Betsy Devos

Then-U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos speaking during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on March 27, 2020, in Washington, DC.

(Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Conservative Philanthropy's Plan for a Corporate Coup

What if every federal department was run by Betsy DeVos?

Imagine it’s Monday, January 20, 2025, and by the end of the day, somewhere between 50,000 to hundreds of thousands of the 2 million federal government employees are summarily out of a job. A skeleton crew made up of a list of far-right, free-market conservatives excited to carry out an unpopular anti-democratic agenda has replaced them. Their marching orders are to cater to big business and rot every institution established to protect our lives, from education to transportation, from housing to labor to environmental protections to healthcare and more.

This is not a far-fetched dystopian nightmare.

It’s a plan outlined in a more than 800-page document from the conservative Heritage Foundation called Project 2025: Mandate for Leadership.

The Heritage Foundation is compiling and vetting a list of thousands of extremist operatives like DeVos who have little to no experience running programs for the American people, but are eager to wreak similar havoc across our entire government

This supposed “Mandate for Leadership” was drafted in collaboration with more than 50 organizations and 360 so-called “experts” from the conservative movement to promote policies based on free enterprise and limited government. If implemented, the plan would gut the governmental agencies that should be working for the people and replace anyone left standing with corporate shills.

What’s In Store If Heritage DeVos-ifies America

What would the unraveling of these democratic cornerstones look like? Imagine if every department in the U.S. was run by a Betsy DeVos. As a reminder, former President Donald Trump appointed DeVos as the secretary of education despite her having no experience with public education as a student, teacher, or leader. Her sole qualification was loyalty to a free-market agenda and a vision to privatize public schools.

Among the disastrous policies she advanced, DeVos:

  • Proposed a $7B cut to public education with a significant portion of that defunding aid for students with disabilities;
  • Advocated for a voucher program to siphon money out of public schools into private hands; and
  • Proposed increasing guns in schools by using funding intended for student enrichment to purchase weapons for teachers.

The Heritage Foundation is compiling and vetting a list of thousands of extremist operatives like DeVos who have little to no experience running programs for the American people, but are eager to wreak similar havoc across our entire government from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice and more.

Anti-Democratic Philanthropy

Philanthropy isn’t neutral. Organizations like Heritage exemplify how the philanthropic sector is weaponized to rig systems in favor of their donors' quest for political and economic power. Heritage donors receive huge tax breaks on the millions of dollars they give to fund this work. Not only do the American people lose out on those tax dollars that should be funding our schools—among other things—but Heritage is more than happy to conceal those donor identities. I couldn't find their donors online and they don't seem to be in their 990s. Their donors may not want to be publically linked to this anti-democratic plan, but Project 2025 is their path to roll back the remaining safeguards protecting our communities from corporate greed. If they have their way, we can thank the Heritage Foundation’s nameless donors for more toxins in our water, fewer teachers in our schools, and fewer protections for workers.

Public Harms vs. Public Goods

Conservative initiatives like the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 are the antithesis of the vision the Marguerite Casey Foundation (MCF) and our grant partners have for the future. In response to their authoritarian agenda, nonprofits and donors alike should collectively double down to use our resources to resist pressure from those groups that are clearly at odds with the work needed to build a just society.

At MCF, we use our endowment to advance a vision of a government that digs deeper to serve everyday people and prioritizes safeguarding the natural resources, educational institutions, and infrastructure we rely on to live lives of dignity, health, and well-being.

Instead of slashing government jobs or “slitting throats” on day one as one of our government officials so plainly phrased it, the future we’re fighting for is one where well-paid, dignified public jobs help people economically obtain what they need and deserve to live good lives. We know that advancing the unfinished business of racial and economic justice is generations in the making. We’re committed to funding the grassroots organizations building community power to make it possible.

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