GOP sneaks provision into tax bill to benefit one college favored by Republican billionaires

Under the cover of darkness.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Late Friday night, Republicans released a 479-page amendment to their tax bill. Republican leaders are planning to vote on the bill on Friday or early Saturday morning, and it is expected to pass.

Maybe someone should read it first.

Tucked away on page 289 is a provision that would exempt certain colleges from a special tax on university endowments. It would only apply to colleges that: 1. Did not accept federal funds, and 2. Had an endowment of at least $500,000 per student.

There appears to be only one educational institution in the entire country that would benefit: Hillsdale College.

What’s so special about Hillsdale?

The school has deep ties to Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, and her family. The DeVos clan founded Amway, which made them billionaires, and are large Republican donors. The Hillsdale student paper details the connections.

Betsy DeVos’ brother is Erik Prince, a 1992 graduate of Hillsdale College and the founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, now named Academi. In 2009, the DeVos family also founded ArtPrize, an international art competition that featured the work of five art professors and students this year.

Most notably, Richard DeVos, Betsy DeVos’ father-in-law, co-founded Amway with Jay Van Andel. Van Andel’s son, Steve, was a 1978 graduate of Hillsdale and currently serves as the chairman of Amway. In 2013, after he donated to graduate school scholarships and operations, Hillsdale named it’s graduate school of statesmanship in his honor.

Another big supporter of Hillsdale are the Kochs, another family of Republican billionaires.

The provision was supported by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Larry Arnn, Hillsdale’s president, has served on Heritage’s board for 15 years. Hillsdale embraces a far-right ideology and regularly advertises on the Rush Limbaugh show.

Hillsdale College has an endowment of about $548 million, which means under the Senate bill it would not yet have to pay the excise tax regardless because it is less than $500,000 per student. The House version of the bill, however, sets the threshold at $250,000. So the provision provides important protections for Hillsdale as its endowment grows or if the House threshold is adopted in the final bill.

Hillsdale was concerned about the provision and was publicly making the case that it should be exempt because it does not accept federal funds.

Why does Hillsdale reject federal funds? For one thing, it allows them to ignore “federal regulations governing how to respond to sexual assault and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.” (Notably, these are the same kind of regulations Betsy DeVos is seeking to undermine as education secretary.)

The campus chaplain at Hillsdale once sent an all-school email calling for prayer against the “evil” of same-sex marriage. The president of the college, Arnn, referred to minority students as “dark ones” in a state legislative hearing.

The Hillsdale provision was subject to withering criticism from Senate Democrats as the final vote neared on Friday.

“One college, Hillsdale College, has been exempted from taxes on colleges with large endowments. It is supported by the DeVos family. This is a metaphor for how high the stench is rising in this chamber,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said.

UPDATE: This provision was stripped out via a Democratic amendment prior to final passage early Saturday morning.