Prince’s politics

A lot of questions are floating around today about Blackwater USA, the hard-charging military contracting outfit charged with, among other things, safeguarding American diplomats in Iraq. One of mine, though, is how this company, which has existed only since 1997 and had pretty limited military contracting experience prior to the Iraq war, managed to leapfrog a number of more established and arguably more experienced contractors.

Maybe it had something to do with the juice Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s extensive GOP political connections brought to the game?

Prince is 37 years old. He founded Blackwater in 1997 after serving as a Navy Seal. He started the company with money he inherited from his father, Edgar Prince, the head of Prince Automotive. The elder Prince and his wife were major Republican and conservative activists and donors. In one noteworthy example, Edgar Prince himself co-founded the Family Research Council with Gary Bauer and apparently provided the key early funding for the group.

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According to Bauer, “I can say without hesitation that, without Ed and Elsa and their wonderful children, there simply would not be a Family Research Council.”

Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, is the former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and her husband is Dick DeVos, failed candidate for governor of Michigan and a scion of the DeVos family, founders of Amway and major funders of Republican and conservative causes.

Amway is privately owned by the DeVos and Van Andel families. And you could say they’re pretty big political givers. According to a 2005 Center for Public Integrity study, Dick & Betsy DeVos were the fifth largest political givers in the country during the 2004 election cycle. Richard DeVos Sr. and his wife (Dick’s parents) were ranked third. And Jay Van Andel (the other owner of Amway) was ranked second.

Let’s just say they give some real money to the Republican Party and its candidates. And of course, there are the DeVos Family Foundations, which fork over a lot of money to conservative causes.

But back to Betsy’s brother Erik Prince, founder and CEO of Blackwater. Back in 1990 Prince interned for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). Blackwater’s lobbyist in D.C. is Paul Behrends, a former Rohrabacher aide whom Prince met when the two worked for the congressman.

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Prince later interned in the George H.W. Bush White House. But after doing so, he and his father broke with Bush and supported the insurgent candidacy of Pat Buchanan.

The then-22-year-old Prince told Michigan’s Grand Rapids Press: “I interned with the Bush administration for six months. I saw a lot of things I didn’t agree with — homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kind of bills. I think the administration has been indifferent to a lot of conservative concerns.”

Today, Prince runs Blackwater, is a major player in GOP politics and serves on the board of Christian Freedom International.

As Prince said in his testimony, he didn’t give up his right to be active in politics when he became a government contractor. So there’s nothing inherently wrong with his pursuing his right-wing political agenda. But when folks start looking into the stratospheric rise of his company in the years since 2003, his political juice is a good place to start.

Marshall is editor of talkingpointsmemo.com.
His column appears in The Hill each week.
E-mail: jmarshall@thehill.com