Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on June 5, 2018. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last year acquired a stake worth at least one million dollars in a high-tech optics company that makes parts for military-grade rifles and other weapons, according to a recent disclosure filing.
The disclosure form says that on December 1, 2017, DeVos acquired a stake in EXC Holdings, owner of Excelitas Technologies. In 2013, Excelitas purchased Qioptiq, which makes weapons sights for military-grade small arms.
According to the Qioptiq website, “Qioptiq offers some of the world’s leading night vision and thermal weapon aiming and target acquisition sights for a wide variety of platforms, including individual assault weapons.”
In June 2016, Qioptiq won a contract to supply Australia’s military with its line of “KITE In-Line Weapons Sights,” for the Austeyr F88 rifle. Qioptiq says the device makes it “possible to see a person at distances beyond 1,000m [meters] in night time conditions.” Neither Qioptiq nor Excelitas appear to sell weapon accessories to the general public.
DeVos acquired her stake in Excelitas through her pre-existing interest in AEA Investors, a private financial firm that says on its website, “AEA’s individual investors—known as Participants—include more than 75 of the world’s leading industrial families, business executives, and former government leaders.” Her purchase technically constitutes a “beneficial interest,” meaning she receives the benefits of ownership, despite actual ownership residing with a third party, in this case AEA.
AEA’s purchase of Excelitas was announced by the tech company in a December 4 press release, which described the company’s markets as ranging from biomedical technology to “safety and security.”
It’s not clear whether DeVos had any role in AEA’s purchase of Excelitas. In addition to AEA describing its investors as “participants,” AEA in January sold a minority share in its management company to RDV, the company that manages the DeVos family wealth. DeVos’s husband Richard DeVos chairs RDV’s board of directors.
In January of last year, DeVos submitted a letter to ethics officials saying she would divest her interests in 102 separate funds, holding companies, and other entities. The list included four AEA funds, but not AEA Europe Fund II, the fund that purchased Excelitas.
Secretary DeVos is currently chairing the Federal Commission on School Safety, tasked with making recommendations about how to protect children at school. On Tuesday, DeVos testified before the Senate about gun violence, but when asked whether 18-year-olds should be able to buy AR-15s, said the commission’s “focus is on raising up successful proven techniques and approaches to ensuring schools are safe for students to attend.”
An Education Department spokesperson later told Huffington Post that the commission will, in fact, make recommendations on the issue. TYT emailed the department regarding DeVos’s holdings in Excelitas, but a spokesperson said the press secretary was unable to respond prior to press time. This story will be updated in the event of a response.
Jonathan Larsen is managing editor of The Young Turks.