A Companion Piece to The Long Con Podcast Episodes 6 & 7
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NOTICE: The Long Con Pod has no official connection to the Policy Circle or its agents. This page has not been authorized by the organization, and the views contained herein are solely those of The Long Con. We believe all information to be true and accurate based on independent research. Our two episodes on the Policy Circle can be found here:
The Policy Circle was founded by Sylvie Legere in Wilmette, IL, which lies just north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. Ms. Legere's husband is Todd Ricketts. He and his billionaire siblings own the Chicago Cubs. Currently Mr. Ricketts also serves as the RNC Finance Chair, which makes him the chief fundraiser for the Trump 2020 campaign. Yet his wife operates a charity (under her maiden name) that claims to be "non-partisan". And is spending a LOT of tax-deductible money in the process.
The group has expanded rapidly from its original Circle in Wilmette to more than 325 discussion circles in 40 states and 4 countries. This explosive growth can be attributed to a number of factors, including the massive increase in spending, which rose from $285,586 in 2015 to $694,464 in 2018. Charity Navigator lists total revenues of $867,782 and gives the charity a perfect rating, based exclusively on its "Finance and Accountability" score. The biggest factor impacting this rating? 3 out of 3 board members "identified as independent".
Sylvie and Todd. Todd and Trump.
Many experts cite Trump's falling support among educated, suburban women as a key challenge of the 2020 election. But the GOP has been losing the female vote for years. Heather Higgins, a major GOP strategic operative, issued this stark warning to wealthy donors at the far-right David Horowitz Freedom Foundation in 2015:
"For the men in the audience who think that the last thing they want to do is support a women's group, understand that If you have any interest in winning elections, you have to think of this as a market segmentation issue, and you can’t leave out that part of the market if you want to win."
Heather Higgins of Independent Women's Forum saying the quiet part out loud.
But she didn't stop there.
"Being branded as neutral, but actually having the people who know, know you’re actually conservative puts us in a unique position. Our value here-- and what is needed in the Republican conservative arsenal-- is a group that can talk to those cohorts [independent women] that would not otherwise listen, but can do it in a way that is taking a conservative message and packaging it in a way that will be acceptable and will get a hearing.”
Higgins' organization is another 501c3 women's group that claims to be non-partisan while pushing a far-right conservative agenda. It was originally founded as Women for Judge Thomas, and created specifically to attack Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.
In 2016 they issued "Working For Young Women: A Modern Agenda for Improving Millennial Women’s Lives". This "independent" report uses a veneer of feminism to push the political policies of the far right. Among the report's published sponsors are listed Sylvie Legere and Kathy Hubbard of The Policy Circle.
Describing itself as being "like a book club for policy issues", the Policy Circle brings together women in communities and corporate enterprises for structured discussions of Policy Briefs it disseminates. They partner & collaborate with extremely conservative and libertarian think-tanks to author and curate these briefs.
Contributors, advisers and special guests come from other "non-partisan" charitable institutions such as Freedomworks, AEI, The Heritage Foundation, State Policy Network, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Charles Koch's Institute for Humane Studies and the anti-climate science Heartland Institute.
All of these associated groups promote an extreme version of "free market economics", the neoliberal economic theory espoused by economists Milton Friedman and James M. Buchanan. This philosophy flatly rejects the presence of systemic racism in America, and advocates for the privatization of all government services and the elimination of taxes for anything other than police or military spending.
If THIS is "non-partisan", I'd sure hate to see the partisan reading list.
Ms. Legere founded her original women's discussion group, the Rose Friedman Society, with conservative writer and activist Beth Feeley. Not long after, Ms. Legere met Angela Braly and Kathy Hubbard at an American Enterprise Institute event in Indianapolis. The three of them went on to co-found The Policy Circle in 2015. Ms. Braly is the former CEO of Wellpoint (now Anthem), while Ms. Hubbard is involved with various non-profits and serves on the board of the American Federation for Children, founded by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which lobbies for school vouchers in public schools.
And remember; 3 out of 3 of these women "identified as independent".
FAMILY ETHICS ISSUES:
In addition to having the Policy Circle in common, Legere and Hubbard are both married to men initially nominated to serve in the the Trump administration. Both men withdrew from consideration, however, after being unable to win approval from the United States Office of Government Ethics (OGE), which expressed concerns over potential conflicts of interest based on their extensive financial holdings.
Mr. Ricketts could not get clearance from OGE to serve as Deputy Commerce Secretary, while Mr. Hubbard could not resolve his finances satisfactorily to serve as Deputy Education Secretary under Ms. DeVos.
As Deputy Chief-of-Staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, Mr. Hubbard served as the Director of Quayle's controversial and clandestine Council on Competitiveness. The Council faced intense criticism and congressional investigations for meeting in secret with big Republican campaign donors to discuss easing regulations on their businesses. Hubbard was forced to resign when it was revealed he was secretly working to roll back environmental regulations that would directly benefit a chemical company he owned.
Flashback: Long Con goin' on, 1991.
PROPERTY TAX CONTROVERSY:
Despite being members of one of America's wealthiest and most prominent conservative families, Sylvie & Todd underpaid the property tax bill on their home in Wilmette for nearly a decade. This was uncovered by the Chicago Tribune, and led to Todd immediately paying back only three years' worth of tax shortfall, the minimum amount due according to Illinois law. Despite his signature being present on the inaccurate tax filings, Ricketts denied wrongdoing and never faced criminal charges. All of this was uncovered during his current tenure as Republican Finance Chair. Before taking on his role as Trump's chief fundraiser, Todd Ricketts ran the family's super PAC, Ending Spending.
Maybe Todd just didn't realize his house had been torn down and rebuilt. He's a busy guy!
POTENTIAL TAX STATUS VIOLATIONS:
The Policy Circle is classified as a 501(c)3 charitable organization. The benefits of filing as a 501c3 are two-fold: donor identities can be protected and there are massive tax write-offs for wealthy donors who fund them.
In its most recent available IRS tax filing, the Policy Circle claims it "provides a fact-based, nonpartisan framework that inspires women to connect, learn about, and discuss public policies that impact their lives and entrepreneurial values in an open economy."
Oops! That's a blatant violation of the law.
The IRS requires that in order to be tax-exempt a 501(c)3 "may not be an action organization, i.e. ,it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates. Organizations described in section 501(c)(3) are commonly referred to as charitable organizations."
In fact, the genesis of the Long Con project stems directly from, among other things, Ms. Legere's personal Circle engaging in local politics, in clear violation of its charitable status. This exposed what I believe to be the single biggest threat to representative democracy today: the weaponization of charitable giving to support hyper-partisan political agendas.
THIS is what "democracy" looks like.
CONTROVERSIES OVER RACISM:
The Policy Circle takes "no position on social issues" but has served as a launching pad for members to engage aggressively in the current conservative pushback against all discussions of systemic racism. Shortly after the Trump election, Policy Circle members led the charge against a prominent high school's programming on racial civil rights-- turning the day into a national controversy.
Sylvie Legere stayed out of the spotlight on that issue, but earlier this year accused the program (which included National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead, among others) of "propelling a victimhood mentality" for blacks. In the same interview Legere hailed the formation of the controversial 1776 Unites Project-- a formal response and rejection of the New York Times' 1619 Project-- citing it as one of the clearest examples of how the Policy Circle develops and inspires women to get involved in important issues. The full interview can be heard here, starting around the 37:00 mark.
The Policy Circle also hosted controversial author Charles Murray, author of the "The Bell Curve", as a speaker at one of its formal events.
We all have minds of our own. That's why we're all wearing this t-shirt!
TO RECRUIT AND RADICALIZE:
The Policy Circle has a detailed method for recruiting and grooming "Circle Leaders" to begin new groups. While they state that each group is autonomous in terms of what they study, all of the "learning" is derived from the Policy Briefs created and disseminated by the group. The Policy Circle is an Associate Member of the State Policy Network, a group of 501c3 charities and think-tanks that share billionaire donors and far-right, libertarian views. SPN is what we refer to as being the spine of the Policy Combine, the national apparatus at the heart of the Long Con. This vast network uses the psychological tools employed by con artists to lure new members into its ranks, and to build support for its agenda among conservative voters.
'Cause, hey?! What woman doesn't want to be told exactly what to think?
This video (produced by The Policy Circle) shows how the group is infiltrating corporate America. Circles are being formed on corporate campuses for young women beginning their careers to "connect" with older women-- potentially their direct supervisors-- who can help shape and guide their policy views to "develop them into civic leaders". The group also targets stay-at-home moms with college degrees, and draws them into activity and involvement with local government, in order to influence things like public education. This somewhat-creepy video from the PC website outlines the process. Members are required to sign extensive legal agreements in order to join the group, and must agree to arbitration as the method for resolving any disputes that might occur.
You know, just like in a book club.
Uhhh... can I have another glass of wine, first?
I know this sounds pretty crazy... but please listen to the podcast episodes. Because you have no idea. Seriously.
If you are a journalist, please email email@example.com for more information. There is a shit-ton of it.
DISCLAIMER: In addition to being a normal dad who just got sucked into conflict with this terrifying vortex of billionaire-funded dark money forces out to destroy representative democracy, I'm also just a nutty, goofy dude whose writings (especially in this post!!) should be taken purely as personal opinions meant for entertainment value... especially if you are an attorney working for the Ricketts family, The Policy Circle or any of the other hundreds and hundreds of dark and destructive tentacles that make up the Policy Combine.