- Many cities and counties are adopting radical policies that see every aspect of government operations through the “lens” of race.
- A network of George Soros-backed activist groups has worked to push these policies at the most local level of government, where there is little scrutiny.
- The policies are justified by citing research attributed to the University of Southern California, which actually comes from an outfit connected to the activist groups and whose work economists say is junk science.
In cities and counties across America, local politicians have in recent months begun proposing comprehensive race-based policies such as redrawing school boundaries to dismantle schools with too many white or Asian students.
They have pushed for radical changes that have roiled even liberal-leaning constituents. The justification on all of their lips is oddly similar: “Equity.” The same buzzwords appear again and again.
“School board meetings suddenly became like Mad Libs. They started repeating certain phrases, jamming them into every sentence. It was very odd,” Margaret McCreary, a Fairfax County, Virginia, parent who eventually learned that the board members were using the “equity” language to push a proposal that could move her children out of their schools, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“It seemed like they were all in cahoots to do something, but at first we didn’t know what to make of it, because we didn’t know what they were talking about,” she said.
Fairfax was one of multiple local governments to pass sweeping changes requiring every policy to be seen through the “lens” of race. The changes were justified by academic research from the University of Southern California (USC) that was tough for any city or county, rich or poor, to pass up: If they enacted certain policies, they were told, the cities’ economies could gain billions of dollars.
An investigation by the DCNF found that across the country, these changes are being pushed on local governments by a constellation of groups who share the same funders, including George Soros. One of those groups alone is active in 33 cities and counties covering 1 in 10 Americans.
A group tied to USC called the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) functions to create research — at the behest of funders — that promises billions of dollars in economic growth. Another set of groups introduce the research to individual cities and counties, where it is used to justify a mandate to include “equity” in every government policy. The language is often vague and comprised of obscure jargon.
That’s the stage Montgomery County, Maryland, is at now, where an official sympathetic to the movement, Uma Ahluwalia, told The Washington Post: “It’s nice to throw that word, ‘equity,’ around, but what does it mean?”
Next, the government solicits and follows advice from a third set of groups — often affiliated with the others — who decode the mandate for them, proposing sometimes-radical policies they say are required to implement it.
The network of groups share funders and board members and coordinate closely, creating studies and memos that largely consist of circular references to others within their ecosystem.
Little evidence is presented that the actual policy changes will help achieve the promised billion-dollar economic transformation.
Instead, during implementation, the financial rhetoric is swapped out with the justification that the policies are a “best practice.” That means other cities that have previously intersected with the network have done it. In turn, once that city implements the prescribed changes, it is cited as a precedent to the next city where the equity groups are active, and the cycle repeats — even if the desired results never materialize.
Lure them in
Fairfax County, a wealthy District of Columbia suburb in Virginia, was sold on sweeping changes after county employees attended a 2014 conference connected to a group called the Local and Regional Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). There, GARE helped unelected bureaucrats learn to steer the elected politicians they worked for by swapping out “politically difficult” language with the more innocuous-sounding “equity.”
“Collaborating with GARE also helped [Fairfax employees Karla Bruce and Karen Shaban] make the transition from focusing on ‘disproportionality,’ a concept and language that could be politically difficult, to a focus on equity and opportunity. As Bruce comments, ‘If we hadn’t made the shift from disproportionality to equity, we never would have gotten the elected officials on board,’” a history says.
Next, a radical activist group called PolicyLink — which pushes fringe policies such as “reduc[ing] the harm of policing … by challenging untested assumptions about the value-add of law enforcement” and asserts that things like “parks equity” are responsible for racial performance gaps — makes an appearances. PERE and PolicyLink created an online tool called Equity Atlas that runs racial statistics through a crude formula to suggest that if cities enacted unspecified racial policies, they could grow their economies by billions of dollars.
The groups showed Fairfax an extended version called an “Equitable Growth Profile.” Swayed by the promised windfall, by July 2016, Fairfax’s county board and school board enacted an unprecedented arch-policy that would control all other policies. It was a sweeping but vague manifesto, parroting the lexicon of the Equitable Growth Profile. It was called “One Fairfax.”
“Research institutes PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California studied the economic impact of inequity in Fairfax County. It found that the county’s gross domestic product would have been $26.2 billion higher in 2012 if its racial gaps in income were closed,” Fairfax said on its web page explaining the policy’s goal.
The policy required every other county policy to be drafted through the “lens” of racial “equity” in order to do away with differences in wealth and achievement throughout the 1.2 million-person county.
The policy is seven pages long and uses the words “race” 12 times and “equity” 24 times. “‘One Fairfax’ can only be realized with an intentional racial and social equity policy at its core for all publicly delivered services. A racial and social equity policy provides both the direction and means to eliminate disparities,” it said.
After economic and academic arguments attributed to a university led to a vague policy, the complexity of the network of interconnected groups allowed those to be subtly switched with activism when it came time to telling the county what this equity policy should actually mean in practice.
All-In Cities, a group created by PolicyLink, soon said it “began advising the county in formulating a vision for how best to enact the One Fairfax policy, and making the critical shift from policy adoption to implementation.”
The Equity Atlas’s methodology — the promise of billions of dollars that underlies all of these changes — appears to amount to asserting that if all white people continued to earn the same amount of money, but all racial groups who earn less than them began earning the same amount as them, the city’s economy would be larger.
“We estimate that the Albuquerque metro economy would have been $11 billion larger in 2015 absent its racial inequities in income,” PERE’s paper on the New Mexico city says. “Using data on income by race, we calculated how much higher total economic output would have been in 2014 if all racial groups who currently earn less than Whites had earned similar average incomes as their White counterparts, controlling for age.”
But economists said PERE’s much-touted figures fall apart under scrutiny.
“There’s no discussion of how you’d attain equal incomes, it’s just saying assume equal income,” an economist with the Independent Institute, Richard Vedder, told the DCNF. “There’s no evidence provided about how to get there. If this approach is valid, why don’t we just say we want to triple the incomes of the minorities instead of double, and raise the GDP even more?”
“The whole idea is sort of bizarre. I don’t see how you could equalize income without causing dislocation to the economy,” he continued. “If you make the wages of blue-collar workers equal to white-collar workers, the white collar workers either demand that their pay increase, or they leave. If we dropped money out of airplanes, the nominal number of dollars in circulation might rise, but you’d have inflation.”
“And it doesn’t look at factors most directly intertwined with differences in income, underlying characteristics like single-parent households,” Vedder added.
An economist at the University of Rochester, Steven Landsburg, told the DCNF that PERE’s core assertion is “utterly ludicrous” and doesn’t contain enough science to be called “junk science.”
“It is more like junk ‘close-your-eyes-and-wish.’ Worse yet, what they’re wishing for is not just a distant pipe dream; it’s demonstrably impossible,” he said.
PERE’s premise appears to suppose that minorities doing service industry jobs and manual labor will move into white-collar or management positions without anyone else moving into those jobs to replace them, he said. Regardless of the race of the people doing the jobs, economies can’t function without people doing jobs like “building factories or assembling cars or growing corn,” Landsburg continued.
“In a world where your wages are not tied to the value of what you’re producing, people are going to choose to forgo useful labor in order to perform worthless tasks like writing nonsensical ‘studies,’” he joked to the DCNF. “In that world, there will be less for everyone.”
PERE did not return a request for comment.
Vedder said that USC was laundering activism for overtly political groups.
“Some universities will do anything to get publicity or money and allow their names to be used,” he said.
Across the country, activist groups build their case by citing studies from two affiliated groups operating within USC: PERE and the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration. Both are led by Manuel Pastor, a professor of sociology and American studies and ethnicity.
A review of PERE’s work paints a picture of a department that operates as political activists as much as traditional academics. Its website makes clear that it conducts work designed to “support” groups that pay it and that are working towards social and racial “justice.”
Its reports include “How America’s Bluest State Can Be a Model for the Other 49” and — “produced with the support of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth” — papers on “Youth Organizing,” “Building a Movement to Mobilize Young Voters” and the “State of Resistance: California in the Age of Trump.”
Pastor was also a board member at PolicyLink.
PolicyLink teamed up with the Center for American Progress — a liberal think tank tied to John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair — to create All-In Nation, on whose advisory board Pastor also sits. That led to All-in Cities, which says “Our ambitious goal is to fundamentally reengineer America’s cities.”
Similar arrangements take place to bridge the gap between political advocacy and academia at the University of California, Berkeley, which houses the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. GARE is a partnership between Haas and Race Forward, which merged with the Center for Social Inclusion in 2017.
A least three of these groups — Center for Social Inclusion, PolicyLink and the Center for American Progress — are funded by Soros through his Foundation to Promote Open Society, according to tax records available through CitizenAudit.org.
Many of the groups in the network also share other funders, including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is tied to the deceased founder of UPS.
The massive effort has one centerpiece: the construction of a narrative or “framing” that repeats the word “equity” and uses economic statistics — likely to be appealing even in moderate jurisdictions — to argue for race-based policies. On tax forms, Soros’s foundation described a donation to PolicyLink as “to support research and communications related to the equity as the superior growth model framing project.”
The Center for the Study of Social Policy — another group Casey funded — used Fairfax to write a case study that amounted to a roadmap to repeat the game plan elsewhere.
What was perhaps the most all-encompassing policy in Fairfax County in decades passed with little public input or interest. A local newspaper editorial — one of the only examples of contemporaneous coverage — scoffed at “One Fairfax” not as dangerous, but as meaningless feel-good language, calling the measure “completely over the top with buzzwords, jargon and platitudes.”
“When you first heard the word equity, most people aren’t going to get involved and object. No one can define it, but in theory it doesn’t raise people’s eyebrows,” McCreary, the Fairfax parent, said. “Then you learn the endpoint that they have in mind and what it means to the people who are pushing it. By then, it’s already written into policy, and they use it to justify things that most people don’t agree with.”
For her, the changes hit home this summer when the school board proposed revising its policy for drawing school boundaries.
The old policy said decisions about changing which neighborhoods are zoned to which schools would be made based on factors such as “instructional effectiveness” and “the impact on neighborhoods.” Those were struck in the revised proposal, which sets the first criteria governing establishment of school boundaries as “the socioeconomic and/or racial composition of students.”
More than 100 residents of various races who bought homes in areas zoned to schools with high test scores stormed a school board meeting in July. They said that their property values would plummet by hundreds of thousands of dollars and that even local minority activists were not actually asking for school rezoning along demographic lines. A vote on the policy change was postponed.
But county officials indicated that ultimately they’d have no choice in the matter because One Fairfax requires all other policies to be seen through the “lens” of race.
“One Fairfax happened, and I’m superintendent, and I don’t believe we’ve had a One Fairfax lens for the boundary process,” superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a board meeting when explaining why a change to the policy governing boundaries was needed.
Beneath the radar
In 2012, the liberal-leaning Sunlight Foundation — itself backed by Soros — exposed the way a conservative group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, spread conservative policy with outsized influence by drafting “model bills.” They were successfully implanted into state legislatures and were quietly adopted nearly word-for-word.
Observers say the “equity” network’s strategy of approaching the most unscrutinized layers of government — counties and cities — is effective because local governments have the biggest day-to-day impact on people’s everyday lives, but often receive the least attention from citizens and the media.
Few people “vote in local elections and no one pays attention to local government news. Constituents just assume that elected officials will do the mundane job of running a county based on local residents’ desires and needs. Then you find out they’re using us in an experiment for some national group,” McCreary said.
PolicyLink also aims to implant liberal policies in red states by circumventing the state level; it is active in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana. Another umbrella group, the Partnership for Southern Equity, joins together PolicyLink, Race Forward and the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the south.
Across the country
All-In Cities says it is active in 33 areas with a combined population of 27 million, nearly 10% of America: Asheville, North Carolina; Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Birmingham, Alabama; Boston; Buffalo, New York; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cincinnati; Denver; Fairfax, Virginia; Fresno, California; Houston; Long Island, New York; Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; St. Paul, Minnesota; Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; New Orleans; Oakland, California; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; Richmond, Virginia; Sacramento, California; San Jose, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; St. Louis; and Stockton, California.
As Fairfax remade its county in the name of “One Fairfax,” in 2018, the city of Atlanta created “One Atlanta,” also known as the “Mayor’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.”
“One Atlanta is charged with ensuring more equitable access to economic and workforce development opportunities … establishing an Equity Impact Assessment … [and] supporting the Mayor’s progressive agenda,” a city press release said.
In 2018, Baltimore codifed racial equity into law by passing a bill “requiring city agencies to assess existing and proposed policies and practices for disparate outcomes based on race, gender, or income and to proactively develop policies, practices, and investments to prevent and redress those disparate outcomes.”
Then it amended its founding document, the City Charter, “Authorizing the establishment of a continuing, non-lapsing Equity Assistance Fund, to be used exclusively to assist efforts that reduce inequity based on race, gender, or economic status.’”
In Seattle, the city paid PolicyLink in 2014 to advise on “how to incorporate equity into its growth scenario modeling and into its Comprehensive Plan chapters.” In 2015 it “invited PolicyLink to analyze the draft Comprehensive Plan,” allowing it to shape a major 20-year plan for the city.
Typical of its feedback was the suggestion that the city should not just say it strives to improve its mass transit system, but specifically “eliminate transportation commute time disparities experienced by residents of color.” A plan to put artwork up around town should “prioritiz[e] city-wide commissions from artists of color” and tourists should not just frequent the Space Needle, but also travel to “communities of color.”
Little evidence has been presented that such changes has moved the needle, much less created billions of dollars in wealth. As The Washington Post reported, “Recent research from Stanford University found that from 2016 to 2017, the gap in test scores between black and white students in Seattle actually increased.”
PolicyLink told Seattle it should follow the best practices used by California cities following the California Planning Roundtable, which it described as “the most experienced local planning directors, consultants and academics” using “peer-reviewed models.” An author of the PolicyLink paper also sits on that roundtable, creating the type of circular reference and feedback loop that is common in the network.
The network of groups sometimes creates local affiliates that give the appearance of organic support and obscure the origins of the push. They quickly gain buy-in from local governments by giving local officials seats on the boards.
As PolicyLink named Buffalo as one of its “All-In Cities,” the Kellogg Foundation funded a nonprofit there, the Racial Equity Roundtable, which in 2018 put out a report called the “Racial Equity Dividend.” The report cited PolicyLink and PERE and said “racial diversity has been shown to lead to better business performance … the region would be an estimated $12 billion wealthier.”
The apparent rigor of the study was appealing to local leaders. The roundtable’s chair heralded the “data-driven approach. … We wouldn’t sit around and speculate.”
The report led to the city hiring a chief equity officer who “sees part of her new job as incorporating the [roundtable] report’s recommendations.”
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