When new House members are sworn into office, they are allowed to invite two people to witness their oath. Most pick family or friends. Not surprisingly, Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) brought her husband, Ed, to the January 1995 proceedings. She also scraped together seats from other House members so she could include Billy Florence, his wife, and their three children. Afterward, Myrick and the Florences posed for pictures with Speaker Newt Gingrich. Florence had sponsored Myrick when she joined Amway, the controversial direct-sales giant -- and the company most responsible for her election.
According to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records, Amway and its sales force may have contributed nearly half of Myrick's total campaign fund of $669,525. But that's just a drop in the bucket for Amway, the country's number one corporate donor. Just a month before the November 1994 elections, it gave the biggest corporate contribution ever recorded to a political party for a single election: $2.5 million to the GOP. Amway's Republican ties have strengthened in 1996. On July 18, Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, a longtime GOP benefactor, was honored at a $3 million fundraiser for the Republican Party, where keynote speaker Bob Dole paid tribute to him. A week later, it was reported that Amway had donated $1.3 million to the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, to pay for Republican "infomercials" airing on Pat Robertson's Family Channel during the party's August convention. (The Democratic Party plans to file suit with the FEC, charging that it is an illegal contribution.)
Amway relies heavily on the nearly fanatical -- some say cultlike -- devotion of its more than 500,000 U.S. "independent distributors." As they sell the company's soaps, vitamins, detergents, and other household products, the distributors push the Amway philosophy. "They tell you to always vote conservative no matter what. They say liberals support the homosexuals and let women get out of their place," says Karen Jones, a former distributor in Myrick's hometown of Charlotte, N.C. "They say we need to get things back to the way it's supposed to be."
In another possible violation of federal election laws, Amway leaders use voice-mail messages, along with company rallies and motivational tapes, to mobilize distributors into a potent domestic political force. And if the company continues to expand into overseas markets, Amway may put the Christian missionary movement to shame.