Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rumor: Paul Ryan Could Become Next President of AEI

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced this week that he will not seek re-election, meaning that he is in the hunt for a new job.

It just so happens that American Enterprise Institute (AEI) President Arthur Brooks recently announced his intention to step down as president of the think tank in the summer of 2019.

Many rumors are floating around that Ryan, a conservative policy wonk, could succeed Brooks as head of AEI.

After all, Ryan has made numerous visits to the think tank over the years, and it would allow him to use his deep connections within the US Congress to continue to build up the reputation and clout of AEI while maintaining contact with the legislative branch.

If all the timelines are kept and Ryan leaves Capitol Hill around late December, that would give him around six or seven months to enjoy a post-Speaker "retirement" as he prepares to transition into think tank land.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about Ryan's connections to think tanks.

Stay tuned...

White House Visitor Logs Show Lots of Think Tank Visits

Here is more from Politico:

President Donald Trump has kept White House visitor logs under wraps after eight years of transparency from President Barack Obama, but beginning this week voters will get a peek, at least, at the comings and goings on campus, POLITICO’s Lorraine Woellert reports. The Secret Service released a set of heavily redacted visitor logs Wednesday as part of a legal settlement between the Trump administration and watchdog group Public Citizen, which had sued under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain records of four agencies housed inside the White House compound: the offices of Management and Budget, Science and Technology Policy and National Drug Control Policy, and the Council on Environmental Quality.
The logs track visitors for the month of February, which included conservative think-tank types Myron Ebell and Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation and Jim Tozzi of the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness. Trump administration loyalist C. Boyden Gray dropped in twice to chat with Mark Paoletta, the former veep chief counsel who’s now at OMB. Ellen Lurie Hoffman of the National Housing Trust paid a visit to OMB’s civil service wing.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post about how more than 125 Trump staffers have come from think tanks.

Think Tank Quickies (#309)

  • Daily Caller: Outgoing National Security Advisor McMaster worked for foreign think tank funded by China and Russia; sought Clinton Foundation funding.
  • Flashback: Stephen Hawking joined anti-robot apocalypse think tank (Cambridge Project for Existential Risk).
  • Tomáš Valášek: Think tanks need to update the way they communicate.
  • Why Jeremy Corbyn needs a think tank.
  • Free market think tanks, persuasion, and big data.
  • Uzbek-American think tanks to carry out joint research.
  • 2018 ranking of free-market think tanks measured by social media impact. 
  • VOA video: The influence of think tanks in US policy.
  • Think tanker Alan Romberg, a China expert, passes away.
  • How a creative think tank in Austin is developing a new generation on interactive storytellers.
  • Think tank Tokyo Foundation changes name to Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Think Tank-Related Job of the Week

This one is for a well-known pharmaceutical-related trade association that wants someone to act as a liaison with the think tank community:

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) is seeking an Associate Vice President for its International Advocacy team to develop policy positions, strategies, and analysis to improve patient access to innovative medicines. The individual will work collaboratively across the organization and with member companies, trade associations, and other stakeholders on international market access policy priorities. Specific policy issues include government pricing and reimbursement, health technology assessment, health care financing, and trade-related market access barriers. The Associate Vice President will: Develop innovative policy positions, strategies, and analysis to advance international market access policy priorities in conjunction with International policy team lead; Collaborate with member companies and other stakeholders, including senior leaders, to build consensus and advance policy proposals that help solve patient access barriers in key overseas markets. This will include advising and providing appropriate counsel to stakeholders; Lead research projects and manage consultants to ensure high quality, timely, and impactful work products; Serve as the face of PhRMA and represent the organization at meetings with US and foreign governments, member companies, trade associations, academia, think tanks, consultants, and other stakeholders.

The full job posting can be found here.

China Daily Recuiting US Think Tankers to Influence China Policy?

Translations from a Chinese government document have surfaced which purportedly show that Chinese state-run newspaper China Daily has recruited scores of think tankers overseas to help portray China in a positive light.

Here is one unofficial translation:
Let China’s positive energy “go out” and consolidate and expand the team of overseas commentators. Through cooperation with the United States Bogleun Institute, Canadian Global Governance and Innovation Research Center, Australian think tank Lowy International Policy Institute and other think tank institutions, we have absorbed nearly 200 overseas think tanks as China Daily special commentators, over the past year Published more than 300 of their signature review articles, allowing these “influential people” to influence more overseas audiences and explain Chinese stories.

Obviously, the translation is not perfect.  For example, the "Bogleun Institute" is actually referring to the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute.

Here is the original document in Chinese, via the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Think Tank Creates Bingo Game for Facebook Hearing

This is from the conservative think tank R Street Institute:


Background and rules:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be testifying before Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. So join us in playing ZUCKERBINGO!

Step 1: Use the following words to fill out your own BINGO board. Make sure it’s 5 squares by 5 squares, and that you have a free space – paid for by ads – in the middle.

Step 2: As congressmen and Zuckerberg say the words, mark them off.

Step 3: Tweet us at @RSI with an image of your board when you have BINGO!

The first player to win will get a “No Step on Snek” mug. Other winners will be randomly selected to win prizes.

Tweet us as you hear the ZUCKERBINGO words for extra credit!


Tip: If you like that game, you may want to print out this think tank event bingo sheet.

Pic: Every Think Tank Conference Needs This

This is from Imogene Dudley, a doctoral candidate at the University of Exeter:


Monday, April 9, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#308)

  • Graph: How the income of the 20 largest US think tanks developed over the last few years.
  • Beijing think tank described the White House as a tribal battleground dominated by the "Trump family clan."
  • The technology think tank everyone wants to be a part of in 2018.
  • Dan Drezner: Has Twitter tainted the public intellectual?
  • Middle East scholar: "People like me who do this kind of work...they all get money from think tanks - and universities are the same thing - all financed by the Saudis."
  • Dr. Christopher Rastrick on think tanks.
  • Nearly all think tanks founded by men?  7.4% of think tanks in US/EU founded solely by women.
  • Will big pharma soon have to disclose payments to think tanks? 
  • Jorge Guajardo: "The world's best universities, think tanks, academics, media, deliberative forums, and the country ends up with Peter Navarro and Trump."
  • Josh Barro was a think tanker (i.e., Manhattan Institute).

Sunday, April 8, 2018

South Korea Blacklisting Think Tank Scholars for Criticizing Its North Korea Policy?

Foreign governments often demand a lot from the US think tanks they donate to.  In return for hundreds of thousands (and often times millions) of dollars each year, those foreign nations expect (and often demand) in return a specific outcome from the think tank product.  When a think tank does not tow the line, they often try to force out specific scholars, and, as a last resort, cut funding.

Here are a few excerpts from the One Free Korea blog, which is authored by Joshua Stanton:

The Chosun Ilbo and the Joongang Ilbo now report that the South Korean government directed the Korean Institute for International Economic Policy (KEIP) to cut most of its funding to Johns Hopkins University's US-Korea Institute (USKI), except for some Korean language and Korea studies training.  KIEP calls itself a "government-funded think tank," but it is a certain creation of South Korean law and has a "go.kr" web address.  And as you're about to see, it clearly takes its direction from the South Korean government.
Paradoxically, USKI is best known for publishing the reliably soft-line, anti-anti-North Korean, pro-"engagement" 38 North blog.  It's the last outlet you'd think Moon Jae-in's people would mess with.  USKI was founded in 2006, the year after the Korea Foundation pulled its funding from AEI.  According to USKI's website, it receives "generous support from the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP)," among others.  The Joongang Ilbo also reports that USKI runs a Korea training program for students entering the US State Department, which sounds like a great way to plant the seeds of long-term influence over our government's policies.
Not surprisingly, USKI and the KIEP have different explanations for KIEP's funding decision, and by the end of this post, you'll see why.  KIEP says the National Assembly demanded the cut over questions about transparency of USKI's budget.  But Robert Gallucci, the Director of USKI, says the real reason is that the Blue House wanted him to fire Jae Ku, one of the few right-of-center thinkers at USKI.  Later, Gallucci says the Blue House also told him to fire Jenny Town, a co-founded of 38 North.
Separately, a column in the Joongang Ilbo reports that the Moon administration has been blacklisting Korean and American scholars for criticizing its North Korea policy.  According to the column, the Sejong Institute's new management forced out David Straub, a highly respected Korea scholar, author, and former diplomat as a Visiting Researcher...Evidently, the Blue House objected to Straub's warnings that policy differences between Moon and Trump could lead to a "decoupling" of the US-Korea alliance. 

The following are some other Korea-related stories we've recently reported on:
  • Meet the one-man think tank on North Korea. 
  • Three of the top think tanks (Brookings, CSIS, Heritage) have former high-ranking CIA/intelligence officers running their Korea programs.
  • Following his canceled nomination as US Ambassador to Korea, CSIS's Victor Cha joins MSNBC team as a Korean affairs analyst.
  • A US spy agency is partnering with NGOs and think tanks to track North Korea.
  • North Korea is reaching out to think tanks to understand President Trump. 

Update:  The Associated Press (AP) is now reporting that USKI, which was receiving $1.8 million each year from the Korean government, will close after it rejected South Korean demands to change its leadership.  Officials at Johns Hopkins said up to eight people could lose their jobs.

The Washington Post's Anna Fifield has some more interesting details about the situation.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Mueller Probing Russian Investments in US Think Tanks

Several large US think tanks are likely under federal investigation after it was revealed that US Special Counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing their ties to Russia.

Here is more from Vanity Fair:

Mueller’s team has stopped two Russian oligarchs who recently made trips to the United States, searching at least one, and has made an informal overture to a third requesting an interview and documents, CNN reported Wednesday. According to multiple sources familiar with Mueller’s tactics, the special counsel is focused on the potential flow of money from Russia to Trump’s campaign and inauguration. He’s particularly interested in Russian investments in think tanks and political-action committees that donated to Trump’s campaign, and in “straw donors,” or American citizens who fielded Russian money to skirt campaign finance laws.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece entitled "Mueller Probe Witness Linked to Shady Think Tank Payments," which discusses how United Arab Emirates (UAE) money circuitously made its way to a couple of Washington think tanks.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

How a Conservative Think Tank is Trying to Tackle Climate Change

Here is more from the Washington Post:

While President Trump is systematically rolling back his predecessor’s efforts to combat climate change, the conservative Hoover Institution is trying to address the reality of rising temperatures, higher sea levels and more extreme weather.
The center-right think tank, which is affiliated with Stanford University and home to GOP grandees like Condoleezza Rice, is pursuing a host of initiatives that treat climate change as a pressing national security challenge and a market failure that requires government intervention.
It’s a striking contrast to Washington, where the Paris accord has been abandoned, skeptics of established science hold some of the most important jobs in government and congressional Republicans long ago eschewed promises to seriously confront environmental disruption.
But here, the spirit of innovation that defines Silicon Valley trumps the ideological rigidity that reigns in the capital.
George Shultz, who served as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, embraces the idea of a carbon tax. He says this would free up private firms to find the most efficient ways to cut emissions. The 97-year-old chairs an energy policy task force at Hoover that, among other solutions, advocates for expanding nuclear power. “Let’s take out an insurance policy to protect against the risk of climate change,” Shultz said.
Gary Roughead,  the former chief of naval operations, studies the consequences of global warming in the Arctic. This is causing polar ice caps to melt and, for all intents and purposes, opening a new ocean. That means trade routes will soon exist that are now blocked by ice. The retired admiral, one of only two people to ever command both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets, believes the U.S. must prepare for and capitalize on this. That will require checking Russia’s expansionary push in the northern sea lanes.
James Mattis, who spent almost four years at Hoover between retiring from the Marines and leaving to becoming secretary of defense, has also described climate change as a national security threat, citing the rising sea levels and desertification. Lake Chad, for example, has shrunk by about 90 percent since 1990, causing the instability that fueled the rise of the Boko Haram terrorist group.
Hoover has even hired an alumna of Barack Obama’s White House to focus on climate change. Alice Hill was a special assistant to the president and the senior director for resilience policy on the National Security Council. Before that, she served as a judge and led a climate change task force at the Department of Homeland Security.

The article goes on to say that Hoover "is not monolithic," and there are several scholars at the think tank who are essentially climate change deniers.

Notes the article: "But for those looking for solutions, the focus is on market innovations more than government mandates - naturally, for a think tank where Milton Friedman spent three decades as a research fellow."

Monday, April 2, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#307)

  • 2005 flashback: War of Ideas: Why mainstream and liberal foundations and the think tanks they support are losing in the war of ideas in American politics (by Andrew Rich).
  • 2007 flashback: Think tank confidential (by AEI's Christopher DeMuth).
  • 2003 flashback: The corruption of think tanks (by Steven Clemons).
  • 2002 flashback: The role of think tanks in Chinese foreign policy (by He Li).
  • 1999 flashback: The think tank as flack: How Microsoft and other corporations use conservative policy groups (by David Callahan).
  • 1997 flashback: RNC ex-chief details funds for think tank.
  • 1997 flashback: The Manhattan Institute has nudged New York to the right.
  • 2005 flashback: Think tank (USIP) is moving up in the world.
  • 2001 flashback: "Ted Halstead's New America Foundation Has It All: Money, Brains and Buzz."
  • 1988 flashback: Think tank (Urban Institute) survives lean times.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

John Bolton's Little-Known Think Tank

While incoming National Security Adviser John Bolton has been affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for decades, few know that he is also the chairman of a think tank called the Gatestone Institute. 

Here is how The Intercept portrays that think tank:

But one role that has received relatively little scrutiny is his [John Bolton's] work as chair of the Gatestone Institute, a nonprofit that focuses largely on publishing original commentary and news related to the supposed threat that Islam poses to Western society. He has served in that role since 2013. (Bolton did not respond to an email seeking comment.)
A steady drum beat of vitriol is visible on the Gatestone website on almost any given day.
Just this week, the Gatestone Institute published stories claiming that the “mostly Muslim male migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East” in Germany are fueling a “migrant rape crisis” and that “Muslim mass-rape gangs” are transforming the United Kingdom into “an Islamist Colony.”
The website routinely portrays Muslim migrants and refugees as an existential threat to Europe and the United States, claiming that immigrants bring “highly infectious diseases,” genital mutilation practices, and terror to any nation that accepts them. The site spent years sharply criticizing the Obama administration for having a “traditional Muslim bias” against Christians.

Here is what The Intercept says about the think tank's funding:

As The Intercept previously reported, Gatestone is largely funded by Nina Rosenwald, the heir to the Sears, Rosebuck & Company department store fortune. Though the Rosenwald family was once a champion of Jewish refugees during World War II, Rosenwald has financed a number of efforts to vilify Muslims attempting to escape bloodshed in Africa and the Middle East.
Billionaire heiress Rebekah Mercer, a donor to various far-right causes as well as the Trump campaign, was listed as a Gatestone board member in April 2017, according to the foreign policy-focused website LobeLog. After LobeLog inquired about Mercer joining the board, Gatestone scrubbed any information about her from the site. Donor rolls obtained by LobeLog showed that the Mercer Family Foundation gave $150,000 total to Gatestone in 2014 and 2015.

Bolton is a Senior Fellow at AEI, a conservative think tank he has worked with since the early 1970s.  Here is AEI's press release on President Trump's intent to nominate Bolton as National Security Adviser.

Think Tanks Getting Serious About AI

Here is more from the New York Times:

There is little doubt that the Defense Department needs help from Silicon Valley’s biggest companies as it pursues work on artificial intelligence. The question is whether the people who work at those companies are willing to cooperate.
On Thursday, Robert O. Work, a former deputy secretary of defense, announced that he is teaming up with the Center for a New American Security, an influential Washington think tank that specializes in national security, to create a task force of former government officials, academics and representatives from private industry. Their goal is to explore how the federal government should embrace A.I. technology and work better with big tech companies and other organizations.
Mr. Work was the driving force behind the creation of Project Maven, the Defense Department’s sweeping effort to embrace artificial intelligence. His new task force will include Terah Lyons, the executive director of the Partnership on AI, an industry group that includes many of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies.
Mr. Work will lead the 18-member task force with Andrew Moore, the dean of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. Mr. Moore has warned that too much of the country’s computer science talent is going to work at America’s largest internet companies.

Here is the CNAS press release.  Here is what TechCrunch has to say about the new task force.  Here is what Engadget has to say.

Paul Scharre and Gregory Allen of CNAS recently helped co-author a major AI report entitled "The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, and Mitigation."

A number of other think tanks are also focused on AI.  Brookings has talked about the topic for years, and in late July, a group of Brookings scholars will publish a book on the future of AI.

The Atlantic Council is another think tank that has been writing about AI, as is the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (see here and here) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Veteran Economist Appointed to Top Chinese Think Tank

Here is more from the South China Morning Post:

A veteran economist has been appointed president of China’s top think-tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), amid an ongoing reshuffle of senior officials.
Xie Fuzhan, who has extensive experience in government think tanks, will return to Beijing from central Henan province, where he had spent five years first as governor and then as party boss, state media reported on Thursday. 
In the lead-up to the parliamentary gathering, the 64-year-old had been tipped as one of the main contenders to take over as governor of the central bank, but lost out to Yi Gang, the former deputy governor.
Xie will be the first economist to head the CASS in over three decades.
The last economist to take the role, Ma Hong, took over in 1982, not long after late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping set the country on course for economic modernisation with his “reform and opening up” policy. Ma was one of the leading advocates for China's market-oriented reforms at the time. 
Before Xie, the academy had been mostly led by Communist Party theorists or veteran politicians. Its outgoing president Wang Weiguang famously raised eyebrows in 2014 when he thundered in an op-ed that “class struggle can never be extinguished in China”.
In 2015, as part of the quest to boost its soft power, China rolled out a plan to develop “a new type of think tank with Chinese characteristics” adding that it intended to have “several wielding major global influence” by 2020.

The article wrongly notes that CASS is the top ranked Chinese think tank in the University of Pennsylvania's annual think tank rankings, saying that CASS fell from the 17th best international think tank in 2012 to the 39th best in 2017.

Actually, CASS is currently ranked as the 23rd best non-US think tank, and the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) is ranked higher (9th best in the world).  In the category of best US and non-US think tanks, each of those is ranked lower, but CICIR is still ahead.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#306)

  • Elsa Kania, an adjunct fellow at CNAS, helped translate China's AI manifesto; group of AI researchers and policymakers (including think tankers) release major AI report.
  • Steven Pinker: "Never believe a study from an organization that has a donate button on its website."
  • Erick Erickson: "A most vile attack against the NRA comes from a lefty think tank."
  • Heritage President interview with NPR: Where the conservative movement is headed. 
  • Brookings uses PR agency Beveridge Seay. 
  • Major think tank names cutoff date for Generation Y. 
  • For an interview, Jonah Goldberg proposed having cigars on AEI's rooftop. 
  • Frontier Research Center, "a kind of advanced-technology think tank."
  • Robert Zoellick to join Carnegie Endowment board of trustees. 
  • Boris Johnson let a pro-Brexit think tank launch at the Foreign Office without paying a hire fee.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Mueller Probe Witness Linked to Shady Think Tank Payments

Foreign money flowing to think tanks is alive and well.  While some US think tanks have policies of refusing to accept foreign funds, that overseas money often ends up at the think tank anyway via secretive shell companies and other tactics.

Here is more from the New York Times, showing how a top fundraiser for President Donald Trump received millions of dollars from a political adviser to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to push an anti-Qatar agenda, in part by using think tanks:

Mr. [George] Nader did, however, provide a $2.7 million payment to Mr. [Elliott] Broidy for "consulting, marketing and other advisory services rendered," apparently to help pay for the cost of conferences at two Washington think tanks, the Hudson Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, that featured heavy criticism of Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Hudson Institute policies prohibit donations from foreign governments that are not democracies, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies bars donations from all foreign governments, so Mr. Nader's role as an adviser to the U.A.E. may have raised concerns had he donated directly.
Documents show Mr. Nader's payment was made by an Emirati-based company he controlled, GS Investments, to an obscure firm based in Vancouver, British Columbia, controlled by Mr. Broidy, Xieman International.  A person close to Mr. Broidy said the money was passed through the Canadian company at Mr. Nader's request, and the reason for its circuitous path could not be determined.

Here is a link to the above-mentioned Hudson event, which took place on October 23, 2017.  Here is a link to the May 23, 2017 FDD event, co-hosted by Hudson and George Washington University's Center for Cyber & Homeland Security.

These latest revelations come on the heels of a new poll which shows that only 20 percent of Americans trust think tanks.

Salary Boom at Think Tanks

This new chart is from Hans Gutbrod of Transparify:


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

New Poll: Americans Don't Trust Think Tanks (If They Even Know What One Is)

A new poll found that although there are close to 2,000 think tanks in the United States, only one in two Americans (50%) actually knows what a think tank is, and only 46% know what a think tank does.

The poll found that of those who do know about think tanks, only 36 percent think that they do positive work, whereas 73 percent of policy insiders think they do positive work.  The poll found that only one-fifth (20%) of Americans trust think tanks, while 56 percent don't know whether to trust them or not.

The poll of adults aged 18+ was conducted by We are Flint, a UK-based communications firm whose clients have included at least one think tank (Stimson Center).  It should be noted that this was an online poll, which are not known to be very accurate.  Nevertheless, it is one of the few polls that has been conducted about think tanks in recent memory.

A link to the think tank poll can be found here.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#305)

  • In new "credibility crisis" report, On Think Tanks says it gets funding from Hewlett Foundation ($222,000), Konrad Adenauer Stiftung ($20,000), and Foundation Open Society Institute ($10,000).
  • Hedge funds using think tanks to get their way in Washington?
  • AEI chief heads to India.
  • PIIE scholar blocks Cato scholar on Twitter.
  • 7 FPRI scholars explain why think tanks matter more than ever.
  • Advice for history PhDs seeking employment at think tanks. 
  • Donald Abelson evaluates think tank influence.
  • 3 of the top think tanks (Brookings, CSIS, Heritage) have former high-ranking CIA officers running their Korea programs.
  • Paul Craig Roberts in Russia Insider: American think tanks are hired peddlers of fake news.
  • "Scrolling through Twitter at times like these is surreal: think tank paper, Valentine's Day joke, horrific school shooting, blockchain..."
  • Sacha Saeen: Why we need more female think tank economists.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

New FARA Bill to Force Think Tanks to Register as Foreign Agents?

Here is more from Foreign Policy:

A new draft proposal in the House of Representatives seeks to require China’s cultural outposts in the United States, the Confucius Institutes, to register as foreign agents.
The effort, spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), targets any foreign funding at U.S. universities that aims to promote the agenda of a foreign government.
The draft bill does not single out Confucius Institutes by name, but according to Wilson it will apply to the Chinese government-run programs, which offer language and culture classes on more than 100 American college and university campuses. The institutes have come under increasing scrutiny in recent months due to their sometimes heavy-handed attempts to censor discussion of topics that the Chinese Communist Party deems off-limits, leading to growing concerns about academic freedom.
Wilson’s initiative would clarify language in the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a Nazi-era law intended to combat foreign propaganda. FARA requires organizations and individuals engaged in lobbying or public discourse on behalf of a foreign government to register with the Department of Justice, and to disclose their funding and the scope of their activities. FARA does not prohibit such funding or activities but rather seeks to provide transparency about the true source of the messaging.
As currently written, FARA includes an exemption for “bona fide” academic and scholastic pursuits, but what is meant by “bona fide” is not clearly spelled out. The draft proposal would redefine what is meant by a bona fide academic pursuit to exclude any foreign-funded endeavor that promotes the agenda of a foreign government. If enacted, the legislation would, in turn, trigger mandatory registration for the institutes, though it would not interfere with their activities.

As some have noted, think tanks and universities often look to FARA's academic exemption to avoid registration.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

AEI President Arthur Brooks Stepping Down in 2019

Here is more from Politico:
American Enterprise Institute head Arthur Brooks said Wednesday he plans to step down in the summer of 2019 after more than ten years leading the conservative think tank.
“Succession plans work best precisely when an organization is at maximum strength,” Brooks wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. “I believe social enterprises generally thrive best when chief executives don’t stay much longer than a decade, because it’s important to refresh the organizational vision periodically and avoid becoming uniquely associated with one person.”
Before taking the helm of AEI, which is generally viewed as less political than some of its think tank counterparts, in 2009, Brooks taught economics and social entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. He also spent 12 years as a classical musician in the United States and Spain.
Tully Friedman and Daniel D’Aniello, co-chairs of AEI’s board of trustees, said a search committee will be formed in the coming weeks to find a successor.

Here is AEI's press release on the Brooks announcement.  Here is what the Washington Examiner has to say.

Here is what Jonah Goldberg has to say about "the coming end of the Arthur Brooks era."

There has been major turnover of leadership at a number of top US think tanks the past year, including at the Brookings Institution and Heritage Foundation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Heritage President Blocked From White House Post by Omarosa

Here is more from Politico:

Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James says she was “blocked” from serving in President Donald Trump’s administration by Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former White House aide and reality television star.
“It was Omarosa,” James said in an interview with POLITICO’s Women Rule podcast, discussing how she has not managed to land a job in the administration despite her conservative bona fides.
James, the first African-American female president of Heritage, led Trump’s transition team for several offices in the White House. Following the inauguration, James — a longtime conservative who served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and later as George W. Bush’s Office of Personnel Management director — said she had been excited for a possible spot in the administration.

By being blocked from a White House post, Kay Coles James is arguably in a better position, particularly with her think tank salary, which is likely around four to five times what she would have been making in the Trump Administration.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Chart: Think Tank CEO Salaries

This is from Hans Gutbrod of Transparify:


Here is Think Tank Watch's salary guide to think tanks.

Friday, March 9, 2018

New Study: At least 125 Trump Staffers Came from Think Tanks

A new study by ProPublica found that at least 125 Trump Administration cabinet members, staffers, and political appointees have come from think tanks and other policy-focused nonprofits.  Here is a breakdown of the more well-known think tanks and number of staffers who now work for Trump:

  • Heritage Foundation: 25
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI): 11
  • Hudson Institute: 4
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI): 3
  • Hoover Institution: 3
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): 3
  • Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC): 3
  • Brookings Institution: 2
  • Manhattan Institute: 2
  • Cato Institute: 1
  • R Street Institute: 1
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: 1
  • Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA): 1

Think Tank Watch keeps its own internal list which shows that there are even more think tankers than the ones listed who have helped the Trump team.  ["Only" around 60 people total have come from more well-known, "traditional" think tanks, based on our analysis of ProPublica's count.]

In January, the Heritage Foundation said that approximately 70 of its former employees have worked for the Trump transition team or as part of the administration.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about the influence of the Heritage Foundation on President Trump, whose administration has adopted 64 percent of the think tank's recommended agenda.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#304)

  • Musician will.i.am has "exclusive" think tank.
  • Heritage scholar goes after "non-partisan" think tanker at Third Way.
  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Sen. Ben Sasse do AEI.
  • View from RAND Corp. HQ in Santa Monica, California.
  • Johns Hopkins holds career night with think tanks.
  • The greatest AEI event ever?
  • Sterling Municipal Library has a think tank.
  • Suresh Prabhu has meetings with think tankers at Davos.
  • Rosa Balfour: Reinventing the role of think tanks.
  • What distinguishes think tank work from academic work?
  • Irony: Wilson Center holds panel on why think tanks matter in era of digital disruption but fails to use a hashtag to unify online discussion of the event.

Friday, March 2, 2018

McMaster Shopping Himself to Think Tank Land

White House National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who is rumored to be leaving that position soon, may be returning to the think tank he once belonged to.  Here is more from CNN:

Two sources with knowledge of the matter said McMaster has talked to senior leadership at the Hoover Institution about a position there once he finishes at the White House. But another source emphasized that "no deal or arrangement has been finalized."

From 2002-2003, McMaster was a Visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, and he has also been affiliated with other think tanks, as Think Tank Watch has previously reported.

During the summer, conservatives attacked McMaster for his affiliation with the UK-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Obama Allies Start "Non-Think Tank" to Target Trump Foreign Policy

Here is more from Politico:

Former Obama administration officials unveiled a new advocacy group Tuesday aimed at pushing back on President Donald Trump's foreign policy initiatives.
The push is led by former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and former White House deputy assistant Jake Sullivan, who both served under President Barack Obama. Rhodes and Sullivan, who also worked as senior policy adviser to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, will co-chair the new National Security Action organization.
“We’re committed to organizing an effective, strategic, relentless, and national response to this administration’s dangerous approach to national security," Sullivan said in a news release. "This is not a new think tank or policy shop. Our role is to help shape the public debate on foreign policy and national security, holding Trump accountable and lifting up an alternative, affirmative vision."

Mr. Sullivan already works at a well-known think tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he is a Senior Fellow in the Geoeconomics and Strategy Program.

Mr. Rhodes said that around 500 former officials and campaign veterans have agreed to help National Security Action "act as speakers, writers, or on-call experts for candidates, think tanks, or advocacy organizations."

In other words, a number of think tanks will continue to be influenced by advocacy and lobbying organizations.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#303)

  • US spy agency partnering with NGOs and think tanks to track North Korea. 
  • AEI head Arthur Brooks in HBR: How a Think Tank Measures the Impact of Ideas.
  • Think tank Century Foundation sues Education Dept. over public records request on college accrediting bodies. 
  • CAP releases "Medicare Extra For All" proposal.
  • $750k gift from Korea Foundation establishes chair in Korea Policy Studies at RAND; in August 2017, a $3 million gift established the Tang Chair in China Studies at the think tank.
  • Alex Chance: Think tanks and tax status - a note on the 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) tax categories.
  • Ellen Laipson: Think tanks step up in a polarized Washington where gov't trust is eroding.
  • Carrie (of Showtime's Homeland) applied for a job at Brookings.
  • New York Times journalists trying to quote more female think tank experts.
  • Brookings does wonky Valentine's cards.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Can Think Tank Events Be Trusted?

These days, more and more think tank and higher education events are being sponsored by outside organizations with specific agendas, blurring the lines between truly unbiased programming and paid advertising for corporations and others.

Here is a recent example from The Wall Street Journal:

More than a dozen financial advisers claim to have given speeches at Harvard Business School or the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but they weren’t invited to speak by those leading universities.
Instead, they were invited by Clint Arthur, an erstwhile screenwriter, former taxi driver and organic-butter salesman who rents club space on campus, throws up staging emblazoned with symbols resembling the school’s insignia, invites celebrities like actress Suzanne Somers–and enables advisers to adorn themselves with the prestige of Harvard or West Point.
Mr. Arthur, age 52, born Arthur Clinton Gross, is a charismatic marketing impresario who trains ​businesspeople — including, so far, about three dozen financial advisers — in media skills. He charges roughly $5,000 to $25,000​ for programs that often include an appearance on a prestigious campus.
That helps his clients stand out amid hundreds of thousands of financial advisers offering similar services whose quality is hard for consumers to distinguish.
According to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Arthur paid $10,000 for a sponsorship arrangement with a students’ entrepreneurship club at Harvard Business School in 2015 and renewed the arrangement in 2016 and 2017. Mr. Arthur also said, “our use of the words ‘Harvard Business School’ was reviewed and approved by Harvard.”

While a handful of think tanks advertise or reveal the entities behind a particular event (if there is one), Think Tank Watch is aware of numerous think tanks that do not provide any information about sponsors of events.

More Trouble at Cato as Board Member Faces Spousal Abuse Charges

Here is more from Politico:

A board member at the libertarian Cato Institute is facing criminal charges of assaulting a family member in Texas, as his wife claims he held her down, choked her, head-butted her and bit her in the face, according to court documents of the May 2017 incident.
Preston Marshall, a 44-year-old investor who was involved in high-profile lawsuits over his family’s estate with Anna Nicole Smith, pleaded not guilty to assaulting his wife. His wife, Anastasia Marshall, has initiated divorce proceedings.
Marshall has been on the Cato board since 2012, when he was appointed with the support of Charles and David Koch, who are major Cato funders.
Bob Levy, chairman of the board of the Cato Institute, said that “neither I nor Cato President Peter Goettler were aware of the criminal charges brought last year against Cato board member Preston Marshall” prior to an inquiry from POLITICO. “If Mr. Marshall is found guilty of these allegations, we will certainly call on him to step down from the board or, if necessary, ask the board of directors to remove him.”

Earlier in February, it was reported that Cato co-founder Ed Crane sexually harassed several employees at the libertarian think tank.

Think Tank Quickies (#302)

  • Can Washington think tanks be automated
  • Heritage officially welcomes Kay Coles James with 300 guests, including AG Jeff Sessions, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and Sens. Ted Cruz, Joni Ernst, and Orrin Hatch.
  • The tale of two conservatives: Both (Mike Pence and Jeff Flake) ran conservative think tanks in their states in the 1990s.
  • ExpertFile builds awareness of think tanks. 
  • In Sept. 2017, Thea Lee, formerly of the AFL-CIO, became the president of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). 
  • Richard Stengel has been named distinguished fellow at Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab.
  • Former Deputy National Security Advsisor Dina Powell named non-resident senior fellow at Future of Diplomacy Project at Harvard's Belfer Center.
  • AEI Fellow Jonah Goldberg named inaugural holder of the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty.
  • RT: Your guide to top anti-Russia think tanks in the US and who funds them; Paul Craig Roberts follows up with "American Think Tanks are Hired Purveyors of Fake News."
  • More RT: EU needs "steel tanks, not think tanks" to counter ISIS and Russia" says Polish PM.
  • Chatham House event: Why "Post-Truth" Matters to Think Tanks.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Demos President Heather McGhee Stepping Down

Here is more from Politico:

HEATHER MCGHEE STEPS DOWN AS PRESIDENT OF DEMOS: Heather McGhee will step down from her role as president of Demos this summer and will become a distinguished senior fellow with the group. Starting in March, the left-leaning think tank’s board of directors will look for a new president. In an email to PI, Arlene Corbin Lewis, Demos’ director of communications, said McGhee is leaving her role as president “to focus all of her energy and time into addressing the racial divide that is tearing apart our country and this includes focusing on writing her book and increasing her media and public speaking work.” She added that the leadership transition “comes at a time of strength and growth for the organization.”

McGhee's biography can be found here.  And here is how McGhee, who married Cassim Shepard in 2016, spends her Sundays.

Perhaps she can join other former think tank heads who have recently gone into the lobbying and consulting world...

Well-Known Think Tank Heads Turn to Lobbying, Consulting

Two big names in the think tank world are turning to a new and likely more profitable career: lobbying and consulting.

One is Ed Feulner, the founder and former president of the Heritage Foundation, who will sit on the advisory board of a newly-created lobbying firm called Potomac International Partners.

The other is Michele Flournoy, co-founder and former CEO of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), who, along with several other former Obama Administration officials, is launching a strategic advisory firm called WestExec.  [Apparently, the firm will do no lobbying.]

In 2015, as CEO of CNAS, Flournoy was paid a salary of around $360,000.  In 2016, Feulner made around $200,000 as a trustee of Heritage.

As well-known figures with deep connections in Washington, the two will likely be able to help land big clients and generate large sums of money for their firms.

It will be interesting to see if Flournoy and Feulner bring in any clients who are donating to the think tanks they founded...

Monday, February 26, 2018

UK Think Tanks Hacked by Group in China



Here is what BBC News is saying:

Some UK think tanks were hacked by China-based groups last year, a US cyber-security company which said it investigated the breaches has claimed.
Crowdstrike said it saw the repeated targeting of think tanks specialising in international security and defence issues, beginning in April 2017.
The group also investigated a breach of the US Democratic National Committee, allegedly by Russian hackers, in 2016.
The BBC understands that not all of the UK think tanks targeted were breached.
A number of think tanks contacted by the BBC declined to comment - although Crowdstrike said it was called in by some to respond to hack attacks.
It attributes the attacks to groups they call "Panda", which Crowdstrike said are based in China and linked to the Chinese state.
Dmitri Alperovitch, Crowdstrike's co-founder and chief technology officer, told the BBC that a number of think tanks that work on Chinese policy were targeted "very aggressively".
He said those behind the attacks were trying to steal reports - but also any information about connections to government.
"They do believe the think tanks are very influential both in the US and UK," he said.
"They believe that they may have access to information which is not public.
"In some cases [that] can be true, because you do have a lot of informal channels that these think tank people will have with government officials."

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece about how China reportedly targeted think tanks in the US doing military research.