout the world. He is a member of the World Anti-communist league (WACL), which has ties to death squads in Latin America, and the Free Congress Foundation, another recipient of DeVos money.

Free Congress Foundation, Council for National Policy, and the Conservative Caucus

These three organizations have missions and board members that overlap. Richard DeVos even served as a board member of the Council for National Policy (CNP) at one time. All three groups have supported US foriegn policies that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. The Free Congress Foundation (FCF) actively supported the Contra terrorist forces in the 1980’s in Central America, Chilean dictator Pinochet, and Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, all of which committed massive atrocities against civilians in the 1980’s. According to author Russ Bellant, FCF’s Paul Weyrich has also involved the organization in the WACL, CIA covert actions, and support for Eastern European Nazi collaborators.

The Council on National Policy is an organization made up of people like former drug and gun runner Oliver North and R.J. Rushdoony, a Christian Reconstructionist who believes that children should be given the death penalty for disobeying their parents. This group chastised Reagan in the 80’s for not being supportive enough of the South African apartheid regime. One board member, Don McAlvany, while on a trip to South Africa in 1989 suggested that someone might want to kill Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In the US the CNP promotes the theories of groups like the Pioneer fund that believes that Blacks are genetically inferior to whites.

The Conservative Caucus (CC) is headed by Howard Phillips who has for years maintained close ties to the John Birch Society. The CC has been involved in many of the same causes as the CNP and the FCF, but one country’s politics have been dear to them for years. Angola has been at the center of CC’s foreign policy concerns for years. CC backed the terrorist Jonas Savimbi, former leader of the group UNITA. UNITA has one of the worst human rights records in all of Africa according to both Amnesty International and Africa Watch, and has been a political tool of numerous US administrations from Reagan till today. Phillips and the CC have been lobbying Congress for years in favor of UNITA.

Other noted recipients of the “untold millions” are Hillsdale College whose former president George Roche (forced to resign after being implicated in a sex scandal involving his daughter in law) sat on the advisory board of the US affiliate of the World Anti-Communist League. This educational institution has hosted forums with speakers such as Manuel Ayau, a member of Guatemala’s Amigos del Pais, a group linked to death squads. Hillsdale also houses the late John Bircher Clarence Manion’s tape collection, with lectures by former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. Hillsdale’s magazine Imprimis provides a forum for anti-minority views. In one issue they gave space to the director of English Only (another Rich and Jay recipient), to condemn advocates of cultural diversity and bilingual education. This compliments Van Andel and DeVos foundation money that goes to TEACH Michigan and Mackinac Center, which are militantly anti-public education.


This is only a sampling of the groups that both Van Andel and DeVos have contributed to through their foundations. It should be noted that all of these donations are tax right-offs. That the local press did not present any of this information while spending an exorbitant amount of time praising Van Andel for a lifetime of “philanthropy” is unfortunate but hardly surprising. Nor did the local press blink an eye about the assumption that the fortune that Van Andel “gave away” was his to give. Neither Jay Van Andel nor Dick DeVos became rich solely through their own work, but through the work of thousands who have made and sold Amway/Alticor products.

Hopefully this post will give the reader some sense of where the Amway founders have sent there money and what it supports. In some sense none of this should be surprising, it is what all rich men do. They support projects that maintain and promote their ideological and economic interests. It’s just that they want to create the illusion that they are great “givers” to the community. Unfortunately it is a message the local media are only too willing to comply with.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org