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Potemkin Village: How a Fundraising Genius Pulled Off the Biggest Scam in the History of the American Right

Written by Gary North on June 16, 2014

I’m now going to tell you a story that you have never heard. It is one of the most amazing stories in the history of education. It is also one of the most amazing stories in the history of the American conservative movement.

George Roche was the greatest fundraiser in academic history. There may be college presidents at Harvard or Yale who raised more money, although I doubt it. But never has anybody raised as much money for any academic institution by means of a complete deception. It was the greatest single deception I ever saw in the conservative movement. He was a genius.

Hillsdale College has a reputation for being very conservative. It has that reputation because of George Roche.

Roche had a strategy. He copied that strategy from Leonard Read at the Foundation for Economic Education. The strategy worked, but it was ultimately a gigantic deception.


Leonard Read had a tremendous idea. He came up with it only after 10 years of running FEE. He started a magazine called The Freeman. There had been a previous magazine called The Freeman, and Read controlled its name.

He told me the story behind his decision. Someone in the organization came to him in 1956 and said that there weren’t any new materials left to promote. He told me that he had thought this was a great piece of information. That was because it forced him to get more materials into print. It pushed him into starting The Freeman. He gave away copies of The Freeman. There was nothing else like it in the conservative movement in 1956. It was a nicely designed magazine. It had lots of articles on the free market. Nobody except the editor ever read every article in every issue, but there would always be one or two articles that somebody regarded as worth reading.

He never charged a dime. Anybody who wanted on the mailing list could get on just by asking. They could send a little money to FEE to get a box of copies to give away. All over the United States, people gave away copies of The Freeman. There was a book on libertarianism in the 1970’s with the title, It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand. No, it didn’t. It usually began with a copy of The Freeman.

This was a classic loss-leader. People got on the mailing list, and over time, they began to donate. Pareto’s law took over. About 80% of the donations provided 20% of the organization’s income. But those 80% were basic to capturing the 20% who donated enough money to supply 80% of the organization’s budget. Read recognize the truth of Pareto’s law, even though I’m sure he never heard of it.

Lew Rockwell imitated Read. The items on Mises.org are free. Rockwell has built the Mises.org site into a powerhouse. It has four times the traffic of the site of the establishment’s American Economic Association, the premier professional economics organization on earth.


In 1971, George Roche got the offer to become the president of Hillsdale College. He had been tipped off about the job by Robert Anderson, a Hillsdale economist who was a libertarian, and who was almost alone in his views at Hillsdale. He had known Roche when they were both at FEE. He promoted Roche for the position, a decision he soon regretted.

Roche knew exactly what to do. He imitated Read’s idea. He had seen it work when he was on the staff at FEE. He thought he could adapt it and do ten times better. He did far better than that.

As soon as he got to Hillsdale, he called Lew Rockwell. Rockwell had been his editor at Arlington House. Roche had several books published by that company, which published conservative books. I’m sure he never made much money in royalties, but that connection put him in contact with Rockwell. He hired Rockwell to come to Hillsdale and publish a newsletter. The newsletter was Imprimis. It was launched in 1972. The archives are here.

Roche’s strategy was to do with Imprimis what Read had done with The Freeman. He would give it away as a loss-leader. It was a whole lot cheaper to give away a newsletter than an entire magazine.

He had another stroke of genius. He would bring in some Right-wing speaker to Hillsdale, pay him a lot of money, have him give a speech, and then Rockwell would have the speech transcribed. The speaker got final editing rights to the printed version. Then, half a dozen times a year, they sent out the newsletter.

This gave the impression that Hillsdale was the most conservative college in America. That was exactly what Roche wanted to achieve. It was deception on a magnificent scale.

By 1978, Hillsdale College was the Potemkin Village of the American Right. It was a standard run-of-the-mill liberal arts college. It had no reputation academically. The only notable thing it had ever done was to host a basketball game in which it lost to an opposing team whose chief scorer scored 113 points, which set a national record. (“Bevo! Bevo! Bevo!”) That record held until 2013. It was set in 1954.

Hillsdale had a vaguely free market economics department, and had one conservative in the history department, Clarence Carson. The rest of the liberal arts faculty were liberals. But the dumb clucks in the conservative movement thought that Imprimis represented something other than Roche’s #1 fund-raising tool for skinning them.

Roche raised about $330 million with this scam — a lot of money back then. There was never a fund-raiser like him in academia.

As it turned out, his career ended in disaster. On a list of the top 10 scandals in the history of American college presidents, he is rated number one. He deserves to be rated number one. There has never been a campus sexual scandal to match it. But he never gets credit for what he really achieved. He created the most financially successful newsletter venture in the history of newsletters, and he also achieved the most successful deception in American higher education. He convinced donors with a lot of money and no sense that Hillsdale College was conservative, that it was an academic port in the storm, and that was the best place to send your kid to get a good education.

A college with average SAT scores of around 950 out of 1600 was better than a community college, but surely was middling. That was what the scores were under Roche in the late 1980’s. The campus official who leaked that information got ousted.

Roche did this by taking another man’s idea, perverting it, and using it to pull $330 million out of the conservative movement, back when $330 million was a lot of money. About half of the money was used to build an endowment to pay the salaries of academically unknown liberal professors. As for the rest? A few buildings. Not much else.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

Continue Reading on www.garynorth.com

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11 thoughts on “Potemkin Village: How a Fundraising Genius Pulled Off the Biggest Scam in the History of the American Right



  2. desierasmus says:

    We were not "big donors" but our son got a decent education at Hillsdale and graduated with zero debt. The school, along with Grove City College, was not subject to US Dept of Education regulations because it refused all federal dollars, including student loans. It continues that policy under current leadership. It offers this free online course: https://online.hillsdale.edu/course/con101/regist
    The wiki article fills in a few of the details left out by "Tea Party Economist" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillsdale_College

  3. Ignatius says:

    I read that even the claim that Hillsdale did not take federal dollars was not true, just a fundraising claim by Roche.

  4. New School says:

    Hillsdale may have had liberal professors back in the 1980s. I attended in the mid-to-late 1990s and there were only one or two professors whom would remotely describe as "liberal" as Gary North claims. Hillsdale also has had a lecture series since the 1980s with well-known conservative scholars coming to campus every semester. Hillsdale's admission standards have also risen dramatically, and it is now one of the top-ranked liberal arts schools in the Midwest. One's opinion of Hillsdale today should not be based on this article.

  5. Try to find a more conservative institution of higher learning. I wonder what the motivation behind this article is…as for us, let's promote the most conservative ideology that we can, but we must work to learn true conservative principles and ideas. We must apply exceptional critical thinking skills and discernment to do filter out liberal/progressive ideas, thought, and policies. It takes a lot of work, which comes from RESPONSIBILITY, and we must promote that as well. Yes, there are crooked people in all areas of the political spectrum and we must be able to weed them out and stop their evil and greedy agendas. We need people in leadership from the lowest level to the highest who possess the highest level of integrity, to which we must all aspire. No one should be held to any higher standard than another…we should ALL be held to the highest standard!

  6. And the whole story of King Arthur was made up. But it inspired the British people to think more of themselves and branch out all over the world. Reading comments from people who went there, it seems that Hillsdale has become what was presented.

  7. desierasmus says:

    If Ignatius can verify that Hillsdale received federal dollars, we would be interested in the details, preferably including the means to verify them independently. Otherwise, it seems safe to assume that this is another node on the proverbial whisper chain, probably propagated with malice, but at least passed along carelessly without any attempt to verify accuracy and completeness.

  8. Bill Sanders says:

    This article is poorly written. It doesn't explain anything. I am not clicking on the link to read the rest of it; I have wasted enough of my time already.

  9. I have no problem with hearing both sides you are suppose to taught how to think and check facts BEFORE you get to college! Not just blindly believe what any one side says! There use to be a saying that if you were not liberal at 20 you had no heart but if you were still liberal at 30 you had no brains! Note in college as opposed to working for a living!

  10. They seem to post articles only by conservatives for years. I don’t know who is tenured there but my impression is they are conservatives and certainly if they were liberals I would of heard of one because they have the biggest mouths and can’t wait to use them.

    So, this article still does not convince me.

  11. We need fundraising for our school and others. But we should beware of these scams.