Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Reaction to NYT Series on Think Tanks & Corporate Influence

The reaction to the New York Times series on think tanks and influence of corporate money has been one of shock, disappointment, and disbelief.

Thank Tank Watch will be aggregating the reaction in the coming days and weeks and will update this post often.  Here is what we have so far:

Think Tanks:
  • Brookings, which took the brunt of the criticism, issued a quick rebuttal to the NYT piece.  Brookings said the article "fundamentally misrepresents" its mission and distorts how it operates.  Brookings says that the article "cherry-picked" information and "ignored a large body of evidence" made available to the reporters.  Here is an updated rebuttal with testimonials included.  Brookings says that in the coming days it will provide a point-by-point rebuttal of the allegations made in the article.  Brookings released its 15-page point-by-point rebuttal the afternoon of August 11.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) issued a statement on August 10 defending its policies but saying that "broader questions being raised by the NYT are legitimate."
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI) issued a statement on August 8, saying it "long ago instituted and regularly evaluate, policies and procedures to assure the intellectual quality of independence of our work."  The conservative think tank said "it does not believe" a violation of its research integrity standards has occurred.
  • The conservative think tank Hudson Institute has issued a statement in an attempt to clarify some of its corporate funding.
  • Middle East Forum (MEF) has also issued a statement saying it accepts no pay-to-play funds from businesses.  
  • Institute for Policy Studies (IPS): It is "unfortunate" that the NYT series did not name the subset of think tanks like IPS that don't solicit contributions from governments and large corporations, and whose donors don't benefit financially from the research they support. 
  • The conservative Heritage Foundation issued a statement on August 12 saying "it stands for freedom and not special interest," adding "we will not accept research for hire from corporations who wish to pay for particular research projects...In fact, less than 5 percent of our annual revenue is from corporations."

  • Eric Lipton (co-author of series): "The more we looked, the more surprised we were at just how many think tank scholars had other for-profit lives."
  • Eric Lipton: We had to sue State Department to get simple set of email exchanges with think tank scholar.  Why is FOIA so broken? 
  • Eric Lipton discusses think tanks and corporate influence on C-Span the morning of August 11. Says CSIS issued statement about lack of disclosure of corporate ties to event only after he made inquiry.  "I happened to call them on it that one day...but how frequently does that happen?"  Adds: "We did a survey in late 2015 of 25 think tanks and asked them about their policies on conflicts of interests, etc., and even as we were asking those questions the think tanks started to change their policies."
  • Eric Lipton prediction: "I think there is going to be a fair amount of change on outside work that scholars can have as consultants/lobbyists and at same time have a think tank title."
  • Eric Lipton: "I admire Brookings and the work it does but if there are problems at Brookings, it suggests a systemic problem at think tanks." 
  • Eric Lipton: "The term think tank has been somewhat degraded in Washington over the last decade because all the small places that call themselves think tanks but are really advocacy shops." 
  • Eric Lipton: "No real discussion on changing tax-exempt status of think tanks but more disclosure rules in both Congress and the executive branch are possible."
  • Eric Lipton: The think tank series took us two years to write.
  • Nick Confessore (another co-author) says: "If you doubt what you're seeing, ask yourself why companies don't just publish their own reports." 
  • Brooke Williams (co-author) on Majority Report talking about her piece. 
  • Ezra Klein says: "This is tremendous, unnerving reporting by the NYT on pay-for-play within the think tank world."
  • Ryan Evans (War on the Rocks) has 14-point tweetstorm on NYT piece.
  • Michael Tracey, a VICE columnist, says: "Very good look into the scam of taxpayer-subsidized think tanks like Brookings acting as de facto lobbying orgs."
  • Scott Shane of NYT says: "Reminder to journalists seeking unbiased expertise: Be careful of think tanks!" 
  • Michael Tackett of NYT says: "Some think tank scholars wear a second hat: registered lobbyist."
  • Timothy Noah of Politico says: "I wonder whether Brookings understands how devastating a blow this story is to its hard-won credibility." 
  • Jane Mayer of New Yorker: "Times' expose is great, but as I write in Dark Money, many think tanks have long been Big Donor stink tanks." 
  • Lee Fang (The Intercept): "NYT shows how lobbyists/biz consultants find gigs at think tanks to add an academic veneer to influence peddling."
  • Dan Froomkin (The Intercept): NYT discovers "stink tanks."
  • Brad Heath (USA Today): "Totally normal.  Also, gross."

  • Politico Influence: "In conversations with downtowners about the NYT think tanks' bombshell, the popular quip was that everyone is shocked, shocked to find out that pay-to-play is going on in Washington.  But it's all too easy to shrug off what everyone already knew once its blown out in the open, and no amount of quoting 'Casablanca' will change the fact that the stories will dim the credibility of think tank research in the eyes of reporters and policy makers."
  • Here is some reaction from Gawker. 
  • Mic says: "A Major DC Think Tank Has Sold Out to Corporations."
  • Observer has an opinion piece entitled "Think Tank Smells Like Corporate Money for Clinton." 
  • Politico's Morning Energy covers the energy angle from the NYT piece. 
  • Forbes: Why think tanks now have a credibility problem
  • CorpWatch on General Dynamics funding of think tanks mentioned in NYT piece. 
  • Inside Philanthropy: The Fall of the Think Tank - Policy Wonks and the Hard Realities of Interested Monies. 
  • TPM: Deep Lobbying. 
  • SFGate: "Warning: Dangerous Think Tanks Ahead." 
  • Daily Caller: "Defense scholars caught lobbying for contractors." 
  • Daily Caller: "Net Neutrality Policy Analysts Caught Red-Handed on Big Tech's Payroll."
  • Philadelphia News: Our trust deficit keeps growing.
  • Washington Business Journal: Brookings pushes back against NYT.

  • Elizabeth Joh of UC Davis says: "This investigation into corporate influence at think tanks = huge warning for academics relying on their research." 
  • Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute: I've always imported journalism rules to my think tank work, but maybe time to develop more explicit norms?
  • Miranda Perry Fleischer (University of San Diego): Think tanks must reject donations that cloud their purpose.
  • Carter Price (RAND Corp.): Moonlighting as a lobbyist is not ok.  Shame "revising" COI policy came only after exposed.
  • Dan Drezner (of Tufts) in the Washington Post: What do we know about the independence of think tank research that we didn't a week ago?  [Kelsey Atherton aggregates Drezner's tweetstorm.]
  • Alan Tonelson in response to Drezner: "Laughable claim by Dan Drezner that corporate-funded think tanks are dealing seriously with the transparency issue."
  • Jim Harper (of Cato): "Think tanks trade credibility for corporate support.  So be it.  Watch out if the fix is regulating their funding!" 
  • Heath Brown (a think tank expert at CUNY): "Given NYT coverage of think tanks, perfect timing for Megan Tompkins-Stange new book "Policy Patrons."
  • Amy Liu of Brookings has called the series "misleading." 
  • Kevin Boland Johnson of MSU: "Will C-Span continue to give think tanks generous air time?"
  • Harvey Cox (Harvard): "Their reputation for impartiality has been severely damaged.  Can I ever again trust the reports these think tanks issue?"
  • Rory Medcalf (Australian National University): "Sounds like NYT articles on think tanks say more about the state of journalism than that of think tanks."  [Matt Goodman of CSIS agrees.]
  • Alejandro Chafuen: Brookings should expose interests of corporate owners of NYTimes and compare with NYT editorial positions. 
  • Kathleen Hicks (of CSIS): Great, thoughtful response on the relationship between think tanks  - and all nonprofits - and corporations.

  • David Rockefeller Fund: Tax-exempt think tanks should NOT be advancing narrow corporate interests.  Kudos for the vital reporting.
  • Jeffrey Sachs says: "As I have said months ago, Brookings has sold its name, and not only to corporations but to foreign governments. 
  • Robert Reich says: "Always, always follow the money. When expert think tanks issue reports, find out who funds the reports and be..."
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) weighs in.
  • Graham Brown-Martin's piece on Medium: "Brookings, Seriously?" 
  • Robert Faturechi of ProPublica: Journalists need to be more skeptical of experts.
  • Diane Ravitch says it is very sad
  • Bruce Bartlett (former think tanker): "Washington 'think tanks' are cesspools of ethical corruption.  At least lobbyists are honest whores."
  • Zero Hedge: It's one gigantic lawless crime scene
  • Matt Stoller (Senate Budget Committee staffer): Government has gutted its independent research. 
  • Gene Takagi (NEO Law Group): Think tanks need a certification program to establish transparency.
  • David Sullivan: "Is there an industry association for think tanks?" 
  • Triple Pundit: "Reader Beware: Think tanks and universities increasingly for hire by companies." 
  • KQED debate on think tanks with Eric Lipton, James McGann (UPenn) and Bruce Katz (Brookings).
  • Greg Fischer (Mayor of Louisville), Andy Berke (Mayor of Chattanooga), Michael Nutter (former Mayor of Philadelphia), R.T. Rybak (former Mayor of Minneapolis): "We read your characterization of the work of Brookings with great dismay...our cities have had a fruitful, meaningful experience working with Brookings."
  • Ben Myers (in NYT letter to editor): Let's classifiy think tanks as lobbyists and revoke their nonprofit, tax-exempt status. 
  • Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR): "NYT Reveals Think Tank It's Cited for Years to Be Corrupt Arms Booster." 
  • Tom Jeffrey of Think Tank Review: Think tanks need a principled approach to funding and conflicts of interest.

If you have any reaction or links to any reaction, please send it to info (at)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Wilson Center Accused of Orchestrating Turkey's Coup

Think tanks just can't seem to get a break this week.  First the New York Times published two hard-hitting pieces that will likely damage the reputations of some major think tanks for years to come.

Among other things, it was revealed that the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) fired three scholars for violating conflict of interest policies.

Now, John Hudson of Foreign Policy has this piece out this evening:
The Turkish government has arrested or detained tens of thousands of soldiers, police officers, academics, and journalists in the wake of last month’s failed coup attempt. Some supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have a new target: a prominent Washington think tank.
The Woodrow Wilson Center, a nonpartisan organization founded in 1968, is facing a wave of criticisms over its alleged — and wholly unproven — role in orchestrating last month’s failed putsch, which killed more than 200 people and injured more than 1,000. Erdogan retained power and has spent the past weeks carrying out purges of institutions across Turkish society.
The accusations against the Wilson Center, appearing on the front page of mainstream newspapers linked to Erdogan, prompted the think tank to take the unusual step of issuing a statement of concern about “possible reprisals” to researchers and scholars that attended a July conference in Turkey organized by the think tank. The conspiracy theories against the Wilson Center were sparked, in part, by the fact that its July 15-17 event occurred on the exact same weekend as the coup attempt.

The article goes on to note that reports in Turkey are blaming Henri Barkey, the director of Wilson Center's Middle for Program, for the botched coup.

Here is the full statement from Wilson Center stating its concerns about reprisals against Turkish colleagues.

In a tweet, FP's John Hudson (who broke this story) writes: "When think tank life stops being boring and starts getting scary..."

David Rothkopf writes: "Love the idea of a think tank orchestrating a coup attempt.  Most struggle to put on wine and cheese receptions."

In a similar vein, Alykhan Velshi writes: "Wilson Center has come a long way since my internship at AEI, when they could barely host a decent lunch."

Readers of Think Tank Watch may remember the violence that erupted earlier this year on Think Tank Row in Washington, DC amid a visit to the Brookings Institution by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

Peterson Institute Fires Three Scholars Due to Conflicts of Interest

The Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), one of the world's top economic think tanks, has recently fired three scholars for violating conflict of interest policies.  Here is more from the New York Times (in collaboration with the New England Center for Investigative Reporting), which has just published a two-part series highlighting the lack of independence at many major US think tanks:
Adam S. Posen, the president of the Peterson Institute, considered the world’s pre-eminent think thank on global economics, has a commanding view of the construction of the new headquarters for the American Enterprise Institute, as well as the main office of Brookings. From his grand office, he recently had a series of uncomfortable conversations with three scholars he had decided to let go.
After much internal debate, Mr. Posen decided to formally prohibit Peterson’s scholars from holding outside jobs that directly related to the field they wrote about on behalf of the think tank.
The three who had such outside engagements were terminated.
Mr. Posen noted that the change did not imply the researchers had done anything wrong. But tighter rules are needed, he said, to respond to a growing sense he shares with the Peterson board that the think tank industry must reassert its commitment to impartiality.

PIIE is reportedly updating its conflict-of-interest policies in the wake of recent reports shining a light on think tank independence.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

NYT Rips Into Think Tanks for Pay-to-Play Schemes

A new expose entitled "Researchers or Corporate Allies?  Think Tanks Blur the Lines," rips into think tanks, including the world's #1 think tank Brookings Institution, for essentially being the mouthpieces of corporations.

It was written by Eric Lipton of The New York Times (NYT) and Brooke Williams, a reporter at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) - a small nonprofit outlet that equally collaborated with NYT for the series.

They were the same duo (along with Nicholas Confessore) who wrote the hugely popular 2014 piece entitled "Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks."

The piece was written based, among other things, on more than 2,600 documents secretly obtained from Brookings Institution's internal files.

The second part of the so-called "Think Tanks Inc." series was released the afternoon of August 8.  That piece is entitled "Think Tank Scholar or Corporate Consultant?  It Depends on the Day."

In that piece, NYT/NECIR note that the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) has recently fired three scholars for violations of its conflicts-of-interest policy.

Reaction so far:

  • Jeffrey Sachs says: "As I have said months ago, Brookings has sold its name, and not only to corporations but to foreign governments. 
  • Robert Reich says: "Always, always follow the money. When expert think tanks issue reports, find out who funds the reports and be..."
  • Ezra Klein says: "This is tremendous, unnerving reporting by the NYT on pay-for-play within the think tank world."
  • Nick Confessore says: "If you doubt what you're seeing, ask yourself why companies don't just publish their own reports."
  • Michael Tracey, a VICE columnist, says: "Very good look into the scam of taxpayer-subsidized think tanks like Brookings acting as de facto lobbying orgs."
  • Elizabeth Joh says: "This investigation into corporate influence at think tanks = huge warning for academics relying on their research." 
  • Scott Shane of NYT says: "Reminder to journalists seeking unbiased expertise: Be careful of think tanks!" 
  • Michael Tackett of NYT says: "Some think tank scholars wear a second hat: registered lobbyist."
  • Timothy Noah of Politico says: "I wonder whether Brookings understands how devastating a blow this story is to its hard-won credibility. 
  • Graham Brown-Martin's piece on Medium: "Brookings, Seriously?" 
  • Ryan Evans has 14-point tweetstorm on NYT piece. 
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) weighs in.
  • Here is some reaction from Gawker. 
  • Mic says: "A Major DC Think Tank Has Sold Out to Corporations."
  • Observer has an opinion piece entitled "Think Tank Smells Like Corporate Money for Clinton." 
  • Politico's Morning Energy covers the energy angle from the NYT piece. 
  • Forbes: Why think tanks now have a credibility problem
  • CorpWatch on General Dynamics funding of think tanks mentioned in NYT piece. 
  • Inside Philanthropy: The Fall of the Think Tank - Policy Wonks and the Hard Realities of Interested Monies. 
  • TPM: Deep Lobbying. 
  • SFGate: "Warning: Dangerous Think Tanks Ahead." 
  • Daily Caller: "Defense scholars caught lobbying for contractors." 
  • Daily Caller: "Net Neutrality Policy Analysts Caught Red-Handed on Big Tech's Payroll."

In response to the NYT/NECIR piece, the conservative think tank Hudson Institute has issued a statement in an attempt to clarify some of its corporate funding.

And Brookings has now weighed in, issuing its own rebuttal to the NYT/NECIR piece in Medium.  Brookings said the article "fundamentally misrepresents" its mission and distorts how it operates.  Brookings says that the article "cherry-picked" information and "ignored a large body of evidence" made available to the reporters.  Here is an updated rebuttal with testimonials included.

Brookings says that in the coming days it will provide a point-by-point rebuttal of the allegations made in the article.

In February 2016 Brookings chief Strobe Talbott and Kimberly Churches, Managing Director at Brookings, wrote a piece entitled "Safeguarding Independence in an Era of Restricted Giving."

Middle East Forum (MEF) has also issued a statement saying it accepts no pay-to-play funds from businesses. 

More will be coming soon, including further reaction and our favorite excerpts from the piece...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

New Tool to Track Think Tank "Dark Money"

The Center for Public Integrity released a new tool this week that allows searches of  "dark money" grants between nonprofit groups, including think tanks.

Using the new tool, Think Tank Watch has searched a number of the largest, most powerful think tanks to help track down often undisclosed sources of money.  Following are some of our findings so far:

  • The Brookings Institution has received millions of dollars over the past five years from other nonprofits, including a number of universities such as University of Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins University, and George Washington University.  Brookings has also received money from the Financial Services Forum, Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Unite Here, Jewish Communal Fund, and Carter Center.  Most interestingly, the think tank has also received funds from Good Ventures for support of research projects and events on marijuana policy. 
  • The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank, has received large amounts from the Jewish Communal Fund, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), and Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA).  It has also received grants from American Petroleum Institute (API), American Insurance Association, and the Charles Koch Institute, among others.  Interestingly, AEI has received a $74,000 grant from the liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP).
  • The Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think tank, has received more than $10 million from the Sandler Foundation over the past five years.  It has also received money from the American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), United Steelworkers, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), AFL-CIO, Oxfam-America, National Association of Letter Carriers, and the Aspen Institute.

Stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Has Heritage Just Released Donald Trump's Bible?

The Heritage Foundations has just released its Blueprint for Reform: A Comprehensive Policy Agenda for a New Administration in 2017, a document meant to guide what they hope is Donald Trump's policy agenda.

The think tank has released such policy agendas in every presidential election year since 1980.  At that time, Heritage released the well-known Mandate for Leadership, a series of books spanning some 3,000 pages.  That blueprint was titled Mandate for Leadership in subsequent years, and was last published under that name in 2005.

Nevertheless, the decades-old document is alive and well, albeit under a different name.  In fact, Heritage chief Ed Feulner penned a piece in The Washington Times saying that the new Blueprint is the "latest" in the think tank's "Mandate for Leadership" series.

Mandate for Leadership was dubbed "the bible" of the Reagan White House by the Washington Post, and "provided a step-by-step guide to how to transform conservative principles into government policy."

Heritage's new report says that the next president and US Congress should pursue a number or proposals, including:
  • Pro-growth tax reform
  • Balancing the budget
  • Reducing regulatory burden
  • Repealing "harmful" laws such as Obamacare and Dodd-Frank
  • Rebuilding the military capabilities of the US
  • Welfare reform

The Blueprint calls for reducing total US spending by $10 trillion over 10 years and balancing the federal budget by 2024.  Among other things, it also calls for closing most of the Department of Energy.

The full Blueprint for Reform report, which spans more than 130 pages, can be found here.

The Washington Times notes that the Blueprint offers "scores" of policy recommendations for the next administration.  A Heritage analysis of the Republican Party's platform notes that the 2016 platform has many of the same ideas as Heritage's Blueprint; others note that the Blueprint has a "competing" anti-poverty plan than House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

A number of advisers to Donald Trump are housed within the Heritage Foundation, including Stephen Moore (who is helping write Mr. Trump's tax plan).  Heritage was also tapped to select a list of potential nominees to the Supreme Court should he become president.

Morning Consult says that Heritage hopes their plan will be embraced by the Trump transition team if Mr. Trump wins the presidency.  Heritage has said that it has been in contact with Trump's campaign policy team and that the campaign was "very interested" in Heritage's views.  However, Morning consult notes that there is distance on some issues between the Heritage approach and Trump's campaign rhetoric.

Think Tank Watch should note that Heritage says it does not endorse any political candidate or party.  And James Jay Carafano of Heritage reminds us that anyone can use the Blueprint.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#230)

  • How think tanks influence the debate on Iran, by Barbara Slavin of Atlantic Council.
  • AEI head Arthur Brooks to speak at Conscious Capitalism annual CEO Summit.
  • Australian free-market think tanks ranked by social media presence.
  • ITIF launches Global Trade and Innovation Policy Alliance (GTIPA), an international network of think tanks dedicated to trade liberalization.
  • Debate with think tanks on thinking itself.
  • Wikileaks: Malaysia's most prominent think tanks.
  • Facebook still the predominant social media platform used by think tanks; some think tanks using Snapchat.
  • Does Connecticut need a think tank?
  • Costa Samaras: Proud that RAND Corp. pays summer associates.
  • NYT's Michael Gordan lands at conservative think tank FDD.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Think Tanks That Appear in the Hacked DNC Emails

Think Tank Watch has scoured the emails of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that were leaked through Wikileaks and found that think tanks are playing a prominent role in the thinking of Democrats.

Here is how many times specific think tanks appear in those emails:
  • Heritage Foundation: 61
  • Brookings: 41
  • Cato Institute: 25
  • Center for American Progress (CAP): 19
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI): 17 
  • Urban Institute: 14
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): 13 
  • Council on Foreign Relations: 10
  • Atlantic Council: 6
  • Center for a New American Security (CNAS: 4
  • Hudson Institute: 4
  • Stimson Center: 4 
  • Economic Policy Institute: 4
  • Hoover Institution: 3
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: 2
  • Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE): 1

Think Tank Watch is examining those emails now and will be releasing stories throughout the week.  Stay tuned!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Brookings Going Gaga Over Pokemon Go

The venerable Brookings Institution usually focuses on rather soporific topics such as foreign aid, the broadband spectrum, and domestic politics in Mongolia.

But scholars at the think tank are finally pivoting to a much more serious issue at hand: the location-based augmented reality mobile game Pokemon Go.

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a Senior Fellow with the Center for Universal Education at Brookings, along with Robert Michnick Golinoff of the University of Delaware, writes that Pokemon Go is the latest fad that "opens up a new vista for exploring learning."

Another Brookings scholar, Jack Karsten, wrote a piece of Pokemon Go saying that the game may be a fad but the technology behind it is not.

You heard it think tankers, it is perfectly fine to play Pokemon Go during work hours for the sake of education and technology advancement.  But as think tanker Jason Hong of New America warns, while you track Pokemon, Pokemon Go tracks you.

Trump's Think Tank Whisperer on Taxes and Trade

Mr. Stephen Moore, a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation who is also an adviser to Donald Trump, is trying to make the Republican nominee, well, more Republican.

Moore, who formerly wrote on economics and public policy for The Wall Street Journal, has already been working on Mr. Trump's tax plan, and is currently updating that plan for a release in the near future.  Slate reported in May that Trump had asked Moore ("a notorious right-wing hack") and another adviser to rewrite his tax plan.  The pair have signaled that the tax plan will be released sometime after the Republican National Convention (RNC).

Moore, along with Trump adviser Larry Kudlow, the former host of CNBC's The Kudlow Report, has also been trying to push Mr. Trump to be more pro-trade.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post of Stephen Moore, who rejoined the Heritage Foundation in 2014.  Moore also used to work for the libertarian Cato Institute.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#229)

  • Vice President Joe Biden lays into Donald Trump's foreign policy at CNAS. 
  • Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg faces questions at conservative think tank AEI over last month's allegations that the company harbors an anti-conservative bias.
  • Think tank (AEI) hires Republican education staffer (from New America) "with cool glasses."
  • Bernie Sanders out of step with two think tanks - CAP and Demos.
  • Think tanks = sock puppets of political parties?
  • Stephen Walt bashes think tank report from CNAS.
  • Matthew Yglesias: 3,000 word explainers on think tank Twitter fights are the new clickbait.
  • Former DC think tanker on his experience telecommuting from a different state.
  • National Federation of Independent Business (NFID) has hired David Addington, group vice president for research at Heritage Foundation and former CIA official.
  • Drinker Biddle & Reath hires Katie Christophersen, who formerly worked at Manhattan Inst.
  • Liberal think tank Demos: DC politicians funded by donors who are whiter and wealthier than the constituents they serve.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Think Tanker Attacked by Name on Senate Floor...22 Years Later

There is some good news for think tankers out there who are wondering if the policy papers they write get any attention.  They certainly do, although it can sometimes take decades.  The case of former think tanker Sasha Volokh is a perfect example.  Here is what he just wrote for the Washington Post:
One of the problems with working in policy — whether at think tanks or in academia — is that it’s hard to measure one’s impact. We kind of believe that ideas have some effect in the real world (if we’re being optimistic), but it’s rare for us to see the evidence as to ourselves personally. Even intermediate measures — do people even read our stuff? — can be hard to come by.
In my case, I finally know that someone is reading my work from 22 years ago! Straight out of college, in 1993-94, I worked at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market policy organization in Washington, D.C. One of the areas I worked in a lot was the FDA and tobacco policy — this was shortly before the Clinton FDA asserted jurisdiction over tobacco, a move that the Supreme Court said in FDA v. Brown & Williamson (2000) was contrary to the statute. The capstone of that year was getting my first Wall Street Journal op-ed published: “Feel a Heart Attack Coming? Go to France."
Last week, I finally got tangible proof that someone was reading my pieces from back then. As part of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-NH) attack on CEI, she said..."CEI lobbied politicians, conducted symposia, and published policy papers and op-eds with titles such as ‘Safety Is a Relative Thing for Cars: Why Not for Cigarettes?’ CEI’s then-policy analyst, Alexander Volokh, even went so far as to describe the act of smoking as a civic duty."

The video of the attack can be viewed here (go to 5:15).  So do not fear you young think tankers.  After all, you too may one day have your paper blasted on the Senate or House floor, just like Mr. Volokh.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sen. Ted Cruz Meets with "Secret" Conservative Think Tank

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) recently attended a gathering of the Council for National Policy (CNP), a secretive group of conservative activists, many of whom backed Cruz in his failed presidential bid earlier this year.  Here is more from Politico:
The CNP is a nonprofit, but some of its members, including President Tony Perkins, who also serves as head of the Family Research Council, are part of a subgroup that had voted to endorse Cruz in hopes of uniting the conservative movement behind a single candidate in 2016, rather than splintering as it had in 2008 and 2012.

Council for National Policy is not be to mistaken for the Center for National Policy (also known as CNP), a think tank which "merged" with the Truman National Security Project in 2013.

It has been said that the Council for National Policy wants to be the conservative version of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Friday, July 15, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#228)

  • The corporations behind big EU think tanks (includes charts/maps).
  • Clinton's monopolizing foreign policy brain trust (including think tankers) which is so large that campaign cannot offer definitive estimate of its size.  Advisors include Michele Flournoy, CEO of CNAS; Brian Katulis (CAP); and Dan Kurtz-Phelan (New America).
  • Bernie Sanders simply has one-off meetings with think tankers, including Ray Takeyh (CFR), Tamara Cofman Witttes (Brookings; she is an advisor to Clinton), and Lawrence Korb (CAP).
  • James Wallner, executive director of the Senate Steering Committee, is leaving to become the Heritage Foundation's VP for research.
  • Libertarian Cato Institute urging approval of TPP trade pact. 
  • Maya Harris, formerly a senior fellow at Center for American Progress (CAP), a senior policy advisor to Clinton campaign. 
  • Video: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) rips think tanks for fake climate change research.
  • Any Pokemon Go stops at major Washington think tanks?
  • Chinese think tanks: Confidential messengers and idea sources as well as spear carriers for the government, via Jerome Cohen.
  • US and Chinese think tanks agree the South China Sea situation needs to be cooled down.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Possible Trump Veep Pick Pence a Think Tanker

A little-known fact about Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), a possible vice presidential pick for Donald Trump, is that he has a deep connection to think tank land.

From 1991 to 1994, Pence ran the Indiana Policy Review Foundation (IPR), a conservative, state-level think tank that was founded in 1989 by Craig Ladwig.

In fact, Pence apparently claimed in 2012 that he helped found the think tank.  In 2008 Pence said: "I was part of what we called the seed corn Heritage Foundation was spreading around the country in the state think tank movement.  We actually called our little foundation in Indiana the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, very much as a homage to Policy Review magazine of Heritage, and we modeled on the state level what Heritage had done before."

Policy Review was a conservative journal that was published from 1977 to 2013.  In 2001 it was acquired by the Hoover Institution, a Stanford University-based conservative think tank.

Here is more about the Indiana Policy Review Foundation from its own website:
Our mission is to marshal the best thought on governmental, economic and educational issues at the state and municipal levels. We seek to accomplish this in ways that:
  • Exalt the truths of the Declaration of Independence, especially as they apply to the interrelated freedoms of religion, property and speech.
  • Emphasize the primacy of the individual in addressing public concerns.
  • Recognize that equality of opportunity is sacrificed in pursuit of equality of results.
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But besides IPR, it is a little-known fact that Pence has been a non-staff member of the conservative Heritage Foundation.  Pence has spoken at Heritage on several occasions, including this 2005 talk on journalists, and this 2006 talk on immigration reform.  Pence has also written special guest posts for Heritage, including this one remembering 9/11.

Pence also has allies at Heritage, including policy analyst Katie Tubb, who was once at intern for Pence when he was in the US Congress.

In 2015, Heritage wrote a piece entitled "What Are Mike Pence's Prospects for a 2016 Presidential Run?"

Pence has also spoken at other think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).  In fact, in 2005, Pence took part in an AEI conference along with Newt Gingrich, another possible VP pick for Trump.

Monday, July 11, 2016

DC Think Tanker Murdered

This is from the Washington Post:
59-year-old woman who was a senior official at a Washington think-tank was fatally stabbed in Baltimore’s Roland Park neighborhood as she was walking her dogs Friday night, police said.
Officers were called to the 600 block of W. University Parkway around 11 p.m. for a report of an injured person. Police said the woman, identified as Molly K. Macauley, was outside walking her dogs when she was stabbed by an unknown assailant.
Macauley was the vice president for research and a senior fellow with Resources for the Future (RFF) in Washington. She first joined the organization in 1993. She was an adjunct economics professor at Johns Hopkins University for nearly 20 years.

Here are some reactions, including from former RFF president Phil Sharp (who just retired several days ago and who is being replaced by Richard Newell), and RFF press secretary Dave Cohen.

Here is a statement from RFF, which includes an email excerpt from interim president Linda Fisher.

Some of Ms. Macauley's work at RFF, which was founded in 1952 and became the first think tank devoted exclusively to natural resources and environmental issues, can be found here.

RFF, which has a budget of about $13 million and 77 researchers/staff, was just ranked as the 34th best think tank in the United States and the world's 11th best energy and resources policy think tank.  It was also ranked as the world's 16th best environmental policy think tank.

Friday, July 8, 2016

China's Sole DC Think Tank Probably Not A Front for Spies

It appears that the launch of China's only think tank in the Washington, DC has made less of a splash than many people had imagined.

Foreign Policy's Isaac Stone Fish has just written a piece entitled "Beijing Establishes a DC Think Tank,and No One Notices," which essentially says that the Institute for China-American Studies (ICAS) has not gained any traction among policy elites.

Here is more:
Despite its advocacy for Beijing’s controversial and important position in the disputed South China Sea, the Institute for China-American Studies (ICAS) — the only Chinese think tank based in Washington D.C. — has been unable to rise from obscurity. Google their initials and they come up on the third page, behind the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, the International Council of Air Shows, and the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, a tribe in Alaska. It has all of 46 Twitter followers.
 While U.S. scholars respect some of executive director Hong Nong’s work on China’s claims in the disputed South China Sea — the focus of the think tank’s five-person staff — ICAS is almost entirely unknown outside a narrow band of China watchers in the U.S. think tank community. Even Patrick Ho, who runs the China Energy Fund, one of the only other Mainland Chinese think tanks active in the United States — the exact number is unknown, but estimates range from two to roughly a dozen — said he has never heard of ICAS. “I don’t know if they [even] have a reputation yet,” said the South China Sea scholar Bonnie Glaser. “They have been pretty low-profile.”

The article goes on to ask why ICAS, which now has an office just a few blocks away from "Think Tank Row," appears to be unsuccessful in influencing US policymakers and China-hands.  Here is more on that:
[Bonnie] Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), doesn’t think it’s because they are spies — a plausible explanation for a Chinese organization that gathers and disseminates information. “Obviously people will suspect that they’re playing some intelligence role. But they’re not very aggressive,” she said. Rather, most of those interviewed for this story — roughly a dozen academics, think tank staff, and China watchers, the kind of people who traffic in acronyms and appreciate the intricacies of relevancy in Washington — have concluded that the problem is ineffectiveness.
ICAS, in other words, is not doing what a think tank should do: convening major events with respected scholars and politicians, publishing influential research, and challenging and improving government policy. Scholars say that their papers rarely get circulated, and they have not held a major event since their opening conference. “I wouldn’t say it’s a sophisticated operation at this stage,” said a member of the D.C. China policy community, who asked to speak anonymously because she wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. Jim McGann, the founder of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, which publishes an influential ranking of think tanks around the world, said ICAS seems “underfunded and not very well focused.” 

The article explains that the idea of a "think tank" in China is much older than in the US, where the phenomenon is relatively recent.  "The ideas of research institutions advising the ruler of China stretches back at least to Hanlin Yuan, established in the 8th century," says the article.

It also notes the various differences between US and Chinese think tank, saying that while Chinese think tanks "prize a close connection to the government, they are thus saddled with the intellectual restraint of being unable to speak truth to power."  Here is more:
According to a November 2014 article in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Newspaper, a publication affiliated with China’s best-known think tank, it is “advisable” for think tanks in China “to maintain strong linkages with the government.” On ICAS’s website, and in person, Hong describes her think tank as independent. And yet, that seems unlikely.

Lastly, on funding, the article says that ICAS has a relatively small amount:
ICAS sits under the lushly funded government research organization, the National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS), in the island province of Hainan. But for some reason, that largesse has not trickled down to ICAS. During a March interview, Hong estimated that ICAS’s budget is just $800,000 a year, a number several other think tankers privately said was very low. “Sometimes conferences can be very expensive,” Hong complained.

In response to the article, Ken Weinstein, President and CEO of the Hudson Institute (who has a picture of himself next to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as his Twitter picture), said: "I thought PRC more sophisticated.  Beijing builds an invisible DC think tank.  Much cheaper to buy an existing one."

To be fair, every think tank needs time to grow.  After all, Brookings didn't become Brookings overnight.  Also, one can only expect so much from a think tank staffed with five people and an annual budget under $1 million.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on ICAS, which launched in April 2015.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pro-Clinton Think Tank Helps Launch New National Security Initiaitve

The liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) is flexing its muscles once again in its ongoing attempt to help Hillary Clinton become president of the United States.  Here is more:
The political arm of the Center for American Progress, a leading progressive group that is aligned with Hillary Clinton, is bringing together major Democratic figures in national security to focus attention on the stakes of the election and to highlight what they see as the damaging potential of a Trump presidency.
The project, called the National Security Leadership Alliance, will be funded by C.A.P. Action. It will feature a roster of major members of the foreign policy and national security community, including two retired four-star generals; Leon E. Panetta, the former C.I.A. director; Madeleine K. Albright, the former secretary of state; Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general; and Carl Levin, the former Michigan senator. All have endorsed Mrs. Clinton.
There will be an effort to highlight precisely what, in the military arsenal, Donald J. Trump would have access to as president. Mr. Trump has been criticized for his views on foreign policy, criticisms that have been central to the case that Mrs. Clinton has made against him in an effort to describe the stakes of the 2016 presidential election. The Center for American Progress is led by a top outside adviser to Mrs. Clinton, Neera Tanden, and the new project seeks to put a spotlight on what officials are calling a progressive foreign policy vision.

Ms. Tanden has long been rumored to be a possible pick for the chief of staff position under a Clinton Administration.  Here is a link to the NSLA's new website.  Here is a press release about the NSLA launch.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#227)

  • What think tanks are thinking on the Brexit.
  • Keith Burnet of Chatham House: Road to think tank transparency not entirely straightforward.
  • Delete your think tank.
  • Alexandra Petri: This majestic species may still be spotted in a few select preserves, mainly think tanks...
  • 51 diplomats, two think tanks, and the future of Syria.
  • US think tanks dreaming up a Russian collapse?  Lost in own fantasy world of Russian aggression?
  • Think tanks "spinning themselves into a tizzy" about education reform.
  • MP Nicholas Soames: "Project Fear" probably invented by some twerp in a think tank.
  • Pic: Think tank of Nawaz Sharif and his family.
  • HBCU in Texas launching black leadership think tank.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Roosevelt Institute Trying to Influence Clinton Cabinet Picks

The New York-based liberal think tank Roosevelt Institute is trying to influence who Hillary Clinton chooses for her Cabinet if she becomes president.  Here is more from the Boston Globe:
Now left-leaning Democrats, worried about being shut out of a centrist administration if Hillary Clinton wins in November, are furiously compiling what amount to binders full of liberals for the presumptive nominee’s consideration.
Spearheading the effort is a New York-based liberal think tank called the Roosevelt Institute, whose top economists include a prominent Warren ally. Staff members from the institute have been interviewing hundreds of progressive economists and other professionals who could fill posts throughout a Clinton administration.
“It’s a big undertaking to staff up an entire government,” said Marcus Mrowka, a spokesman for the institute. Eager to avoid seeming presumptive and creating a backlash, the institute is billing its work as an intensive networking effort.
The Roosevelt Institute is a liberal counterweight to the more centrist power bases in Washington like the Center for American Progress and the Brookings Institution, which are loaded with Clinton loyalists.
Five people familiar with the Roosevelt Institute’s initiative who weren’t authorized to talk about it publicly said the goal is to ensure that a hypothetical Clinton administration has access to a cadre of potential staff — particularly on financial issues — who aren’t closely connected to Wall Street interests.

The article notes that the Roosevelt Institute is the home of Joseph Stiglitz, a key Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) ally.  "Working for him and conducting many of the interviews is Lenore Palladino, a well-respected progressive who has been on the payroll of and Demos, a left-wing group co-founded by Warren's daughter."  [Her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, is Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Demos.]

The Roosevelt Institute, however, isn't the only think tank trying to influence a Clinton Cabinet.  The article also mentions that some think tanks are putting together "opposition-research-style dossiers" that detail past positions taken by more centrist Democrats who might be in line for regulatory jobs in a Clinton Administration.  Here is more on that effort:
Some of that work is being done by the Revolving Door Project, an initiative housed in the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). It is part of a coalition of groups that is waging a more overt push to lobby around presidential appointments.
“In this environment, appointments really matter,” said Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, who said he’s pushing for political appointees who focus on the public interest. “There are a lot of different progressives that have come to the same conclusion over the last eight years, that focusing exclusively on legislative goals is impractical.”

Despite that effort, think tanks closer to the Clintons, including Center for American Progress (CAP), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and the Brookings Institution, will likely play an overwhelming role in helping decide and staff actual Cabinet posts.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Meet Trump's New Favorite Think Tank

Presumed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has a new favorite think tank, and it is not who you think.  You may have guessed something like the Heritage Foundation or the Hudson Institute or even the Hoover Institution.  Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Trump's new favorite think tank is the liberal, union-backed think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI).  No folks, we are not making this up.  On June 28 Trump gave an economic and trade speech which frequently cited statistics from EPI.  In fact, in a footnoted version of the speech, he cited EPI 20 times.  There was nary a single citation from a conservative think tank, which he also relies on from time to time.

The only other think tanks mentioned in the citations were the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the conservative Tax Foundation, which each had one citation.

EPI, of course, it not too keen on being linked to Donald Trump, and has called his latest take on trade a "scam."  After all, EPI bills itself as the first (and the premier) think tank to focus on the economic conditions of low- and middle-income Americans and their families.  Being linked to a billionaire is a huge no-no.

From 2010 to 2014, about 57% of EPI funding came from foundation grants, while another 27% came from labor unions.  The remainder came from a mix of organizations, corporations, individuals, and others.

The Wall Street Journal recently called EPI "the AFL-CIO's think tank," referring to the largest federation of unions in the United States.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Think Tank Dating Scene is Very Wonky

How does a typical think tanker have enough time to find love after reading hundreds of pages of congressional documents and the latest economic reports while rushing to meetings at the White House and State Department?  One word: Tinder.

The sharp-eyed Kevin Carty, a Program Associate with the Open Markets Program at the think tank New America, found a profile from one think tanker who is looking for love on the dating app Tinder:

And here is one more wonky Tinder quote for you.

Are more high-level think tankers using The League app to find dates?

If anyone else sees any thing tanker profiles on Tinder, please let us know!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Conservative Think Tanks Get Bashed in New Transparency Report

A new report by Transparify shows that the conservative think tanks American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Hudson Institution, and Hoover Institute all got the ultra-low rating of one-star for being "highly opaque" in terms of their funding sources.

However, the Heritage Foundation, the US's most well-known conservative think tank, received the much higher rating of "broadly transparent," (four stars) along with its center-left cohort the Brookings Institution.  Other think tanks that are "broadly transparent" include Atlantic Council, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Center for American Progress (CAP).

The Wilson Center, Stimson Center, and Center for Global Development (CGD) are among the major US think tanks that received the highest ranking of five stars ("highly transparent").

Transparify rates the extent to which think tanks publicly disclose through their website where their funding comes from.  The average transparency score among US think tanks is 3.3 stars, up from just 2.1 stars in 2013.  The Transparify survey rated 200 think tanks in 47 countries.

Transparify is funded by the Think Tank Fund, a program of the Open Society Foundations which is funded by billionaire George Soros.  Ironically, in the Transparify report, Open Society Foundations got the worst score of any "think tank," with zero stars.

The full report can be found here.

Update: After the data for the Transparify report was collected, the Hudson Institute became a 4-star think tank due to its funding disclosures in its 2015 annual report.  Among the $100,000+ donors to Hudson include: 21st Century Fox, Dow Jones, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, PhRMA, Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US.  Other donors to Hudson include AT&T, BHP Billiton, State Farm, United Parcel Service (UPS), Wendy's Corporation, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil.

Here is an article in iNews by Cahal Milmo about the new Transparify report entitled "Leading Think Tanks 'Influencing Public Policy Without Disclosing Donors.'"

Think Tank Quickies (#226)

  • Brexit means that many UK think tanks will lose access to key funding sources?
  • Brookings looking to turn itself into more of a digital publisher; plays with Lego's.
  • Think tankers don't get Trump.  Can their advice change him? (via S.V. Date of HuffPo).
  • Ben Scott of New America: Think tanks should become incubators of civic entrepreneurship.
  • Nevsun Resources (with Eritrea ops) giving $100,000+ to Atlantic Council to promote Eritrea?
  • AEI President Arthur Brooks on how his think tank is working to improve Washington.
  • Think tanks and tax status: A note on 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) tax categories. (Alex Chance)
  • The role of think tanks: A reply to critics (via Jeremy Sammut)
  • How a 1962 Michael Polanyi essay on research funding inspires donations to think tanks.
  • AEI event: The world according to Star Wars.
  • Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe, who just spoke at CSIS, quits amid outcry on spending.

Monday, June 27, 2016

WPost on Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal

The Washington Post has a new story on the Daily Signal, a news website founded in 2014 and published by the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation.  Here is more:
Last summer, shortly after the first Republican presidential debate, the editors of the Daily Signal made a decision. Although its digital-only staff of 25 reporters and editors works less than two miles from the White House, they wouldn’t write about the presidential campaign — not at all.
An odd call, perhaps, but then again, the Daily Signal is not your run-of-the-mill news operation.
First off, it is funded by, and housed within, the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank whose president is former Republican senator (and tea party leader) Jim DeMint.
[Editor in Chief Robert] Bluey’s office boasts a large soft-focus poster of Ronald Reagan, and the newsroom lacks the clutter and clatter — and fast-food wrappers — of most places where journalists toil. Clean, quiet and well-appointed, it feels more like a law office or, well, a foundation — except for an impressive new video studio due to debut this summer.
Is it indeed a news operation, or a way for Heritage to do strategic communication in a new and effective way? The editorial insiders insist that it is very much the former.
Former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson is a regular contributor. And when Facebook executives met with conservative news organizations to soothe fears about charges of anti-conservative bias, Bluey was among them. A few weeks later, Bluey was first to report a story about Facebook’s plans for anti-bias training.
So far, though, the two-year-old site has no credentials to cover Congress, which are granted by the Standing Committee of Correspondents. Bluey thinks the prerequisites for getting them may be pretty challenging for the Signal, at least right now. What’s required includes diverse funding sources and no affiliation with (or location within) an advocacy organization.

The article goes on to note that the Signal is trying to diversify its funding by asking readers to subscribe, noting that with an annual budget of $1.3 million, the site gets about 2 million unique visitors a month.

The Editor in Chief, Robert Bluey, noted that sometimes people at the Heritage Foundation, including President Jim DeMint, offer ideas for Daily Signal.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on the Daily Signal.

Friday, June 24, 2016

DNC Hackers Also Targeting Think Tanks

It seems that foreign intelligence agencies want to tap into the mind on Hillary Clinton's top advisors.  To do so, they are breaking into computer systems of think tanks that have employees who have close ties to the Clintons.

The latest example: Hackers who targeted the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have also been going after US think tanks.  Here is more from Bloomberg Politics:
The Russian hackers who hit the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign burrowed much further into the U.S. political system, sweeping in law firms, lobbyists, consultants, foundations and the policy groups known as think tanks, according to a person familiar with investigations of the attacks.
Almost 4,000 Google accounts were targeted in an elaborate “spear phishing” campaign -- intended to trick users into providing access so that information could be gleaned from personal and organizational accounts -- from October through mid-May, according to the person, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential information.
Among the policy groups targeted was the Center for American Progress (CAP), which has ties to Clinton and the Obama administration. “We are constantly reviewing our security and operations to prevent and thwart unauthorized activity,” Liz Bartolomeo, a spokeswoman for the center, said in an e-mailed statement. “We have reviewed our systems and we believe our security measures have prevented unwanted access to our systems.”

As Think Tank Watch has previously reported, several influential think tankers, including CAP President Neera Tanden, sit on the DNC policy committee that is helping Democrats draft their policy platform for the upcoming elections.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Attorney General Demanding Docs From Think Tanks in Exxon Probe

Here is more from The Daily Caller:
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is now the latest state prosecutor to start investigating conservative groups with supposed ties to ExxonMobil, after she issued a subpoena for 40 years of internal company documents and communications with a handful of think tanks.
Healey’s office subpoenaed Exxon as part of a multi-state effort among liberal attorneys general to investigate Exxon for allegedly trying to cover up global warming science. Healey charges that the oil giant lied to shareholders and consumers about the risks of global warming in its communications and shareholder filings, according to a copy of the subpoena obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
 Healey demands decades worth or records from prominent conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation and activist group Americans for Prosperity, and also from smaller, lesser known state-based right-leaning groups, such as Boston’s Beacon Hill Institute and the Acton Institute.

In April, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) said that the attorney general of the US Virgin Islands is demanding to see records of the think tank's donors and activities involving climate policy.

Naomi Oreskes, professor at Harvard and co-author of a history of climate skepticism called Merchants of Doubt, said that the history of climate denial can be traced back to a think tank called the George C. Marshall Institute.  That think tank, which was established in 1984, was founded by a former tobacco industry consultant.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Does Trump Want to Destroy Think Tanks?

For months and months, think tanks were not a target for Donald Trump, but now, some think tanks are fretting after the Trump campaign suggested that a main source of funding for think tanks should be severely limited.  Ironically, the suggestion came from Stephen Moore, a top economic advisor to Trump who happens to work at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation.

Under Mr. Moore's plan, which calls for higher taxes on rich people who donate to non-profits (i.e., think tanks), many of the very donors who give to his think tank (and many others) will likely reduce their donations to Washington's powerful policy organizations.  After all, Heritage is one of the many think tanks that receives funds from billionaire donors.

Here is more from a recent Hill piece:
Moore said the policy challenge would be writing law that distinguishes between genuine charities, like churches and the Salvation Army, and those that should be subject to taxes.
“The question is: Could you make a distinction between a church, homeless shelter, soup kitchen versus the Brookings Institution?” he said, referring to the nonpartisan think tank. Moore’s employer, the Heritage Foundation, is a conservative think tank.

Our guess is that Moore does not mind shooting himself (and his think tank cohorts) in the foot because if Trump becomes president, he would likely leave think tank land after being given a plum job in the Trump Administration.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#225)

  • Why DC think tanks can't figure out Trump, via Boston Globe. 
  • Link to essay by Robert Kagan (of Brookings) causes hell for NYT editor Jonathan Weisman.
  • CSIS's strong ties to Vietnam, via Greg Rushford (5/23/16).
  • Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc., stepping down as New America board chair but remains as chairman emeritus; Reihan Salam and Jonathan Soros appointed as board chairs.
  • Hoover Institution's Golden State poll.
  • Center for a New American Security launches drone website called Proliferated Drones.
  • CNAS brings in three new board members: Leanne Caret (Boeing), Thomas Campbell (DC Capital Partners), and Michael Sonnenfeldt (MUUS & Company).
  • RAND Corporation appoints Shira Efron as Special Advisor on Israel.
  • POGO report says think tanks still not registering with FARA.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

History and Reputation of the McKinsey Global Institute

This in an excerpt from the book "The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence":
Despite some missteps, [Frederick] Gluck also grasped that the firm had to do a better job publicizing its accomplishments.  Under his direction, in 1990 the firm launched the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), an independent research operation with the goal of developing "substantive points of view on the critical issues" faced by McKinsey clients.  Even in a world overflowing with economic think tanks, McKinsey brought a unique perspective to the table: The firm's understanding of actual company economics and industry structures gave specificity to its work.  "What's different about MGI is the unique access we have to information that doesn't show up in statistics that we can use responsibly to inform research," said Diana Farrell, head of MGI from 2001 to 2008, when she left to join the Obama Administration.
MGI has been successful in giving the firm a quasi-academic glow that's yet another in the long list of the ways it is differentiated from the competition.  The institute's work on productivity in the early 1990s is widely regarded as groundbreaking in economic circles.  Later work on global capital market developments, the US healthcare system, and energy productivity continues to give McKinsey a voice in conversations to which its competitors are not invited.  But it has also given an outlet to the firms' recurring eruptions of arrogance.  When the institute paid significant sums to lure Nobel laureate Robert Solow and other leading economists to its board, then-chairman Ted Hall reportedly professed the belief that the institute itself was doing Nobel-quality work instead of merely buying Nobel-quality window dressing.

According to rankings by the University of Pennsylvania (which takes money from the think tanks it ranks), McKinsey Global Institute is ranked as the best for-profit think tank in the world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

DNC Policy Being Influenced by Powerful Think Tankers

With the 2016 presidential elections in full-swing, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has been meeting to hammer out the Democratic policies that they hope will help defeat Donald Trump.  A policy committee has been set up that includes six members appointed by Hillary Clinton, five members by Bernie Sanders, and four members appointed by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who is head of the DNC.

Clinton has appointed Neera Tanden, the President of the Center for American Progress (CAP) as a member.  She also appointed Carol Browner, the former Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, who is now a Distinguished Senior Fellow at CAP.  Another Clinton appointee is Wendy Sherman, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.  Sherman is a Senior Fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.