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Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Pick, Plays Hardball With Her Wealth

After Tom Casperson, a Republican state senator from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, began running for Congress in 2016, he assumed the family of Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald J. Trump’s nominee to be education secretary, would not oppose him.

The DeVoses, a dominant force in Michigan politics for decades with a fortune in the billions, had contributed to one of Mr. Casperson’s earlier campaigns. But a week before his primary, family members sent $24,000 to one of his opponents, then poured $125,000 into a “super PAC,” Concerned Taxpayers of America, that ran ads attacking him.

The reason, an intermediary told Mr. Casperson: his support from organized labor.

“Deceitful, dishonest and cowardly,” was how Mr. Casperson’s campaign described the ads, complaining that the groups running them “won’t say who they are or where their money is coming from.” On Primary Day, Mr. Casperson went down to defeat.

In announcing his intention to nominate Ms. DeVos, Mr. Trump described her as “a brilliant and passionate education advocate.” Even critics characterized her as a dedicated, if misguided, activist for school reform. But that description understates both the breadth of Ms. DeVos’s political interests and the influence she wields as part of her powerful family. More than anyone else who has joined the incoming Trump administration, she represents the combination of wealth, free-market ideology and political hardball associated with a better-known family of billionaires: Charles and David Koch.