Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Think Tanks Trying to Influence Final Presidential Debate

Numerous think tanks have been working closely with presidential candidates offering policy papers, advice, and teams of scholars to quickly pen reports and opinions on the hottest topics of the day.

Think tanks have also been trying to get debate moderators to ask certain questions.  Here is the latest example from Politico:
Several think tanks have posted foreign policy and national security-related questions for the third presidential debate, including the Brookings Institution and the Center for a New American Security. Among the familiar themes: Military force in Syria (a topic the Bipartisan Policy Center also highlighted), Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Baltics and the terrorism fight.

Hundreds of think tankers are directly and indirectly advising both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and just like past debates, we anticipate a number of think tanks will be doing real-time fact-checking for this debate as well.

Here is a look at what some specific think tanks are doing for tonight's festivities:
  • Scholars from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) are live on Facebook discussing foreign policy and tonight's debate.
  • Brookings scholars are on the ground in Las Vegas where the debate is taking place. 
  • Cato Institute's list of scholars live-tweeting the debate.
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is asking people to follow its Twitter feed for scholar reaction.

This is how think tankers are really preparing for tonight's debate.

Harvard: Journalists Need to do a Better Job Citing Think Tanks

Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy has just issued a new tip sheet to help journalists in citing think tanks.

The tip sheet was released in the wake of the damning New York Times pieces in August which called out a number of think tanks for their pay-for-play culture.

Only a handful of think tanks are truly unbiased, and thus, it is important for anyone quoting think tanks and think tankers to mention what biases may be present (political leanings, funding biases, etc...).

One important point the tip sheet explains is the use of "nonpartisan" that many think tanks have wrongly adopted to describe themselves, saying that there is "little legal criteria for adopting the rubric and a nonpartisan group could, in theory, still have a political leaning."

One example that immediately comes to mind in the ultra-liberal, union-backed think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which says it is "independent and nonpartisan."

The center-left Brookings Institution also calls itself nonpartisan but clearly leans Democratic and heavily supports President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.  [Here is the "nonpartisan" policy of Brookings from the think tank's Office of General Counsel.]

The think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) also calls itself "nonpartisan" when it is clearly conservative.

The tip sheet has, among other things, a definition of "think tank," examples of conflicts of interest, precautions to take when citing think tank rankings, Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) issues, and other resources for journalists.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#237)

  • Why college (and think tank) rankings are a joke.
  • New rules to put chill on think tank hiring of executive branch officials?
  • RAND Corp. analyzed the Trump and Clinton health plans.
  • Susan Rice to announce new Presidential Directive on Cuba Oct. 14 at Wilson Center. 
  • New Canadian think tank True North launches.
  • During 2nd presidential debate Brookings and Center for American Progress (CAP) did real-time fact-checking on Donald Trump.
  • Adam Johnson: Gonna start a sham think tank with a really generic but official sounding name (Center for World Policy) & hand out "fellowships" to my buddies.
  • Start-up think tank (Tax Revolution Institute, or TRI) on a mission to audit the IRS.
  • When think tanks get bored.
  • Bloomberg: Communist China turns to independent think tanks; Cheng Li says Xi Jinping emphasizes role of think tanks more than any leader in China's history.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Brookings Turns 100 And Pivots Amid Rocky Stretch

On October 1, 2016, as the venerable Brookings Institution turned 100, it issued "Brookings 2.0," a plan for its second century.

Brookings's new goals fall under five categories:
  1. Tightening its focus
  2. Enhancing its influence and relevance
  3. Promoting a culture of collaboration
  4. Advancing inclusion and diversity
  5. Reinforcing efficiency and sustainability

Among other things, the think tanks says it is reissuing Brookings Classics, books from the think tank's past that are relevant to some of today's issues.  A podcast celebrating Brookings centenary can be found here.

In conjunction with its big birthday, the think tank had announced an initiative to raise $600 million.

A timeline of Brookings, including all of its past logos, can be found here.  A showcase of the impact of the work by the think tank's scholars can be found here.

Brookings notes that it has come a long way since 1916, when it had only 13 staff members; that compares to the 500+ it has now.  Brookings has also joined Snapchat.

We should note that all is not birthday cakes and roses for Brookings.  After all, the think tank has received huge amounts of negative press about pay-for-play schemes and close ties to corporations and foreign governments.  And recent investigative reports show that the think tank has been unable to shake off this decades-old stigma.

The new book "Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture Since 1945," says that even in the 1950s Brookings was perceived as "anything but free from special interests."  It adds: "By the post-World War II period, Brookings had gained a reputation, especially among liberals, as a spokesman for big business."

The book also notes that Brookings played a key role in selling the Iraq war to the American public and government.  "The advocacy of think tanks like Brookings...helped create a consensus around the invasion of Iraq."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

UPenn Think Tank Rankings Tainted by Brookings Connection

There is one more reason to put a little less faith in the much-anticipated think tank rankings put out by the University of Pennsylvania: The professor who conducts the rankings just had his new book published by the Brookings Institution, the very think tank that he has repeatedly ranked as the world's best think tank.

While there is not necessarily a quid pro quo going on, there is certainly an appearance of one.  After all, are you going to downgrade a think tank or give it unfavorable treatment if that very think tank is publishing your book?

The book, entitled The Fifth Estate: Think Tanks, Public Policy, and Governance, was written by James McGann, the Director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania.  Dr. McGann, a passionate supporter of think tanks, publishes an annual ranking of the world's think tanks.

The latest rankings, released earlier in 2016, list Brookings as the world's #1 think tank.  Brookings touts this fact in its annual report and elsewhere, and UPenn touts this fact, saying that "the Brookings Institution's high quality think tank brand helped secure" the top global think tank ranking.

Earlier in the year, we wrote about how the University of Pennsylvania was paid by the very think tank it ranks for the study.

In August, when questioned on a radio show about his close connections to think tanks, Dr. McGann said it is "absolutely false" to say that his organization is funded or supported by think tanks.

Here is what he went on to say:
My salary is entirely paid by the University of Pennsylvania.  My office is paid by the University of Pennsylvania, and my principal responsibilities are teaching and research.  I have been doing this for 30 years.  Any funds that have been provided by think tanks have not come to me directly, with the exception of a $1,000 contribution [per think tank] from 25 or 30 think tanks for a study designed to focus on...think tanks.  There are funds provided, which I have helped raise for summits of think tanks in Africa and Latin America, but none of that goes to me.  It goes to the institutions to help convene think tanks and talk about these very issues.

In other words, contrary to his initial defense, Dr. McGann admitted that he does indeed receive money from think tanks.

To be fair, while not perfect, Dr. McGann's think tank rankings are by far the most comprehensive global think tank rankings available.  But putting trust in them is a different story...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

New Book Describes Think Tank Panels

Eliot Nelson, a reporter for the Huffington Post, has just written a book called "The Beltway Bible: A Totally Serious A-Z Guide to Our No-Good, Corrupt, Incompetent, Terrible, Depressing and Sometimes Hilarious Government."

Here is an excerpt from the book about panels (including think tank panels):
The convening of experts in sofa chairs or on barstools to furrow their brows and prove how qualified they are to opine about emerging government transparency regimes in the Balkans.
Most panel titles follow a similar blueprint, featuring a catchy statement or question followed by a description of the event — something along the lines of “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey? Examining Knobs in the 21st Century” or “You Say, ‘Potato,’ I Say, ‘Where’s the Lactation Room?’ Updating OSHA Regulations for Today’s Working Parents.”
Friends in Washington invite you to their panels the way friends everywhere else invite you to their improv shows. Do you feel compelled to attend? Yes. Will you enjoy it? No. Will your friend not shut up about it on social media? Of course not.

Check out past entries from Think Tank Watch for more commentary about think tank panels.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#236)

  • Vox: Almost no prominent people at think tanks or professors who are supporting Donald Trump.
  • Showers are the ultimate think tanks.
  • Think tank Center for Security Policy expressed concern over Qatari role in CityCenterDC.
  • Massachusetts Ave. Meeting of the Minds: Brookings welcomes AEI to the block; scholars spotted debating secular stagnation over sundaes.
  • Economic Freedom of the World report put together every year by a consortium of 70 think tanks.
  • Think tanks pouring resources into new ways to fight against violent propaganda washing over the internet from Islamist groups and far-right radicals.
  • Should think tankers "pre-suade" before talking or sending out reports?
  • MSNBC holds annual WHCA after-party at USIP. 
  • Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson speak at CSIS event on Sept. 22. 
  • Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at Wilson Center to promote TPP.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Lawyer Pens Heritage Doc Calling for End to Obama's Lobbying Ban

Gregory Walden, a non-staff member of The Heritage Foundation, and a Senior Counsel with law/lobby powerhouse Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, has just written a piece for the think tank arguing that restrictions on lobbyists in the administration discourages good candidates from serving and proposing reversing President Obama's lobbying ban.

The full paper, which was presented at a September 26 event at Heritage, can be read here.  Mr. Walden is a former Associate Counsel to President George H.W. Bush.

The Tiny Office Writing the Future of America

The Huffington Post has a piece entitled "The Future of America is Being Written in This Tiny Office," which highlights the work of the Hillary Clinton campaign's Brooklyn headquarters office, a team that is collecting and synthesizing all the pro-Clinton think tank policy papers into actual policy as she strives to become the next US president.

Here is an excerpt:
This summer, I stopped by Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters, where the policy team occupies prime real estate. The three senior advisors—Jake Sullivan, Maya Harris and Jacob Leibenluft—share an office steps away from those of campaign manager Robby Mook and chairman John Podesta. (O’Leary is now leading the official transition operation in Washington.) About a dozen more policy aides occupy nearby cubicles, below a sign that says “Nerds” and “Wonks for the Win.” This team manages more than 30 outside working groups that include academic heavyweights, think tank experts and trusted advisers like Sperling and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress. It’s an impressive crew, but perhaps over-qualified when it comes to some of the matters that have convulsed this particular election, like the size of Trump’s hands or the semiotics of Pepe the Frog. “It’s not exactly clear what to do with all of that horsepower,” says a person familiar with the process. “There is just this mismatch between capabilities they have and what’s actually required in this campaign.”

Among the think tanks that are heavily advising Mrs. Clinton are Center for American Progress (CAP) and the Roosevelt Institute (as we recently wrote about here).

Former CFR Scholar Axed From Trump Campaign

Here is more from Newsmax:
A foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump is reportedly stepping down from the campaign – and pushing back on allegations he had private communications with top Russian officials.
Carter Page called the allegations "just complete garbage" in an interview with the Washington Post, but said was taking a leave of absence because they were causing a "distraction."

U.S. intelligence officials were looking into whether Carter had met privately with Kremlin-aligned Russian figures while on a trip to Moscow in July, Yahoo News reported last Friday.

Carter Page was a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the director of the think tank's online roundtable of the Caspian Sea Region.  After his stint at CFR, he spoke at the think tank on several occasions.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Billionaire Chinese Donor to US Think Tanks Caught in Scandal

A billionaire Chinese donor to US think tanks has been expelled from China's top legislature after being caught up in a widespread cash-for-votes scheme, according to the Washington Post.

The donor, Wang Wenliang, Chairman of privately-held construction firm Rilin Enterprises, has given to think tanks such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), as well as various schools such as Harvard University and New York University.

In 2014, CSIS created the Brzezinski Institute of Geostrategy, which was funded by Mr. Wenliang's company.  Here is more from a CSIS press release:
The launching grant for the Institute came from Rilin Enterprises, Ltd., a global construction and logistics firm based in Hong Kong with offices in New York, Beijing, and Dandong, China. Mr. Wenliang Wang serves as chairman of Rilin Enterprises. Mr. Mark Fung, who serves on the Institute’s Advisory Board, is the firm’s general counsel and in the 1990s was Dr. Brzezinski’s student and then seminar assistant at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Here is a New Republic piece written by John Judis in 2014 questioning Mr. Wang's donation to CSIS.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of billionaires (both foreign and domestic) giving donations to US think tanks.

Think Tank Quickies (#235)

  • Phyllis Schlafly, who came to Washington for a year to do research for what is now AEI, dies at 92.
  • Center for American Progress (CAP) starts US-China Rising Scholar Strategic Dialogue.
  • Panel, which wrote stinging indictment of America's security apparatus, organized by Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a former Dick Cheney adviser who now works at the Hudson Institute.
  • Brookings book event (Cuba) had reception with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. 
  • Congress renews debate on avoidance of local tax by colleges, think tanks. 
  • Will Brexit lead to brain-drain of UK think tanks?
  • For a think tank head to succeed, it helps not to look the part.
  • Chinese diplomat Dai Bingguo warns on sea ruling at gathering of Chinese and US think tank officials.
  • Heritage Action hosts Conservative Leadership Awards. 
  • CAP publishes major new security paper offering new approach to US foreign policy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Billionaire's Daughter Throwing Big Money at Think Tanks

In the think tank world, it pays to be friends with billionaires.  The latest example comes from The Washington Post:
Mitt Romney had just lost the 2012 presidential election, and a group of wealthy donors assembled in New York's University Club was trying to figure out what had gone wrong.  Suddenly, a young woman stood up before the largely male crowd and delivered an unsparing critique of the Republican's technology and canvassing operations.
Thomas Saunders III, chairman of the Heritage Foundation's Board of Trustees, was impressed.  "Who is that?" he asked the man next to him.
Soon, there would be few in conservative policy and political circles who did not know the name Rebekah Mercer.
Galvanized in part by the Republicans' 2012 White House loss, the middle daughter of billionaire hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer has rattled the status quo by directing her family's resources into an array of investments on the right.  In the past six years, the Mercers have poured tens of millions into Republican super PACs, Washington think tanks, state policy shops, a film-production company, a data analytics operation and one of the country's most provocative online conservative news outlets.

The article goes on to note that Rebekah Mercer jointed the board of the Goldwater Institute and her family foundation gave nearly $1 million to the think tank between 2011 and 2014.  The family foundation have nearly $35 million to conservative think tanks and policy groups between 2009 and 2014.  And she is now on the board of trustees of the Heritage Foundation.

The Hill also notes that Mercer has been a big supporter of the libertarian Cato Institute.

Think Tank Watch recently wrote about a new trend of billionaires starting their own think tanks.  Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on the favorite think tank of billionaires.

PR/Lobby Firms Lawyer Up After Entanglements With EU Think Tank

Here is more from Politico:
K Street powerhouses Mercury and the Podesta Group recently hired outside lawyers after the Associated Press reported that their work for a European think tank was secretly overseen by [Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul] Manafort and one of his associates working for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. Manafort and his company never registered their activities under FARA.

The IG report noted ambiguity about whether exemptions apply to representing foreign entities like college campus groups and think thanks that receive government funding but claim to act independently.
FARA registrations peaked in 1987 and fell sharply since the 1990s, probably because people started registering under the 1995 domestic lobbying law instead, which requires less detailed disclosures.

The "think tank" mentioned above is European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECFMU), based in Brussels, Belgium.  Here is more about that organization, which was founded in 2012.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Atlantic Council Faulted for Awarding African "Dictator"

This is from a Foreign Policy opinion piece by Thor Halvorssen and Alex Gladstein (both of the Human Rights Foundation) entitled "Why Did the Atlantic Council Even Consider Giving African Dictator Ali Bongo Ondimba a Global Citizen Award?":
Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba was scheduled to attend a swanky gala on Monday hosted by the Atlantic Council, a well-known Washington-based think tank, to accept an award for “his life of public service and efforts to improve the lives of the people of Gabon.” Unfortunately for the dictator, he was forced to cancel at the last moment because of mounting unrest in his country — the bloody fallout from a likely stolen election on Aug. 27.
Days of violent protests followed. At least 50 people were killed, and more than 1,000 were arrested by security forces, according to the opposition. Gabon remains under a 12-hour-a-day curfew, but the Atlantic Council has not officially rescinded the award, which it previously bestowed on the likes of Robert De Niro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. In a letter to Human Rights Foundation, Atlantic Council President Frederick Kempe said his organization respects Bongo’s “decision to forgo receiving his Global Citizen Award this year due to the overriding priorities he has in his country.”
Yet it’s not clear how Bongo was ever considered a worthy candidate for the award in the first place. The notoriously corrupt leader has ruled Gabon since 2009, when he succeeded his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, in a fraudulent election.
By recognizing him with a Global Citizen Award, the Atlantic Council is helping Bongo shed his image as an outrageously corrupt autocrat. The democratically elected leaders of Japan and Italy, Shinzo Abe and Matteo Renzi, respectively, will receive their awards on Monday as scheduled at a gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Had Bongo not been busy putting down a protest movement opposed to his rule, he would have been able to present himself as a similarly legitimate leader. And since the Atlantic Council hasn’t revoked the award, he may still be able to do so at a later date.
The Atlantic Council has long trumpeted its objectivity and independence, but feting Bongo is just the latest in a series of troubling developments at the think tank that raise questions about its commitment to transparency and ability to keep business interests separate from its research and policy operations. Gabon is not the only dictatorship the Atlantic Council has cozied up to: The Kingdom of Bahrain is listed on the organization’s website as a six-figure donor, and it has received financial support from the governments of Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, and Kazakhstan. Alexander Mirtchev, one of the directors of Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund, sits on the executive committee of the Atlantic Council’s board of directors and is listed as a six-figure donor.

The piece goes on to note that it is "difficult to discern the precise nature" of the Atlantic Council's relationship with the Bongo regime, and questions if someone from the government (or someone on behalf of the government) has donated money to Atlantic Council.  The authors say that until these questions are answered, the "credibility of one of Washington's most venerated think tanks will remain in question, and its Global Citizens Award will remain a joke."

In what appears to be pushback from the think tank, Foreign Policy issued a correction at the end of the article saying that a previous version of the article noted that the Atlantic Council does not publicly disclose all of its funders, or the size of their donations (found here).  However, many think tanks say that they publicly disclose all of their donors, when it practice, many do not.

The Telegraph also wrote about this issue on September 11.

Here is an Atlantic Council statement on President Ali Bongo Ondimba not being able to accept the award this year.

But the Gabonese President was able to make it to the think tank earlier in 2016 for a breakfast to honor him.  And he also gave a keynote speech at the think tank in 2011.

Here is a Human Rights Foundation (HRF) letter sent to Atlantic Council saying that HRF is "unaware" of the qualification of a Global Citizen Award but "unless kleptocracy, nepotism, and repression are given high marks," giving the award to Ali Bongo is a "monumental mistake."

Think Tank Watch should note that it is not illegal for think tanks to take money from (most) dictators, although some may consider it ethically questionable.  And as previously reported, Gabon funds US think tanks.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#234)

  • Video by Renard Moreau: What are think tanks and can they be trusted?
  • NAF head Anne-Marie Slaughter's 5-minute survey on what a 21st-century think tank should be doing to affect change.
  • Think Tank Hub: A space for think tanks worldwide.
  • The Solomon Islands paper and the role of think tanks, by Elsina Wainwright.
  • Video: EastWest Institute (EWI) much more than your usual think tank?
  • Brookings's role in the Marshall Plan.
  • New think tank in Japan offers tips on LGBT awareness, market potential.
  • US think tanks focusing on studying China.
  • How and why we network Asian think tanks.
  • John Avlon of Daily Beast was senior fellow at conservative Manhattan Institute.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Think Tank Heads Get Paid big Money for Speeches

Think Tank Watch has long documented the generous pay that many top think tank officials take home, but a new trend is arising that makes their salaries look like chump change.

More and more think tank heads are joining the paid speaking circuit, bringing in tens of thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in supplemental income each year.

One example is New America head Anne-Marie Slaughter, who gets between $30,000 and $50,000 per speech, according to Foreign Policy.

Another is Arthur Brooks, President of American Enterprise Institute (AEI), who has a booking fee of $20,000 to $30,000, according to All American Speakers Bureau.

Strobe Talbott, head of the Brookings Institution, has a booking fee between $10,000 to $20,000, according to All American Speakers Bureau.

Speakerpedia, a directory of professional speakers, lists dozens of current and former think tankers seeking paid gigs.  Examples include:

  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
  • Norm Ornstein, AEI
  • Michael Barone, AEI
  • Peter Singer, New America
  • Robert Kagan, Brookings
  • Scott Aughenbaugh, CSIS
  • Aaron David Miller, Wilson Center
  • Stephen Moore, Heritage Foundation
  • Kenneth Pollack, Brookings
  • Sebastian Mallaby, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  • Uri Dadush, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Patrick Michaels, Cato Institute
  • David Wessel, Brookings
  • Peter Wallison, AEI
  • Gene Healy, Cato Institute
  • Edward Crane, Cato
  • Kevin Hassett, AEI
  • Ted Piccone, Brookings
  • Marina Ottaway, Wilson Center
  • Fiona Hill, Brookings
  • Dan Ikenson, Cato
  • Ryan Radia, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)
  • Michael Tanner, Cato
  • Thomas Sanderson, CSIS
  • Peter Goettler, Cato
  • Daniel Pearson, Cato
  • Frederick Hess, AEI
  • Neal McCluskey, Cato
  • Matthew Feeney, Cato
  • Marc Scribner, CEI
  • Angela Maria Kelley, CAP
  • Emma Ashford, Cato
  • Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz, Cato
  • Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato
  • Emily Ekins, Cato
  • Michael Strain, AEI
  • Anisha Singh, CAP
  • Adam Bates, Cato
  • Nicole Kaeding, Cato
  • Christopher Preble, Cato
  • Katherine Zimmerman, AEI
  • William Niskanen, Cato
  • Roger Noriega, AEI
  • Genevieve Wood, Heritage Foundation
  • Daniel Griswold, Cato
  • Stephen Slivinski, Cato
  • Mark Moller, Cato
  • Todd Harrison, CSIS
  • Timothy Lynch, Cato
  • Linda Killian, Wilson Center

While select think tank heads typically can command high fees, those lower on the think tank totem pole get significantly less.  But even the highest paid think tankers get peanuts compared to the most in-demand speakers.

One of the few exceptions is former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a Distinguished Fellow in Residence at Brookings, who pulls down a nice six-figure fee per speech.

In recent months think tanks have been tightening their rules on outside work by scholars, particularly in light of the New York Times expose last month on pay-for-play at major think tanks.  But the speaking circuit generally does not fall under the purview of most think tank policies on outside engagements.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Taiwanese Think Tanks Take Washington by Storm

Think tanking in Washington, DC is getting more crowded by the day.  To wit: This week a well-funded Taiwanese think tank, said to be the largest US-based think tank focusing on Taiwan, will open its doors in Washington, DC.

Here is more from the Taipei Times:
The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI), opening on September 14, has access to more than US$20 million and has paid US$3 million for its Dupont Circle, Washington, office, sources said, adding that the institute is to be made up of people from the US, Taiwan, Japan and Europe.
US Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Grace Meng, institute honorary chairman Wu Rong-i and Formosa TV chairman Kou Pei-hung are to attend a founding event for the institute, they said.
The institute has received funding and support from influential figures, sources said, adding that its establishment is noteworthy at a time when Taiwanese independence advocate Koo Kwang-ming has announced the suspension of his Taipei-based Taiwan Brain Trust, which is expected to join the Ketagalan Foundation, an organization owned and operated by supporters of former president Chen Shui-bien.
Former president Lee Teng-hui is to serve as the institute’s chief adviser and Wu as its honorary chairman, while 37 people are to serve as cofounders, including former Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission chairwoman Chang Fu-mei (張富美).
Each cofounder has contributed US$100,000 to the institute.
The institute’s board of advisers has 14 members and includes former American Institute in Taiwan director William Stanton, University of Miami professor of political science June Dreyer, University of Pennsylvania professor of history Arthur Waldron and former Congressional Research Service researcher Shirley Kan, the institute said.

Here is a link to the think tank's new website.

Another think tank, The Institute for Taiwan-American Studies (ITAS), opened in 2015.  Here is a link to its website.

In related news, Foreign Policy recently published a piece on China's sole Washington, DC think tank.

According to the University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings, tiny Washington, DC has the most think tanks of any place in the United States, at 397.

Update: GTI held a reception on September 14 to celebrate its opening.  Attendees including more than 100 prominent Asia scholars as well as lawmakers and Obama Administration officials.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Think Tankers Jockeying for Key Posts in Clinton Administration

Scholars at some of Washington, DC's top think tanks are jockeying for attention and power as they vie for  key posts in a possible Hillary Clinton Administration.

Reporting from Politico shows that a number of high-level think tankers are in the running for key posts within a Clinton Administration.  Examples include:

  • Neera Tanden, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress (CAP), will likely be some type of "senior adviser" to Mrs. Clinton, and possibly the domestic policy adviser.
  • William Burns, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, could be the next secretary of state.
  • Wendy Sherman, a non-resident Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center, is also in the running for secretary of state.
  • Nick Burns, who is on the Board of Directors at Harvard's Belfer Center, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and Atlantic Council, is another possibility for secretary of state.
  • Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution, is also being talked about as a possible secretary of state.
  • Kurt Campbell, Co-founder and former CEO of Center for a New American Security (CNAS), could also become secretary of state.
  • Michele Flournoy, Co-founder and CEO of CNAS is a possible secretary of defense.
  • Lael Brainard, formerly at Brookings, is a possibility for treasury secretary.
  • John Podesta, Co-founder of the Center for American Progress (CAP), could possibly become the next energy secretary.

In related news, Think Tank Watch has just reported that scholars from the Roosevelt Institute are drafting a list of key people that want in a Clinton Administration.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Roosevelt Institute Becoming Clinton's Go-To Think Tank?

The liberal think tank Roosevelt Institute has gained enormous influence during the past year as more and more are taking their work seriously amid an increased focuses on inequality and progressive politics.

Here is more from the New York Times Magazine:
Felicia Joy Wong runs the Roosevelt Institute, a small think tank (for lack of a better term) that originated in trusts established to promote the legacies of Franklin and Eleanor.  Its chief economist, the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, indirectly coined the Occupy movement's enduring slogan ("We are the 99 percent"), and Stiglitz and Wong each saw the election as an opportunity to channel Occupy energy into national politics.
...Unlike the myriad other white papers that each week were drafted, edited, somnolently received at other think tanks and shelved without fanfare, this report [Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy] had captured wide and consequential attention.  In the months leading up to its publication, the Roosevelt team was in close touch with Clinton's speechwriters and advisers, and in subsequent rallies the candidate continued to draw upon the report, even at the level of explicit language; calls to "rewrite the rules" found their way into more of her addresses.  The many news reports that linked the speech to Wong's organization consistently and erroneously relocated her team to Washington.  (Their headquarters are in Midtown Manhattan, in an Art Deco tower in the shadow of the Citigroup Center.)
Roosevelt is a 501(c)(3), and though it does maintain a political-action arm, it does not work to elect specific candidates.  Still, various representatives from Clinton's speechwriting and policy teams regularly solicit the organization's input.  Roosevelt in turn has redoubled its efforts not only on advancing the ideas in "Rewriting the Rules" but also in recruiting the personnel necessary to carry them out, in the form of a methodical effort to find suitable candidates for economic positions in a future presidential administration.

Here is more about Ms. Wong:
[Felicia Joy] Wong really does seem like an improbable person to preside over a think tank.  She grew up in Silicon Valley, studies poetry at Stanford, got a Ph.D. in political science at Berkeley, worked as a high-school teacher and then at a valley start-up and then happened into a job at the Democracy Alliance, a semi-secretive club of progressive donors.  She can barely bring herself to utter the phrase "think tank," much less "policy shop."  Late one evening in Washington, we walked by a thickset monolith that glowed with cold marmoreal light, as if James Turrell had built a fortress for some paranoid ice king.  The front read CSIS: the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  Wong rolled her eyes, theatrically shuddered and tucked her runaway hair behind her ear.  "Now that's a think tank."

On Roosevelt Institute vs. Center for American Progress:
On the left, there are lots of small organizations in Washington that publish granular research on specific economic trends.  But the most significant liberal think tank in recent years has been the Center for American Progress, founded in 2003 by former Bill Clinton chief of staff (and current Hillary Clinton campaign chair) John Podesta as his party's answer to the conservative Heritage Foundation.  CAP has done a lot of innovative policy work, especially on universal preschool and health care, but it was always less of a research organization than a shadow government for an opposition in exile.  When Obama was elected, roughly a third of CAP's staff went into his administration.  (Today, CAP's economic ideas are more in line with those of Roosevelt, and in 2015 it released a report on short-termism that anticipated part of "Rewriting the Rules.")

On How Roosevelt Institute has changed in the Obama era:
In 2009, a political scientist named Andrew Rich, known for writing about the "war of ideas," was drafted to reinvent the Roosevelt Institute as a place for the radical thinking that postcrisis politics seemed to require.  Roosevelt at the time was an ad hoc collection of spare progressive parts, including the upkeep of the F.D.R. Library in Hyde Park, N.Y.  Rich believed that if you weren't in Washington, and you weren't beholden to the party apparatus, and if you got the right people - people who were too idiosyncratic or rough-hewn for academia, or academics who wanted to be politically relevant bu needed help with finding an audience for their work - you could crate a new kind of institution on a looser, livelier model.  Rich brought on [Joseph] Stiglitz and Mike Konczal, who pseudonymous financial-crisis blog had a cult following among progressives

On Roosevelt Institute ties to Elizabeth Warren:
Elizabeth Warren is a key Roosevelt ally.  While Warren worked on the TARP oversight panel, she needed somewhere to park her aide-decamp, Dan Geldon, to help draft the details on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was being set up on the basis of her ideas.  He served as a fellow, and he and Warren maintain close ties to Roosevelt.

On the think tank's recruitment efforts & "Rewriting the Rules":
When Wong took over in 2012, she continued to recruit staff members and fellows who were at once nonaligned and well connected: to the A.F.T. and S.E.I.U., Demos, MoveOn, the Clintons.  By January 2015, Wong had decided, along with her communications director, Marcus Mrowka, and her vice president of research and policy, Nell Abernathy, to prepare for the coming election by creating a full-dress economic agenda that would be there for the candidates' taking.  "Rewriting the Rules" got funding from the Ford Foundation, whose decision last year to refocus around the issues of inequality was influenced by Roosevelt...While written by Stiglitz, the paper was worked out in consultation with labor officials, academics, congressional staff members and - unusually for a think tank - advocates from places like Color for Change, Naral and the Black Civic Engagement Fund.

On Roosevelt Institute vs. Heritage Foundation:
In July, The Boston Globe reported that Roosevelt had been leading a campaign to help staff the economic-policy positions in future presidential administrations.  Since the 1970s, movement conservatism has consistently outperformed progressives in laying a talent conduit.  Heritage identifies young candidates and grooms them for a smooth climb through the system; adjacent to its headquarters is a library-dorm for its interns, replete with piles of free Hayek.  Roosevelt's project, likewise, is about finding people with the economic, legal and regulatory experience to change the country's balance of power.

The report "Rewriting the Rules" can be found here.  And here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on how the think tank has been trying to influence Clinton's cabinet picks.

Also, here is a Politico article on how the think tank in helping draft a blacklist of prospective Clinton hires.  Among those already on the blacklist include Tom Nides (now Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Wilson Center) and Lael Brainard (formerly of Brookings).

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#233)

  • Asymmetric polarization: Brookings moving right to stay in the center?
  • How conservative think tanks helped create the age of Trump; Trump supporter Michael Flynn speaks at Heritage.
  • New film (Starving the Beast) explores the influence of think tanks and lobbyists on America's public colleges and universities.
  • Max Abrahms: Under-studied research question is why think tanks are generally so much more supportive of regime change than the academics. 
  • Think tanks and advocacy groups fighting FDA ECig rule have something in common: Altria money.
  • Grizzly Bear Institute of Canada: best think tank name ever?
  • Video: Think tanks - what are they good for?  Conversation with Rohinton Medhora. 
  • Two new Taiwanese think tanks in DC.
  • ECFR: A hundred think tanks bloom in China.
  • The Onion: "Encouraging Report From Radical Extremist Think Tank Finds America No Safer Since 9/11."

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

DC Think Tank Hires Former al-Qaeda Recruiter

Here is more from the Washington Post:
A former Islamist extremist who supported al-Qaeda and exhorted others to follow Osama bin Laden has joined George Washington University as a research fellow.
Jesse Morton, who was born in Pennsylvania and said he became a Muslim at age 20 after reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” while in prison for a drug offense, argues that he can offer an insider’s perspective on Islamist radicalization — and how to counter that threat.
Morton is the first former extremist in the United States to join an academic program, Lorenzo Vidino, director of GW’s Program on Extremism, said, although there are some working similar capacities in Europe.

The article goes on to note that Mr. Morton will be working at GWU's off-campus think tank (launched June 2015 to study both violent and non-violent extremism) and he will not be interacting with students.

Interestingly, the article does not even mention the think tank's name, which is the Center for Cyber & Homeland Security (CCHS).  Mr. Morton's think tank biography can be found here; he is listed as a research fellow.

Here is an interview with Lorenzo Vidino, the think tank's director, who discusses the hiring of Mr. Morton.

CCHS is believed to be the first think tank to hire a former Islamic extremist.

Among those on CCHS's board of directors include Michael Chertoff (former Secretary of Homeland Security), Cathy Lanier (Chief of DC police), and Tom Ridge (former Secretary of Homeland Security).

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

AEI Moves Next to Brookings, Carnegie

The conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has just moved into the Daniel A. D'Aniello Building at 1789 Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC, right next to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Brookings Institution.

The new location is only a few blocks away from its previous address of 1150 17th Street, NW and is the first permanent home in AEI's 78-year history.  In the past, AEI has always leased office space.

Think Tank Watch first wrote about the move in 2013, the same year that AEI purchased the building from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  In 2014, we noted that the new headquarters was estimated to cost $50 million.  A large portion of the cost was funded by Daniel A. D'Aniello, for whom the building is named after.

Mr. D'Aniello, who is Vice Chairman of AEI's Board of Trustees and Chairman and Co-founder of The Carlyle Group, gave a generous $20 million to the think tank.

Pictures of AEI's swanky new headquarters can be found here.  And here is a picture of the outside of the building with AEI's flag (and a closer view of the flag).  It seems like some Brookings scholars are already getting think tank flag envy, although the center-left think tank has warmly welcomed AEI to the block.

Here is a picture of AEI head Arthur Brooks and his colleagues exploring their new home.  It looks like everyone got new AEI water bottles and Post-It notes with the phrase "A Competition of Ideas" on the side.

Fun fact: The address of AEI's new headquarters used to be 1785 Massachusetts Ave. but the think tank was able to get it renumbered to 1789.

Here is a little about the farewell toast for AEI's new headquarters, via Politico.

Think Tank Quickies (#232)

  • Did a think tanker tell Joe Scarborough that Donald Trump asked why we can't use nukes?
  • In Detroit economic speech Trump quotes opposite extremes in think tank world: EPI and Heritage.
  • Trump's favorite think tank wants him to stop talking.
  • Has Washington and its hundreds of think tanks reached "peak geek." 
  • Think tank papers with more charts and diagrams = more influential?
  • Flashback: Presidential transitions and think tanks.
  • Cato event: The world according to Star Wars.
  • Japanese industry "bombarded" with calls from US think tanks trying to confirm comments about yen from Keidanren official. 
  • A simple test to check research papers for errors. 
  • North Carolina needs a nonpartisan think tank. 
  • CSIS hosts over 2,000 events per year, from major public speeches to small briefings.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Think Tanks Pounded by Cyber Attacks

August 2016 has been the month of hell for US think tanks.

First was the damning New York Times exposé that uncovered widespread pay-for-play at major US think tanks.  And now, think tank land has been hit with a major cyber attack.

Here is more from Defense One which broke the story:

Last week, one of the Russia-backed hacker groups that attacked Democratic computer networks also attacked several Russia-focused think tanks in Washington, D.C., Defense One has learned.
The perpetrator is the group called COZY BEAR, or APT29, one of the two groups that cybersecurity company CrowdStrike blamed for the DNC hack, according to founder Dmitri Alperovitch. CrowdStrike discovered the attack on the DNC and provides security for the think tanks.
Alperovitch said fewer than five organizations and 10 staffers researching Russia were hit by the “highly targeted operation.” He declined to detail which think tanks and researchers were hit, out of concern for his clients’ interests and to avoid revealing tools and techniques or other data to hackersCrowdStrike alerted the organizations immediately after the company detected the breaches and intruders were unable to exfiltrate any information, Alperovitch said.
Defense One reached out to several think tanks with programs in Russian research, one of which was the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS. “Last week we were under attack, but our small staff was very responsive. Beyond that, I’m not going to discuss the details because it is under active investigation,” the H. Andrew Schwartz, CSIS Senior Vice President for External Relations, said in an email.
James Andrew Lewis, Senior Vice President and director, strategic technologies program, at CSIS said, “It’s like a badge of honor — any respectable think tank has been hacked. The Russians just don’t get the idea of independent institutions, so they are looking for secret instructions from Obama. Another benefit is they can go to their bosses and show what they took to prove their worth as spies.”

Russia's RT suggests propaganda warfare.

Besides CSIS, other big US think tanks that have Russia programs or Russia researchers include:

  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  • Brookings Institution
  • Atlantic Council
  • Hudson Institute

It is not a surprise that hackers are targeting think tanks.  Think Tank Watch noted back in June that hackers targeting the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were also targeting think tanks. And over the years Think Tank Watch has documented the fact that nearly every major think tank has been hit by hackers.

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."
  • Murtaza Hussain (The Intercept): Fits reality that there are few institutions extant people can really trust. 
  • Dan Simpson (Pittsburgh Post Gazette): Think tanks, in the tank
  • Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias talk "soft corruption" at think tanks and the NYT piece.

  • 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. 
  • Nonprofit Quarterly: Devastating.

  • 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. 
  • Lou Hoffman: Brookings is not using traditional PR to punch back at NYTimes; running PPC campaign to amplify its voice for relevant searches.

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.

Think Tank Quickies (#231)

  • Center for American Progress (CAP) founder John Podesta has no interest in being Hillary Clinton's chief of staff.
  • Fethullah Gulen, the reclusive Muslim cleric accused of inspiring Turkey's failed coup attempt, has bred a global network of think tanks.  Carnegie has written about those think tanks, including the Rethink Institute and Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research.
  • Brookings: How do political conventions actually work? 
  • Michael Levin leaving CFR to join White House staff as Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Economic Policy on the National Economic Council (NEC) staff.
  • Department state lawmakers in Oklahoma launch conservative think tank.
  • Brookings 2016 spring catalogue of new publications and books. 
  • China, suspicious of groups like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), detain foreign non-profit chiefs. 
  • Disclosure paradox: Does revealing think tank bias make one more likely to take their advice.
  • Rosa Balfour and Sudha David-Wilp of GMF try to defend the European Union (EU).
  • William Beach, VP for Policy at Mercatus Center, was "instrumental in developing the state-of-the-art econometric models" Heritage Foundation uses.

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...