Thursday, April 16, 2015

Think Tank Quickies #173

  • Are computers trawling think tank report and Twitter feeds for stocks picks?
  • Think tank a new training ground for Obama's green team. 
  • John Feffer: "My think tank [IPS] doesn't take any government funding, domestic or foreign, and this ensures our independence."  No mention of corporate money...
  • Caixin: China has think tank quantity, but not quality. 
  • Think tanks boosting insurance amid increasing lawsuits? 
  • The Onion on Marco Rubio's birthplace: "A closed-door think tank strategy session in 2010.
  • Third Way: Routine jobs not returning as they used to. 
  • European think tanks CIGI and Chatham House urge new social pact on Internet privacy. 
  • US Gen. Bennet Sacolick interviewing think tankers regarding hostage rescue plans.
  • New Israel Fund is seed-funding think tanks, including Mitvim.
  • Flashback: Rethinking the think tank will a snowball experiment, via Sam Petulla.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi gives speech at CSIS today.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Annoying Habits of Think Tank Donors

The Wall Street Journal has a new piece entitled "Annoying Habits of Charitable Donors," and Think Tank Watch is aware of many think tank donors who give money to think tanks but make the policy shop's life a complete nightmare.

So, listen up donors, and try to avoid these mistakes:
  • Giving unwanted gifts: No, Brookings does not need your taxidermy collection from 1953.
  • Giving the wrong gifts: No, Heritage does not need your paper mache donkey.
  • Asking for a lot for a little: No, Council on Foreign Relations will not let you have access to all of its scholars for your donation of $19.99.
  • Micromanaging: No, American Enterprise Institute does not want to receive your call every hour insisting on updates about who is attending your sponsored event.
  • Expecting personal favors: No, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will not write a foreign policy paper for your kid if you start to donate.
  • Making false promises: No, the Center for Strategic and International Studies will not be  happy if you pledge $25 million for a new building and renege on that promise.
  • Restricting gifts: No, Center for American Progress does not like it when you give a huge donation but it should only be used to study the Democrats of northern Borneo.
  • Being a know-it-all: No, Cato Institute does not want to hear you rant about libertarian ideals.

More details about each of these situations can be found here.

Of course, think tank donors are not always at fault.  Think tanks also need to be on their best behavior...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Many Think Tankers Among 100 Most Influential Economists

A new list of the 100 most influential economic bloggers on Twitter has just been created, and Think Tank Watch has just scoured the list to pull out the most influential think tank economists.  They include (in no particular order):

  • Barry Eichengreen, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Research Associate, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Research Fellow
  • David Frum, Chairman of Policy Exchange
  • David Wessel, Director, Hutchins Center on Fiscal & Monetary Policy, Brookings institution
  • Dean Baker, Co-director of CEPR
  • Adam Posen, President of Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE)
  • Donald Marron,  Director of Economic Policy Initiatives & Institute Fellow at Urban Institute
  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President of the American Action Forum (AAF)
  • James Pethokoukis, Fellow at American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
  • Jared Bernstein, Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)
  • Justin Wolfers, Senior Fellow at PIIE and Research Associate at NBER
  • Peter Orszag, Adjunct Senior Fellow at Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  • Robert Reich, co-founder of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI)
  • Simon Johnson, Senior Fellow at PIIE and Research Associate at NBER
  • Strobe Talbott, President of Brookings Institution
  • Tyler Cowen, Chairman and General Director of the Mercatus Center
  • Tony Fratto, member of Partners Council at Center for Global Development (CGD)
  • William Easterly, Research Associate at NBER, and Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings
  • Will Wilkinson, former Managing Editor of Cato Institute's Cato Unbound
  • Robert Shiller, Research Associate at NBER
  • Paul Romer, Research Associate at NBER; previously worked for the Hoover Institution
  • Mike Konczal, Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute
  • Matthew Klein, previously a Research Associate at CFR
  • Larry Summers, Distinguished Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress (CAP), and Board Chair at CGD
  • Austan Goolsbee, Distinguished Senior Fellow at CAP; Research Associate at NBER
  • Branko Milanovic, External Fellow at CGD, and previously a Senior Associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP)
  • Cass Sunstein, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings

Another list of top-ranked economists can be found at IDEAS, a Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on the rankings of top economic think tanks.

In the most recent University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings, the top 10 domestic economic policy think tanks were:
  1. Brookings
  2. NBER
  3. Adam Smith Institute (ASI)
  4. PIIE
  5. Cato Institute
  6. Bruegel
  7. RAND Corporation
  8. German Institute for Economic Research
  9. Heritage Foundation
  10. CAP
The top 10 international economic policy think tanks were:
  1. PIIE
  2. Brookings
  3. Bruegel
  4. NBER
  5. ASI
  6. RAND Corporation
  7. Chatham House
  8. Institute of World Economy and International Relations
  9. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
  10. American Enterprise Institute

Monday, April 13, 2015

CSIS Using Satellite Intel to Track Asian Islands Dispute

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently landed on the front page of The New York Times for satellite images it has analyzed apparently showing that China has been building up land mass in disputed island territories in the South China Sea.  Here is an excerpt:

China has long asserted ownership of the archipelago in the South China Sea known as the Spratly Islands, also claimed by at least three other countries, including the Philippines, an American ally. But the series of detailed photographs taken of Mischief Reef shows the remarkable speed, scale and ambition of China’s effort to literally gain ground in the dispute.
The photographs show that since January, China has been dredging enormous amounts of sand from around the reef and using it to build up land mass — what military analysts at the Pentagon are calling “facts on the water” — hundreds of miles from the Chinese mainland.

Here is China's response to the satellite images, which were taken by DigitalGlobe, a commercial satellite imagery provider, and then analyzed by CSIS.

More specifically, the analysis is being done by CSIS's Asia Transparency Maritime Initiative (AMTI), which the think tank describes as an "interactive, regularly-updated source for information, analysis, and policy exchange on maritime security issues in Asia."  The think tank also says that AMTI was "conceived and designed" by CSIS and takes no position on territorial or maritime claims.

AMTI says that it generally gets its information from news sources and various research institutes and NGOs, but in certain instances it "may be asked to keep the source of a particular piece of information confidential," suggesting that the US or other foreign governments may be providing it with some information.

CSIS receives funding from a variety of governments, including the US government, and governments of Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam, among others.

A variety of former US government security and intelligence officials are advisors and/or contributors to the program.

AMTI says that the source of its funding is from CSIS's Asia Program, as well as a start-up grant from the think tank's Brzezinski Institute of Geostrategy.  It also says it is soliciting funds from governments in Asia and corporations and foundations.

AMTI's "Island Tracker" can be viewed here.  And here are 18 maps that explain maritime security in Asia.

The NYT also commented about the images in an editorial on April 11.

CSIS was recently ranked as the world's top defense and national security think tank by the 2015 University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Joe Scarborough Lashes Out at Think Tanks

On April 8, former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough unleashed a fury of rage at think tanks in Washington, DC who he says promote ongoing war activities in Afghanistan:
For people in think tanks in Washington, DC who are sitting there and trying to calculate this out, let them go [to Afghanistan].  Let them go over there.  Let their sons and daughters go over there.  When they want to sit and be chicken hawks and talk about how America needs to be all over the world, let them go and let them send their families.  It so easy for someone at the Brookings Institute [sic], not that Brookings would do this, but at a think tank or Heritage or anywhere...they say we need to stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes.

A video can be watched here.  It should be noted that think tanks have also lashed out at Joe Scarborough.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Think Tank Quickies #172

  • Journalist dies at think tank event.
  • Brookings on the impact of Sesame Street around the world.
  • Robert Reich: Think tanks are kissing wealthy posteriors as never before.
  • Russian hackers believed to be behind recent State Department and White House breaches also attacked think tanks.
  • David Callahan: "How objective can [the think tank] PIIE be on global economic policy when most of its funding comes from corporations with a strong financial stake in the issues the institute works on?"
  • Working paper on establishing government think tanks, via Arnaldo Pellini.
  • Lots of think tanks endorsing Comcast deal getting paid to do so?
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali got rejected from liberal think tanks so started working for AEI.
  • Chris Cillizza called "one man think tank" in high school.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Libya Paying Big Bucks for Outreach to US Think Tanks

The public relations and advertising firm Qorvis MSLGroup has just signed a $1 million contract to provide PR services to the Libyan Embassy in Washington, DC, and part of the contract includes outreach to think tanks.

Here is more from O'Dwyers:
[Quorvis] will work to "open channels of communication" through government relations and organize meetings for Libyan officials, according to its contract.
Outreach is slated with reporters and US officials to ensure Libya's messages reach the White House, media, think tanks and Capitol Hill.
Qorvis will develop messages, forge a rapid response team and provide regular briefings on conditions in Libya.
The firm is in line for $50K retainers for the first three months and $100K payments for the following nine months. Monthly expenses are capped at $12,500.

Qorvis MSLGroup, which is owned by Publicis, works with a variety of other foreign governments, including the Bahrian, Sri Lanka, the British Embassy, Fiji, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, and the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq.

PR firms and lobbying firms often reach out to think tanks in order to influence the narrative of current issues, business concerns, and other purposes.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Think Tank Quickies (#171)

  • Carly Fiorina speaks at CSIS, and so does World Bank President Jim Yong Kim (again).
  • Second African Think Tank Summit starts in Addis Ababa. 
  • AEI economist John Makin dies; "broke barrier of being a serious academic who went to the think tank world."
  • Heritage Foundation hires former DIA Director David Shedd as Visiting Distinguished Fellow; hires two from Capitol Hill for economic posts; hosts former Mexican President Vicente Fox.
  • AEI's Danielle Pletka discusses collaboration within think tank community.
  • NSC official Philip Gordon joins CFR as Senior Fellow; new hub for CFR events.
  • Colonel Mark Cancian (USMC, Ret.) joins CSIS's International Security Program.
  • Former White House assistant Shilpa Phadke joins CAP as Senior Director of Women's Initiatives.
  • Atlantic Council holds 3rd annual Student Cyber Policy Competition; honors Afghan President Ashraf Ghani; hires Senior Director of Pew Charitable Trusts, John Haederle.
  • Wilson Center's new Polar Initiative to be headed by David Biette.
  • CNAS launches The NextWare Sessions to provide method for improved cybersecurity collaboration.
  • AEI says don't be a bachelor.

Monday, April 6, 2015

An Analysis of Some DC Think Tanks

This is an excerpt from a piece just written by Llewellyn King, the Executive Producer and Host of White House Chronicle and columnist for Hearst-NYT Syndicate:
Among Washington think tanks, we know what to expect from the Brookings Institution: earnest, slightly left-of-center analysis of major issues. Likewise, we know that the Center for Strategic and International Studies will do the same job with a right-of-center shading, and a greater emphasis on defense and geopolitics.
What the tanks provide is support for political and policy views; detailed argument in favor of a known point of view. By and large, the verdict is in before the trial has begun.
There a few exceptions, house contrarians. The most notable is Norman Ornstein, who goes his own way at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Ornstein, hugely respected as an analyst and historian of Congress, often expresses opinions in articles and books which seem to be wildly at odds with the orthodoxy of AEI.
A less-celebrated role of the thinks tanks is as resting places for the political elite when their party is out of power. Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, rumored to be favored as a future Republican secretary of state, is hosted at AEI. National Security Adviser Susan Rice was comfortable at Brookings between service in the Clinton and he Obama administrations. At any time, dozens of possible office holders reside at the Washington think tanks, building reputations and waiting.

Mr. King notes that he may be transforming the Boston Global Forum (BGF) into a think tank. BGF is led by former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and Nguyen Anh Tuan.  He calls the would-be think tank "East Coat tony and very energetic," but notes that funding at this point is still uncertain.

For the record, Massachusetts already has 176 think tanks, the most of any state/federal district except Washington, DC, which has a whopping 396 think tanks and counting.

Think Tank Quote of the Week: Real Housewives of Atlanta

The think tank quote of the week comes from Jennifer Lind-Westbrook, a contributing writer of BuddyTV, who explained the brain trusts of the reality TV show The Real Housewives of Atlanta:
When the ladies aren't fighting, they spend a whole lot of time discussing each other's ass-ets. Porsha and Demetria put their ample bottoms to the test in a twerk-off, and while Porsha may have more junk in the trunk -- Kandi's words, not mine -- Demetria has a leg up in knowing how to shake what her mama gave her. I have to say, these ladies are in no risk of being recruited by any think tanks in the near future.

Talking about Atlanta, the US state of Georgia has 29 think tanks (the country of Georgia only has 14), so there are certainly plenty of opportunities for any of the housewife stars to start a new think tank career...

Friday, April 3, 2015

US Gov't Official Touts US Think Tanks

Does America have the world's best think tanks?  According to the United States government it (probably) does.

At a National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) roundtable discussion today, Daniel Russel, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said that "the strength of America's academic community and think tanks is envied around the world."

Think Tank Watch will not weigh in on which country has the best think tanks (we don't want to start WWIII this Friday morning, and plus, one can just check out the US-centric UPenn think tank rankings for some "insight"), but we do know that the US has the most think tanks of any country.

As of early 2015, the US had 1,830 think tanks, more than four times the next closest country (China), which has "only" 429 think tanks.  The United Kingdom has the third largest number of think tanks at 287.

Please send Think Tank Watch your thoughts on which country has the best think tanks and why.

Think Tank Quickies (#170)

Fmr. Fed Chair Ben Bernanke Starts Blogging at Brookings

Former US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has started blogging at the Brookings Institution, where he is a Distinguished Fellow in Residence with the think tank's Economic Studies Program.

The blog, which is simply called "Ben Bernanke's Blog," only has a few posts so far but appears quite influential.  The Washington Post says that Bernanke might currently be having the "world's most important blog fight" with former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers on low interest rates.  Here is more on that from Bloomberg.

[Larry Summers is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at competing think tank Center for American Progress (CAP), but he blogs elsewhere.]

Of course, the blog is also getting some pushback.  Here is what Bernanke should blog about.  Forbes has called the new blog "insightful."  NBC News asks if the blog is part of his mission.

Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles is not impressed, saying that the blog will just be "more background hum as we sleepwalk our way into our already manifest dystopian future."

Here is Bernanke's inaugural post, which states that now he is a civilian again, he can once again comment on economic and financial issues without his words being put under the microscope by Fed watchers.

So will Bernanke's blog be the most popular at Brookings?  According to the think tank's site, he is in competition with 14 other Brookings blogs, and that doesn't include one blog (Lawfare) that is offsite.

In other related Bernanke-think tank news, earlier this week he gave a keynote speech at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Foreign Contributions to Think Tanks Now Searchable

Investigative reporter Brooke Williams, who helped write the influential New York Times piece last year titled "Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks," has just created a new website (currently in beta) where one can search and explore foreign government contributions to think tanks.

This past weekend, Ms. Williams led a team called "Open Think Tanks" which worked to create the new website as part of a hackathon at the MIT Media Lab.  The team will be among those presenting their solutions for reducing institutional corruption at a conference at Harvard Law School later this spring.

According to the new site (, it is the first-ever searchable database of foreign government donations to major think tanks in the United States.  It is important to note that it is not comprehensive as some think tanks do not disclose their donors and some governments to not disclose their grant details.

Here are some more details:
Most of the data comes from the think tanks' voluntary disclosures in their annual reports and on their websites. Some of the data comes from the government itself, via public records requests, while others come from Department of Justice filings under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. In one case, a think tank provided the data by email upon request.
Many records of donations do not include amounts. In most cases, it is also impossible to know exactly when the donation was made.
In other words, this tool shows financial relationships rather than detailed transactions.

Through the site, one can also search so-called "Truth in Testimony" reports filed with congressional committees since January 1, 2015.  In the beginning of this year, new rules went into effect requiring those who testify to disclose whether they (or institution they represent) have received money from foreign governments.

The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University provided funding for the project.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Politico Buys Think Tank Watch

Think Tank Watch has just been acquired by Politico.  We thank readers for three years of loyalty.  Although not finalized yet, we plan to open a new think tank on think tanks.

Oh, um, April Fools.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Think Tank Quickies (#169)

  • Michael Franc, former staffer to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and former VP of government relations, is new Director of Washington, DC Programs at Hoover Institution.
  • Brookings scholar bashes Atlantic Council for having too many think tank panels with men.
  • More pics of the world's coolest think tank.
  • Prestigious Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (BPEA) commissions paper based on a blog comments from Marginal Revolution.
  • SIPRI: US is a major driver of global expansion in arms trade.
  • Google chief Eric Schmidt speaks at AEI.
  • Democracy Alliance (DA) shifted 2004 elections away from donor giving to sustained investments in think tanks.
  • Sens. Markey, Boxer, and Whitehouse sent letter to 100 energy companies and think tanks asking them to reveal all the scientists they were funding.
  • India extends support to Afghan think tanks for strategic thinking, planning.
  • John de Boer: What are think tanks good for?

Silicon Valley to Open Think Tank in DC

The technology companies of Silicon Valley have ramped up their donations to think tanks in recent years, but today, they are pivoting to a different strategy: opening their very own think tank.

Here is more from Politico:
Silicon Valley bigwigs Sean Parker and Ron Conway are throwing their weight behind a new organization in Washington that will craft centrist proposals to stimulate the economy and press Congress to enact them, according to plans provided to POLITICO.
The Economic Innovation Group is set to launch Tuesday after about 18 months of behind-the-scenes preparation. Principals declined to say how much money is behind it, but people involved say the inclusion of names like Parker and Conway — the first president of Facebook and a legendary startup investor, respectively — give the effort credibility.

The first conversations about the group began at the end of 2012, said co-founder Steve Glickman, and organizers met with Parker at the beginning of 2013. The rest, the founders say, grew “organically.”
The co-founders of the group are Glickman, a California Democrat and former National Economic Council aide in the Obama administration; and John Lettieri, a South Carolina Republican and onetime staffer for former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel.
Other co-founders are: Rebecca Lynn, co-founder of Canvas Venture Fund; Joseph Sanberg, co-founder of and Pt Capital; Dana Settle, co-founder of Greycroft Partners; and Ted Ullyot, investor and first General Counsel of Facebook.

The new think tank, Economic Innovation Group (EIG), says that several politicians have been involved in the startup of the new policy shop, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), and Rep. Gred Walden (R-OR).

EIG says that "implementation" of their desired policies is what sets them apart from other think tanks in Washington, DC.  Sean Parker expects a few wins in 20 or 30 years.

According to Politico, the think tank plans to release its first white paper on economic issues next month.  That paper is reportedly co-written by Kevin Hassett (of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute) and Jared Bernstein (of the liberal-leaning think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).

Think Tank Watch noticed, however, that they have already released a draft paper titled "Beneath The Recovery: Obstacles to Growth and Opportunity in the New Economy."

Here is a press release about the think tank and a blog post by the co-founders about why they have launched the think tank.  Here is what TechCrunch says about the new bipartisan think tank.

The think tank's website can be found here.  It includes a list of its leadership.  The think tank is based in Chinatown, at 711 D Street, NW in Washington, DC.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cato Institute Gets New President & CEO

The libertarian Cato Institute announced today that Peter Goettler, a former Managing Director of Barclays Capital, will become the think tank's new President and CEO effective April 1.  He was approved in a unanimous vote by Cato's Board of Directors on March 28.

Goettler has served on Cato Institute's Board of Directors since last year and he has been a supporter of the think tank for 15 years.  He is also on the board of a large network of libertarian think tanks called Atlas Network.

Current CEO John Allison, who was former Chairman and CEO of BB&T, is retiring after just two and a half years at the helm.  But Allison will continue to serve on Cato's Board of Directors, in addition to acting as Chairman of the Executive Advisory Council for the Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives.

Here is more from Cato about Allison's tenure:
Under Allison’s leadership, Cato’s financial support has grown by 64 percent, from total revenues of $22.1 million in FY2013 to total revenues of $36.3 million (projected) in FY2015. Allison also played a significant role in launching two new policy centers at Cato: the Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives, which studies alternatives to today’s financial regulatory regime; and the Center for the Study of Science, which studies the effects of government funding on scientific research.

Here is a bit more about Goettler's background from Bloomberg.  And here is what David Weigel of Bloomberg Politics is saying about the leadership change at Cato.  Weigel notes that Allison was "affable" and "brought Cato to normalcy" during the past couple of years.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on how John Allison came to power at Cato.

It is interesting how Cato is replacing the outgoing head - a former banker - with another former banker.  Perhaps it is because revenues have grown so much of the past two years?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

CSIS Holding "Cyber DiploHack 2015" Hackathon

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is hosting its first ever cyber policy hackathon called Cyber DiploHack 2015 on March 26 and 27.  Here is more from CSIS:
Six teams drawn from universities in the United States and Europe will participate in an intensive, scenario-based policy hackathon to develop new approaches to cyber security and cyber capacity building. With facilitation from CSIS and outside experts, teams will apply creative ideation processes commonly used in technology design to solve a cybersecurity policy challenge. Cyber DiploHack will utilize cutting-edge technology to enhance collaboration between international teams, facilitators, and judges.
Created with the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands and the Dutch Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs, Cyber DiploHack 2015 will identify ways to bring principles into practice for cooperation and capacity building in cyberspace. Resulting concepts and ideas will serve as input for the Global Conference on Cyberspace (, organized April 16-17 in The Hague.

More about the hackathon, including the agenda, can be found here.  And some pics of the hackathon (and preparations for it) can be found here and here and here.

Hackathons are not new to think tanks.  For example, earlier this year, the Israeli think tank Reut Institute held an anti-BDS hackathon.

CSIS was recently ranked as the world's top defense and national security think tank by the 2015 University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Think Tank Quickies (#168)

  • A bogus UC Berkely think tank?
  • CIGI: Follow the money that funds think tanks.
  • Watch PIIE President Adam Posen spar with with AFL-CIO President; Dani Rodrik blasts Posen and PIIE for "FTA fetish."
  • Stephen Moore's schedule: "Like speed-dating at a think tank - albeit with better menus and an open bar."
  • Brookings presents at SXSW; says it produces between 50 and 100 pieces of original content every week and has more than 100 scholars in DC and more than 200 around the world.
  • Justin Wolfers: Think tanks can't even convince conservative economists that tax cuts pay for themselves.
  • CFR: What do bicycles and the TPP have in common?
  • CIA Director John Brennan interviewed by Charlie Rose at CFR.
  • Cato defends itself against members of US Congress.
  • CFR Cuba scholar Julia Sweig takes new position at University of Texas at Austin.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hillary Clinton Tests Possible VP Choice at CAP

Likely 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was a "featured guest" at the Center for American Progress (CAP) on March 23, boosting her liberal credentials before making an expected presidential announcement in the coming weeks.

But more interestingly, one of the panelists at the same CAP event was Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, a leading candidate to be Clinton's vice presidential nominee.

Some have noted that Clinton and Castro were "in sync" and "on the same page" during the event, leading to lots of speculation about a potential Clinton-Castro ticket.

John Podesta, the founder of CAP and Clinton's expected campaign chairman, was reportedly "looking on from the front row."

The liberal think tank is going to be Clinton's go-to policy shop for ideas and talent as she ramps up her campaign.

Friday, March 20, 2015

2016 Republicans' Love Affairs With Heritage Head Jim DeMint

The 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls are all looking for love, but one thing is certain: They almost all seem to have a love affair with Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint.

Bloomberg Politics has just compiled a list of the possible candidates and who they follow on Twitter. Out of the 17 potential candidates that Bloomberg selected, 15 are following DeMint, making the think tank head the most followed Twitter account among all the 2016 hopefuls.

According to Bloomberg, the only two who do not follow DeMint are Ben Carson and Donald Trump.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Think Tank Quickies (#167)

  • Brookings outlines ISIS activities on Twitter.
  • Wilson Center: 5 Things to Watch in Israel's Elections; think tank decodes the Nemtsov assassination?
  • Wilson Center's Kennan Institute announces new fellowship program; Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson delivers major address at Wilson Center.
  • Ed Gresser, Executive Director of think tank Progressive Economy, tapped for newly created position at USTR: Director of Policy Planning in the Office of Trade Policy and Economics.
  • New World Resources Institute (WRI) map is saving trees.
  • Cool picture: A new think tank in town.
  • Can the Pentagon's think tank explain Vladimir Putin's absence?
  • How think tanks work to shape health policy.
  • Differences in how think tanks count illegal immigrants.
  • Think tanks Niskanen Center and Political Parity using "Moneyball-like" databases to influence K St. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

New CGD Think Tank Rankings: Cato & Brookings on Top

The Center for Global Development (CGD) has just released updated think tank rankings for 2015 which show the libertarian Cato Institute as the top international development think tank (based on budget-adjusted scores), followed by the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and CGD.

In terms of absolute scores, Brookings is the top international development think tank, followed by Cato.

Here is more from CGD:
In 2013, our CGD colleagues Julia Clark and David Roodman designed a low-cost quantitative approach to rank US and international development think tanks by the strength of their public profile. Think tanks trade in ideas and ideas need to be noticed to be adopted. Thus, think tanks’ ability to garner public attention is likely to be a good marker of their influence and potential for impact.  We applied the Clark-Roodman methodology to create an updated ranking of think tanks for 2014 using social media fans, website traffic, news media, and scholarly citations as well as operating expenses as a measure of size. The Index looks at public profile both in absolute terms and adjusted by the size of institutions’ budgets and ranks think tanks in two groups: US think tanks and international development think tanks (both US and non-US).

As CGD notes, Cato held on to the #1 spot that it also received in the 2013 rankings.

Not surprisingly, CGD notes that without exception, think tanks have gained Twitter followers and Facebook fans since 2013.  Here is more on what CGD says about think tanks trends in social media:
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace increased their Twitter followers sevenfold (from 20,191 to 148,200). CSIS increased its followers tenfold from fewer than 10,000 followers in 2013 to more than 100,000. Other think tanks have had better success increasing their followings on Facebook. For instance, The Institute for Development Studies (UK) had about 6,000 Facebook likes in 2013 and now has almost 35,000.

Here is what CGD says about think tanks gaining traction in the news media:
In 2014, media mentions of all 36 think tanks in our comparison have gone up, with several think tanks more than doubling their citations in the news media. Among US think tanks, the Brookings Institution retained its top spot with over 23,000 media mentions, followed by the Pew Research Center, with over 15,000 and the Heritage Foundation with just over 10,000. Among think tanks with international development programs, the Center for Strategic and International Studies ranks second after Brookings, while the Cato Institute comes in third. The Urban Institute and RAND Corporation registered particularly impressive growth in the number of their citations, more than doubling media mentions compared to 2012. 

Here is what the CGD report found on think tank spending in 2014:
The biggest spender was the RAND Corporation with over $275 million in operating in expenses, while the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies spent the least, at little over $1.3 million. The International Food Policy Research Institute had the highest jump in spending among US think tanks, with an 83 percent increase in two years. At the other end of the spectrum, the Canada-based Centre for International Governance Innovation spent close to 60 percent less in 2014 than it did in 2011. The North-South Institute’s budget decreased by over 30 percent; it closed its doors in September 2014.

More of the latest think tank profile rankings can be found here.  The full rankings can be found here.

CGD was just ranked as the 27th best think tank in the US by the latest University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.

Think Tank Watch Turns 3

Thanks Politico for giving a shout-out on Think Tank Watch's 3-year anniversary.  If you have any hot think tank news or tips, always feel free to email us at info (at)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Top Lobby Shop on How to Lobby a Think Tank

Ever wondered how powerful lobbying firms use think tanks to their benefit?  A document that Think Tank Watch has discovered will let you in on some details.

Podesta Group, one of the US's top lobbying firms by revenue ($25 million in 2014) has recently posted a guide on how to lobby a think tank.

The author, Will Bohlen, Senior Global Communications Specialist for Podesta Group and former spokesman for the think tank German Marshall Fund (GMF), says that think tanks occupy an "in-between space" in Washington, "neither government agency nor business nor media outlet - and yet they play in all three spaces," making them all the more important.  Here is more:
An organization with advocacy goals in Washington or other major hubs like New York, London and Brussels can benefit in both the short term and long term by effectively identifying, working with and even partnering with think tanks to support the convening of high-level conversations with policymakers, fund academic research and cultivate allies.

Mr. Bohlen notes that the Podesta Group works with think tanks on behalf of clients to advance their interests, and cites a corporate client who wanted to position itself as a thought leader in the Mexican telecom space and as a top contender for a government contract.  He notes that the lobby shop introduced the client to a Washington think tank with "a strong Latin America program and facilitated an agreement for that think tank to conduct a high-level conference on telecommunications reform" in Mexico City.

The piece goes on to give four key points on how to leverage think tanks to ones advantage.

We should also point out that the Podesta Group (formerly Podesta Associates) was co-founded by brothers John Podesta and Tony Podesta.  John Podesta is the founder of the influential, liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP).

So, are think tanks more of a lobbying tool these days rather than policy shops that come up with brilliant ideas?  The question has been around for a long time, as seen from this example relating to Microsoft's use of think tanks.
hink tanks occupy an in-between space in Washington — neither government agency nor business nor media outlet — and yet they play in all three spaces.
hink tanks occupy an in-between space in Washington — neither government agency nor business nor media outlet — and yet they play in all three spaces.

Friday, March 13, 2015

CSIS Releases Donors List for FY 2014

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has just released its donors list to the public.  The list, for donors who gave in fiscal year 2014, is divided into four categories: foundations, corporations, governments, and individuals.

Those listed are only those who have donated $5,000 or more.

Notably, CSIS gets major foreign government support, according to the disclosure, and receives more than $500,000 each from the governments of Japan, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  The US government also gave the think tank more than $500,000.  More than a dozen other foreign governments gave CSIS less than $500,000.

Here is a donations FAQ from CSIS.

CSIS was recently ranked as the world's top defense and national security think tank by the 2015 University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.

Think Tank Quickies (#166)

  • Atlantic Council launches new strategy initiative on America's role in the world; Secretary of State John Kerry to speak at the think tank's "Road to Paris Climate Series."
  • New CFR InfoGuide explores the two Talibans.
  • Cool think tank event of the week: CSIS event on Confucius.
  • CSIS to host Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on March 17.
  • UK's Prospect Magazine has recently nominated 50 people for its 2015 top thinkers list, and some think tankers made the cut, including Bruce Katz and Tyler Cowen.
  • Leon Wieseltier, long-time literary editor of The New Republic, joins Brookings as Isaiah Berlin Senior Fellow in Culture and Policy.
  • Heritage Foundation releases first annual Index of US Military Strength.
  • AEI at CPAC 2015; AEI polls public opinion of the police.
  • Carnegie Moscow Center announces new online project.
  • CAP and SiX host state legislators for event on economic opportunity agenda for states; Michael Sozan (formerly with Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado) becomes CAP's VP of Government Affairs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

French Ambassador Loves Partying With Think Tankers

Listen up all think tankers.  The French Ambassadors residence in Washington, DC has reopened after a long renovation.  The even better news: The Ambassador, GĂ©rard Araud, loves to party with think tankers.  Here is more from The Washington Post:
You’re more likely to score an invitation for supporting French culture or history — say, American Friends of the Louvre — or women’s empowerment and gender equity. Another in: “I am a bit of a foreign affairs geek,” Araud says, which means more parties with think-tank types, businessmen and fellow diplomats. Mostly, he wants to mix it up and get beyond what he calls Washington’s “gilded circle.”

So brush up on your French and let the parties begin...

(Update: Cato Institute scholar Justin Logan has astutely pointed out to Think Tank Watch that the Washington Post article we have quoted has a picture of none other than Steve Clemons, the founder of the American Strategy Program at the think tank New America Foundation.  Please keep us informed of any other think tanker sightings.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Overabundance of Think Tanks and Think Tank Reports

This is from a new piece in The Atlantic by Lee Drutman (of New America Foundation) and Steven Teles (of Johns Hopkins University):
Washington is also now awash in privately funded policy research. According to R. Kent Weaver and Andrew Rich, the number of Washington-based think tanks more than tripled between 1970 and 1996, from 100 to 306. James G. McGann at the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program counted 1,828 think tanks in the United States in 2013. But fewer and fewer think tanks can claim the mantle of truly neutral expertise anymore. Instead, most are funded by industry, labor, or wealthy partisan donors whose official stance as “nonpartisan,” necessary for tax status, is a transparent veil for their advocacy-first work product. One does not go to the Heritage Foundation or the Center for American Progress for their neutral expertise. While such think tanks may produce much substantive analysis, their analysis is intended for (and consumed by) adherents of only one political party.

The piece also notes that in 2012, there were about 1.9 million articles published in 28,000 scholarly peer-reviewed academic journals, creating even more competition with think tank work.

As Think Tank Watch has reported, it seems that few people are actually reading think tank reports anymore, and an analysis done by Think Tank Watch using Google Trends shows that interest in think tanks has been in a steep decline.

Think Tank Sex Expert Taking China By Storm

Meet the sex expert from one of China's top think tanks (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, or CASS) who is making waves around the world. 
Li Yinhe, China’s leading advocate of freewheeling sexuality, has been shocking this outwardly prudish nation for three decades.
An American-trained sociologist, she promotes one-night stands, sings the praises of sadomasochist sex and has called on the government to decriminalize pornography. She is also a hero to gay and lesbian Chinese, having for years pushed a same-sex marriage bill in China’s legislature despite little chance of passage.
But in December, Professor Li, 63, who recently retired from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, reluctantly moved the nation to the threshold of a new frontier: transgender love.
After a blogger accused her of being a closeted lesbian, Professor Li shot back with a blog post announcing that her partner of 17 years, although born a woman, is a transgender man.

The entire New York Times article can be found here. And here is more about CASS.

Think Tank Quickies (#165)

  • How think tanks work, by Jeremy Sammut (h/t Alejandro Chafuen)
  • Nice drawing of a think tank, by Moose Allain.
  • Do think tanks undermine autonomously produced social scientific knowledge?
  • Brookings scholar tells boss he's wrong; boss (Martin Indyk) becomes EVP of Brookings.
  • David Shambaugh of Brookings in WSJ: The coming Chinese crackup; Shambaugh ranked top Chinese scholar by think tank CASS.
  • The role of digital health think tanks.
  • PIIE President: There is no one PIIE view on currency and TPP.
  • For profit think tanks and implications for funders, via Enrique Mendizabal.
  • Use of think tanks: To demonstrate infinite capacity of metropolitans for regurgitating redundant ideas at lunchtime.
  • Brookings: How Americans define rich.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

New CBO Director Has Libertarian Think Tank Ties

It's official. Newly appointed Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Keith Hall hails from think tank land.

More specifically, he worked at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a libertarian think tank in Fairfax, Virginia.  The Weekly Standard has called the think tank "relatively low profile."

Here is his Mercatus Center biography, which says he worked at the think tank from April 2012 to September 2014.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on other think tankers who were considered for the CBO post.

"Obscure" Think Tank Put in Spotlight by NYT

Here is more from the New York Times piece entitled "Challenge to Health Overhaul Puts Obscure Think Tank in Spotlight":
In the orbit of Washington think tanks, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is an obscure name with a modest budget that belies its political connections to conservative titans like the Koch brothers.
But the institute, a libertarian research group, enjoyed a coming-out of sorts on Wednesday, as the lawsuit that it organized and bankrolled — challenging the Affordable Care Act — was heard by the Supreme Court. The case has the potential to end federal insurance subsidies for some 7.5 million people in 34 states.
Until now, the 31-year-old think tank was probably best known as a strident critic of what it calls “global warming alarmism.” It has also been a ceaseless advocate for small government and free markets and has played what the conservative entrepreneur Steve Forbes called “a critical role in preventing the worst of the left’s utopian nightmares from becoming reality.”
But beyond its research reports and policy papers, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has a litigious side, and it has teamed up with state attorneys general to challenge an array of Obama administration regulations on financial, air-quality and other issues.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute sees itself not as a think tank, but as a “do tank,” committed to changing federal policies rather than just analyzing them, said William Yeatman, a senior fellow at the group.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) reportedly declined to say how much it is spending on the Supreme Court case, but told the NYT that it is coming from its general budget.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on the Cato scholar who may single-handedly bring down Obamacare.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Cato Scholar to Single-Handedly Destroy Obamacare?

The Supreme Court is taking up another challenge to President Obama's healthcare law this week, and a single think tank scholar could be the one who destroys Obamacare.  Here is more from the Washington Post:
A day before the public hearing, an op-ed piece titled “Another ObamaCare Glitch” by Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler and Michael F. Cannon, a health policy expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, appeared in the Wall Street Journal. They wrote that the IRS had no legal authority to give tax subsidies to people enrolling in a federal exchange. This argument became the foundation for the legal challenge to the law that is now coming before the Supreme Court.

More from that WPost article can be read here.

The think tank scholar mentioned above, Michael Cannon, is the Cato Institute's Director of Health Policy Studies.

Vox recently wrote a piece about him entitled "Meet Michael Cannon, the Man Who Could Bring Down Obamacare."

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece entitled "Conservative Think Tanks to Kill Obamacare?"

And here is a New York Times piece describing a presentation that lawyer Thomas Christina gave at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) that helped bring about the Supreme Court challenge.