The Policy Circle

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The Policy Circle is a 501(c)(3) right-wing organization with ties to the Republican Party that describes its mission as bringing "together women in the same community to learn from fact-based research and strengthen their voices in public policy dialogue." The organization provides materials and discussion guidelines for "women in the same community to learn from fact-based research and strengthen their voices in public policy dialogue." The group claims to be "non-political" and "non-partisan" but admits to having a pro-free-market agenda.[1] The idea for The Policy Circle came as a successor to Sylvie Légère's "Rose Friedman Society," named for Rose and Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose.[2] Alongside Angela Braly and Kathryn Hubbard, Légère launched The Policy Circle in 2015. The organization claims to have 355 "circles" in 42 different states as of January 2021. [3]

Meetings are supposed to abide by these "principles": An open economy works, Social issues are not discussed, "Fact-based dialogue," "Learn from each other," "Each of us are agents of change: We seek to increase the number and power of women who support these ideas," and "What is said in a circle stays in a circle: Circle discussions are “Off the Record.”[1]

The Policy Circle is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN) -- a web of right-wing state pressure groups that drive a far right agenda in statehouses nationwide.[4]

News and Controversies

Preparing Voters for the 2020 Election

In preparation for the November 3rd election of 2020, The Policy Circle hosted a webinar in October on "Understanding your Ballot" that reviewed voting resources from Ballotpedia and The Skimm.[5] In response to a question from a circle member about the difference between absentee ballots and mail in ballots, Alison Prange, Vice President of External Relations at Ballotpedia, told viewers that "there's actually no consensus opinion that there is a functional difference between the two, but there are some individual states, Pennsylvania and Missouri, that treat the two differently... but this is an exception, probably more than the norm, and in the broader national discourse that we're witnessing first hand the terms are really used interchangeably and there's really not a distinguishing element in the vast majority of the states."[6]

Fighting Human Trafficking Means a Robust Police Force

As part of their "Move The Needle Virtual Experience" webinar series, in September of 2020, The Policy Circle hosted a webinar on the pervasive dangers of human trafficking. The speakers made it clear that human trafficking is not just an overseas problem and that children are more vulnerable to human trafficking during the pandemic when so much of their activity is online.[7]

As a solution, The Policy Circle emphasized the role of government, the private sector, and individual citizens. Within their solution, the essential force to combat human trafficking was law enforcement. At the beginning of the webinar, cofounder Sylvie Légère tells viewers that "there’s more and more being done and it’s happening in every 50 states and it requires so much coordination. So I think that’s where it’s important to talk about it today, especially I think as we are hearing a lot of conversations and abrupt reallocation or defunding of law enforcement. This is an issue where actually that requires training, it requires data, it requires just a lot."[8] Webinar guest Heather Fischer, Domestic Policy Advisor to President Trump on Human Trafficking, told viewers that "on the tech side, we have been so grateful to the corporate folks who are really helping us uncover incidents of human trafficking or online exploitation. So they have tools and resources that they will pair up with the federal government to help law enforcement do their job better."[9]

Protecting and Funding the Police

In their webinar on "Understanding Law Enforcement", The Policy Circle concludes that policing in America needs to be reformed, requiring more funding so that officers can better do their jobs. [10] Without proper funding for trainings, guest speaker Karen Bartuch tells viewers that the community will pay the price: "it comes down to our job efficacy, how confident do we feel in our ability to do our job? And the reality is, if we don’t have training on the law, if we don’t have training on use of force, if we don’t have training on the weapons and tools available to us, that lowers our confidence and then I feel like that leads to in many cases escalation of situations." [11] Guest speaker Sargent Sofia Rosales-Scantena tells viewers that budget cuts mean training cuts: "where we have had budget kind of stagnation we see a little less in what we would call trainings...those kinds of things seem to be cut pretty quickly, because they can be pricey at times, but well needed in this kind of ever changing environment where, I mean literally legal doctrine changes on a daily basis and we have to keep up. We see what happens when police departments don’t keep up with the legal doctrine so it’s really important that people are staying up to date, they’re always reading, always thinking ahead."[12]

Denouncing Socialism and Attacking Unions

True to their principle that an open economy works, in their webinar "Understanding Socialism", The Policy Circle concludes that although Americans may want the social safety nets found in the social democracies of Scandinavia, they do not want Socialism. As put by guest speaker Ilana Gordon, under Socialism “the system is set up in a way to discourage innovation because you don’t have the market signals, you have central planning, and you don’t have the reward system for trying something new.”[13]

The Policy Circle also took the opportunity to attack unions. In the context of teacher's unions, Sylvie Légère told viewers that “unions really prevent, especially in education, really prevent teachers from innovating, trying new things, and going above and beyond the basic requirements.”[14] Guest speaker Priya Brannick further explained that "when you think of public sector unions, especially when you have ones that cover a large number of teachers or workers, you’re basically thinking one size fits all. Oftentimes it drives up costs, like generally public sector workers earn more on average to comparable workers in the private sectors and that means you know higher taxes generally speaking. But it also means you’re going to go years and years without thinking of innovating... a policy solution might be something like school vouchers or education savings account."[15]

Legitimizing a Funding Freeze to the WHO during COVID-19

In June of 2020, The Policy Circle hosted a webinar titled "U.S. China Relations and Playing the Long [Policy] Game" which criticized China as an authoritarian country that seeks global economic dominance.[16] Within their criticism, guest speaker Heather Nauert told viewers that “China, and I’m not saying this has been the case with the WHO, but we’ve seen China in the past offer countries and individuals bags of money to try to do things, to try to do what it wants to do. They have offered in the past bribes. Now again, I want to be clear I’m not saying that’s what has happened with the WHO here, but all of this needs to be investigated because the WHO was very reluctant very early on to talk about what was happening in Wuhan."[17] Later on in the webinar, in response to a direct question from the audience, Nauert asserts that “I think it’s a good idea what the president’s doing. And I know it sounds really bad to say oh my gosh the United States is going to freeze money or withhold money from the WHO until an investigation is conducted. It sounds bad, you’re not giving money to the World Health Organization, bad America. Well goodness if we’re spending between four and five hundred million dollars annually to an organization that didn’t put out, that didn’t help put out true, honest, factual information about a virus that was spreading in China and throughout the world… well I think it’s important to hold these organizations accountable.[18]

2018 Circle Leadership

On September 6-7, The Policy Circle hosted its 2018 Circle Leadership Summit in Chicago. The speakers were:

  • Mick Mulvaney, at the time Mulvaney was Director of the Office of Management and Budget & Acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection
  • Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, Chair of The Board of Governors of the American Red Cross | Founder and CEO of Pace Communications | U.S. Ambassador to Finland (2001-2003
  • Erin Wolf, Founding Board Member of Suite Track
  • Melanie Sturm, Founder & Principal of Engage To Win
  • Kim Borchers, Director of Executive Leadership Development, Foundation for Government Accountability
  • Antonio Ortiz, President of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School
  • Mario Kratsch, Vice President of GACC Midwest
  • Krissy DeAlejandro Executive Director of tnAchieves
  • Allison Grealis, President of Women in Manufacturing
  • Mark Feinour, Executive Director of the Support Services group at Bank of America
  • Staci Sullivan, President of TD Ameritrade Clearing and Managing Director of Brokerage Operations
  • Jennifer DeJournett, Minnesota Executive Director of American Majority
  • Julianna Zobrist, Singer, Author, Speaker
  • Marie Whitney, Founder & Creative Director of Two Penny Blue
  • Lissa Druss, Senior Consultant, Serafin & Associates
  • John Pearman, Co-Founder and Principal, Delos Communications
  • Lacey Willard, Senior Director and Global Excellence Leader, CBRE
  • Heather Way Kitzes, Manager of Government & Community Relations, Chicago Cubs
  • Helen Lesser, Owner, Mat and Steel
  • Kimberly Grigsby, Chicago Community ToolBank
  • Jaye Maddon, Epic Boxing

Ties to the Republican Party

At the 2018 Circle Leadership Summit in September the keynote speaker is listed as Republican, President Donald Trump appointee Mick Mulvaney who as of December 2018, served as the acting White House Chief of Staff. Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, a Republican who served as U.S. ambassador to Finland, is the other speaker set to appear at the event.[19]

Angela Braly, at a time one of the highest paid female CEO's in the United States,[20] has donated 82 times to Republican causes and candidates[21] including $42,850 in 2016.

Kathryn Hubbard was appointed by President George W. Bush to the J. William Fulbright Board in 2006.[22] She has given 97 donations to Republican causes.[23] Hubbard's husband was the "Assistant to President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council under George W. Bush as well as the Deputy Chief of Staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and executive director of the President’s Council on Competitiveness under the George H. W. Bush administration.

Sylvie Légère is part of the American Enterprise Institute National Council.[24] She is a member of the Ricketts family, "one of the Republican Party's biggest donors."[25] Her brother-in-law, Pete Ricketts, is the Republican Governor of Nebraska.

Advocacy around Janus v. AFSCME

Immediately following the ruling in favor of the Plaintiff in Janus vs AFSCME, The Policy Circle that they were going to host a "Conversation Call will be with Mark Janus" and Patrick Hughes of The Liberty Justice Center. "Participants in this Conversation Call will have a unique opportunity to hear directly from the plaintiff, discuss the implications of the Supreme Court decision and share in a piece of history." [26]

Ties to The State Policy Network

The Policy Circle is an "Associate" member of the State Policy Network. The Policy Circle organizes "policy briefs" into a "curriculum" for their "fact-based dialogue" from "aggregate research from established free-market think tanks who are part of the State Policy Network."[27]

The Policy Circle "collaborate[s] with the following free-market [SPN Memeber] think tanks to share statewide information, statistics and priorities with members:"[27]

Representatives from The Policy Circle attended the 2016 SPN conference and organized a 5k race there.[27]

SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of January 2021, SPN's membership totals 163. Today's SPN is the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party. SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that the revenue of the combined groups was some $80 million, but a 2019 analysis of SPN's main members IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy shows that the combined revenue is over $120 million.[28] Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.[29]

In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "would provide 'the raw materials,' along with the 'services' needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. 'Pick what you need,' she said, 'and customize it for what works best for you.'" Not only that, but Sharp "also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization's often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. 'The grants are driven by donor intent,' she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, 'the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'"[30]

A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.[31]

Funding

The Policy Circle first described their goal as "to be self-sustaining through membership donations." Now, it offers seven levels of investing in it from Policy Circle Membership at $100 to Founders Circle at $25,000.[32]

Donors are not disclosed for The Policy Circle, but a search of IRS 990 filings revealed the following contributions to the Policy Circle:

Core Financials

2019[33]

  • Total Revenue: $1,017,378
  • Total Expenses: $1,058,733
  • Net Assets: $314,789

2018[34]

  • Total Revenue: $867,782
  • Total Expenses: $694,464
  • Net Assets: $356,141

2017[35]

  • Total Revenue: $508,898
  • Total Expenses: $529,625
  • Net Assets: $182,823

2016[36]

  • Total Revenue: $304,884
  • Total Expenses: $359,763
  • Net Assets: $124,653

2015[37]

  • Total Revenue: $465,118
  • Total Expenses: $285,586
  • Net Assets: $179,532

Personnel

As of December 2019:[38]

Staff

  • Janet Burt, Chief Operations Officer
  • Stacy Blakeley, Director of Strategic Partnerships
  • Molly Ervin, Director of Technology
  • Nicoline Cline, Director of Circle Expansion and External Relations
  • Judi Willard, Director Circle Membership
  • Mary Schaper, Director of Communications
  • Corinne Winters, Policy Editor

Board of Directors

  • Angela Braly
  • Sylvie Légère
  • Kathryn Hubbard
  • Laura Cox Kaplan

Contact Information

The Policy Circle
1101 W. Ohio Street,
Suite 1350,
Indianapolis IN 46204
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thepolicycircle
Twitter: https://twitter.com/thepolicycircle

Articles and Resources

IRS Form 990 Filings

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 The Policy Circle Core Principles Organizational Website, Accessed June 2018
  2. The Policy Circle How It Started organizational website, accessed June 2018
  3. The Policy Circle home organizational website, June 2020.
  4. State Policy Network, Directory, organizational website, accessed June 2020
  5. The Policy Circle, The Policy Circle Election Series: Understanding Your Ballot, The Policy Circle, YouTube, October 13, 2020
  6. The Policy Circle, The Policy Circle Election Series: Understanding Your Ballot, The Policy Circle, YouTube, October 13, 2020, Timestamp 34:20-35:08
  7. The Policy Circle, Move The Needle Virtual Experience: Human Trafficking, The Policy Circle, Youtube, September 23, 2020, Timestamp 9:44-10:09
  8. The Policy Circle, Move The Needle Virtual Experience: Human Trafficking, The Policy Circle, Youtube, September 23, 2020, Timestamp 10:59-11:26
  9. The Policy Circle, Move The Needle Virtual Experience: Human Trafficking, The Policy Circle, Youtube, September 23, 2020, Timestamp 31:15-31:36
  10. The Policy Circle, Move The Needle Digital Experience: Understanding Law Enforcement, The Policy Circle, Youtube, October 2, 2020
  11. The Policy Circle, Move The Needle Digital Experience: Understanding Law Enforcement, The Policy Circle, Youtube, October 2, 2020, Timestamp 13:46-14:06
  12. The Policy Circle, Move The Needle Digital Experience: Understanding Law Enforcement, The Policy Circle, Youtube, October 2, 2020, Timestamp 28:49-29:35
  13. The Policy Circle, Move the Needle Virtual Experience: Understanding Socialism, The Policy Circle, YouTube, October 22, 2020, Timestamp 46:26-46:40
  14. The Policy Circle, Move the Needle Virtual Experience: Understanding Socialism, The Policy Circle, YouTube, October 22, 2020, Timestamp 26:10-26:23
  15. The Policy Circle, Move the Needle Virtual Experience: Understanding Socialism, The Policy Circle, YouTube, October 22, 2020, Timestamp 39:11-40:32
  16. The Policy Circle, Move the Needle Virtual Experience: U.S. China Relations and Playing the Long [Policy] Game, The Policy Circle, YouTube, June 26, 2020
  17. The Policy Circle, Move the Needle Virtual Experience: U.S. China Relations and Playing the Long [Policy] Game, The Policy Circle, YouTube, June 26, 2020, Timestamp 20:08-20:38
  18. The Policy Circle, Move the Needle Virtual Experience: U.S. China Relations and Playing the Long [Policy] Game, The Policy Circle, YouTube, June 26, 2020, Timestamp 40:11-41:00
  19. The Policy Circle agenda The Policy Circle, accessed June 2018
  20. Forbes Angela Braly Forbes, accessed June 2018
  21. Open Secrets Angela Braly Donor The Center for Responsive Politics, Accessed June 2018
  22. Depauw University [www.depauw.edu/news-media/la test-news/details/29186/ WITH $5 MILLION GIFT FROM AL & KATHY (’74) HUBBARD, DEPAUW TO CREATE NATIONAL MODEL FOR ADVISING AND CAREER PREPARATION IN THE LIBERAL ARTS] Depauw University, Nov 12, 2012
  23. Open Secrets [https://www.opensecrets.org/search?order=desc&q=Kathryn+Hubbard&sort=A&type=donors Kathryn Hubbard] The Center for Responsive Politics, Accessed June 2018
  24. Concordia Sylvie Legere Concordia organization, accessed June 2018
  25. Jaime Fuller [1] The Washington Post, April 4, 2014
  26. The Policy Circle Join a Policy Circle Conversation Call with Mark Janus, [the plaintiff in the historic Supreme Court case] Blog post, June 27, 2018
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 The Policy Circle 2016 Annual Report promotional document, accessed June 2018
  28. David Armiak, Revenue for State Policy Network and State Affiliates Tops $120 Million, ExposedbyCMD, November 13, 2019.
  29. Rebekah Wilce, Center for Media and Democracy, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
  30. Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
  31. Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
  32. Policy Circle, Invest in the Policy Circle, Policy Circle, accessed June 2020.
  33. The Policy Circle, 2019 IRS Form 990 Policy Circle, June 17, 2020.
  34. The Policy Circle, 2018 IRS Form 990 Policy Circle, 2019.
  35. The Policy Circle, 2017 IRS Form 990 Policy Circle, 2018.
  36. The Policy Circle, 2016 IRS Form 990 Foundation Center, Accessed June 2018.
  37. The Policy Circle 2015 IRS Form 990, Foundation Center Accessed June 2018.
  38. Policy Circle, 2019 Annual Report, Policy Circle, 2019.