Blackwater USA founder Erik Prince, a native of West Michigan’s Holland, hails from the politically influential Prince family. For years, the Prince family has been influential in both Michigan politics and national politics by distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to primarily Republican candidates for office. These contributions to candidates come in addition to significant contributions to nonprofit organizations seeking to shape the public policy agenda in Michigan and the United States. While those contributions are not the focus of this article, Prince family foundations including the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation, the Freiheit Foundation, and the Eagle Foundation have disbursed millions of dollars to rightwing organizations.
Over the past several years, Erik Prince’s political contributions have received some degree of scrutiny in the media, although there has been little coverage of these contributions in West Michigan. While Prince lives in Virginia, he has consistently made donations to political candidates and committees in Michigan. Prince has contributed to $2,500 to the campaigns of Pete Hoekstra, the US House Representative from his hometown of Holland. Prince contributed $3,000 to the campaigns of former Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham as well. Prince also contributed $3,400 to the Dick DeVos gubernatorial campaign in 2006. Interestingly, DeVos–who is Prince’s brother-in-law–visited Blackwater’s North Carolina headquarters during his campaign. Prince has also contributed $10,000 to DeVos’ Restoring the American Dream PAC that has funded Republican candidates around the United States. Prince has also made significant contributions to the Republicans on the national level, including a $68,000 contribution to the Republican National State Elections Committee in 2000, $25,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2004, and a recent $20,000 contribution to the National Republican Congressional Committee. According the Center for Responsive Politics, his federal contributions have totaled $226,750 since 1992.
Erik Prince’s political contributions follow in the footsteps of his parents, Edgar and Elsa, who made significant contributions to the Republicans during the past several decades. Before his death in 1995, Edgar Prince gave $25,000 from 1993 to 1994. This includes $6,000 to the Ottawa County Republican Committee, $4,000 to the Kent County Republican Committee, and $1,000 to the Michigan Republican State Committee. Prince also gave $2,000 to former Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham’s campaigns.
Edgar Prince’s widow, Elsa Prince, has continued the family’s legacy of supporting Republican causes. Since 1992, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that Elsa Prince has made $153,493 in political contributions. These include $20,000 in contributions to the Republican Party of Michigan, at least $36,000 to the Ottawa County Republican Committee, and thousands of dollars given to Republican Party committees across the United States. The Restoring the American Dream PAC run by Prince’s son-in-law Dick DeVos received at least $25,000. Prince has supported candidates for federal office from Michigan including Representative Pete Hoekstra ($2,250), former Senator Spencer Abraham ($4,000), and Senate candidate Mike Bouchard ($6,300). At the Michigan level, Prince has supported numerous candidates including gubernatorial candidates Dick DeVos and Dick Posthumus ($3,400 each), Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land ($2,000), and State Senator Bill Hardiman ($1,000). Her current husband, Ren Broekhuizen, has also made $66,972 in contributions to political candidates and parties at the national level since 2001, in addition to $2,800 in contributions to candidates in the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives.
In addition to the contributions of Erik Prince, the Prince family’s other children have also continued the family’s legacy of giving significant amounts of money to Republican politicians. None of the family’s children have been as involved in Republican politics as Betsy DeVos, who has held leadership positions within the Michigan Republican Party. DeVos has been a career activist for much of her life, participating in a number of public policy efforts including the national and Michigan campaigns for school vouchers. DeVos was a 2004 Bush campaign “pioneer”, raising $100,000 for President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign. In 2006, DeVos gave at least $127,196 to her husband’s campaign for governor, while in 2003 she gave $475,000 to the Michigan Republican Party. She has given $25,981 to federal candidates according to the Center for Responsive Politics, including $2,000 to former Senator Spencer Abraham, $4,000 to Representative Vern Ehlers, $1,000 to Tim Walberg, and $36,000 to Joe Knollenberg.
Of her family’s role in funding Republican Party politics, Devos once said:
“[M]y family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican party….I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now, I simply concede the point. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.”
The Prince family’s Emilie Wierda, daughter of Edgar and Elsa and sister of Betsy and Erik, has also made contributions at the state and national levels. At the state level, Wierda has contributed $3,400 for the DeVos for Governor campaign, $1,000 for the Smietanka for Attorney General campaign, $1,000 for the William Van Regenmorter for Senate campaign, and $100 for the Bill Huizenga for State Representative campaign. Since 1992, Wierda has made $32,850 in contributions at the federal level, including $10,000 to Dick DeVos’ Restoring the American Dream PAC, $3,000 to former Senator Spencer Abraham’s campaigns, $1,000 to Mike Bouchard’s campaign for Senate, and $6,000 in contributions to Gary Bauer’s Campaign for Working Families PAC.
The Princes other daughter, Eileen Ellens, has also given to Republican candidates. She has contributed $1,000 to Representative Pete Hoekstra and $1,000 to family friend Gary Bauer’s 2000 presidential bid, as well as $5,000 to the Campaign for Working Families and Restoring the Dream PACs. At the state level, Ellens contributed $3,400 to Dick DeVos 2006 gubernatorial campaign, $1,500 to entities related to Wayne Kuipers Senate campaign, and $500 to Andy Mulder’s judicial campaign.