Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump Ain't No Think Tanker (Part IV)

Here is even more evidence that President Donald Trump is not reading your think tank report.  Says the Washington Post:

Trump had little time for in-depth briefings on Afghanistan’s history, its complicated politics or its seemingly endless civil war. Even a single page of bullet points on the country seemed to tax the president’s attention span on the subject, said senior White House officials.
“I call the president the two-minute man,” said one Trump confidant. “The president has patience for a half-page.”

Here are links to Part I, Part II, and Part III of "Trump Ain't No Think Tanker."  Most think tank reports are at least several pages long, with many of them running into the dozens or even hundreds of pages.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Secret $20 Million Gift Given to DC Think Tank

Here is what The Intercept is reporting:

The United Arab Emirates on pace to contribute $20 million over the course of 2016 and 2017 to the Middle East Institute, one of Washington’s leading think tanks, according to a document obtained by The Intercept. The outsized contribution, which the UAE hoped to conceal, would allow the institute, according to the agreement, to “augment its scholar roster with world class experts in order to counter the more egregious misperceptions about the region, inform U.S. government policy makers, and convene regional leaders for discreet dialogue on pressing issues.”
MEI was founded in 1946 and has long been an influential player in Washington foreign policy circles. It serves as a platform for many of the U.S.’s most influential figures, allowing them to regularly appear on cable news, author papers, host private briefings and appear on panels in between stints in government.
Think tanks in Washington play a role perhaps as important as K Street, though with far less public insight into their activity or sources of funds. While the political establishment is gripped by the question of Russia’s influence on the 2016 elections, Washington itself is awash in money from both foreign corporations and foreign governments.

The whole Intercept piece, authored by Ryan Grim, is worth reading in its entirety.  It has appearances by UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, think tanker Bilal Saab, UAE-based consultant Mac McClelland Jr., MEI President Wendy Chamberlain, Egyptian activist/scholar Ramy Yaacoub, Richar Mintz of The Harbour Group, Egyptian oligarch Naguib Sawiris, MEI board chairman Richard Clarke, Managing Director of Qorvis MSLGroup Michael Petruzzello, Barry Pavel of Atlantic Council, top lobbyist for Occidental Petroleum Ian Davis, former Center for a New American Security (CNAS) staffer Andrew Exum, think tank ECSSR, and many more.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post on the UAE's influence at other think tanks in the United States.

Friday, August 11, 2017

NYT: Political Memes Now More Influential Than Think Tanks

Another big blow to think tanks from The New York Times:

Imagine you’re a millionaire or billionaire with strong political views and a desire to spread those views to the masses. Do you start a think tank in Washington? Funnel millions to a shadowy “super PAC”? Bankroll the campaign of an up-and-coming politician?
For a growing number of deep-pocketed political donors, the answer is much more contemporary: Invest in internet virality.
As TV, radio and newspapers give way to the megaphonic power of social media, today’s donor class is throwing its weight behind a new group of partisan organizations that specialize in creating catchy, highly shareable messages for Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms. Viral media expertise is emerging as a crucial skill for political operatives, and as donors look to replicate the success of the social media sloganeers who helped lift President Trump to victory, they’re seeking out talented meme makers.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece about other "threats" to today's think tanks.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#280)

  • RAND Corp. expands into Silicon Valley. 
  • Think tank in France (Fine Minds 4 Fine Wines, or FM4FW) discusses the future of "fine" wines.
  • CFR President Richard Haass gets birthday shout-out from Politico; reveals he went to Woodstrock, is addicted to golf, listens to country music, likes dry martinis, and walks to work.
  • Polls find faltering trust in American universities (and think tanks)? 
  • Laurel Miller, an analyst from the RAND Corp. who had been serving as Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at DOS, has departed
  • Why Myanmar needs foreign policy think tanks. 
  • As interest in Hong Kong affairs grows, time is ripe for local think tanks to shine.
  • Cato scholar Daniel Ikenson: US and China engaged in a low-profile, high-technology trade war. 
  • Alliance for Securing Democracy, housed within the German Marshall Fund (GMF), has new dashboard tracking Russian propaganda on Twitter.
  • Searchable map of 100 UK think tank locations.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Conservatives Attack McMaster for Work at Think Tank

Here is more from the conservative news site Breitbart:

White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster served at a UK-based think tank financed by a controversial, George Soros-funded group identified by the Obama White House as central in helping to sell the Iran nuclear deal tothe public and news media.
From September 2006 to February 2017, McMaster is listed as a member of International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), where he served as consulting senior fellow.  The IISS describes itself as a “world-leading authority on global security, political risk and military conflict.”
The IISS has been supportive of the Obama administration-brokered 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, and the group has repeatedly hit back against charges that Tehran has violated the agreement.
McMaster himself has been accused of purging the National Security Council of hardliners on Iran, and he is seen as a leading proponent of the Iran nuclear accord within the Trump administration. He has reportedly urged the White House to recertify Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.
IISS’s website contains a list of groups, corporations and government entities that provide funding to the think tank, including during the period of McMaster’s work there. Curiously missing from the page of donors, however, is the controversial Ploughshares Fund, a grantmaking group identified last year by the Obama White House as central in helping to market the Iran nuclear deal to the news media.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on McMasters' various connections to think tanks.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Former Heritage Scholar a "Fixer" in Trump's Washington

Politico recently highlighted the work of Lisa Curtis, the former Senior Research Fellow in Asian Studies at the Heritage Foundation's Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, who is now in the Trump Administration.  Here is a clip:
It may not be President Donald Trump's list of problems to solve but the relationship with Pakistan has an unfortunate habit of flaring up, and doing so at the most inopportune times.
Tasked with making headway in the thorny and knotty relationship with Islamabad is Lisa Curtis, a longtime expert on Pakistan and counterterrorism who was recruited earlier this year to the White House's National Security Council to be its senior director for South Asia.

Curtis is one of dozens of scholars at the Heritage Foundation who either advised the Trump Administration during the presidential campaign or who has actually gone into the administration.

In related news, the Heritage Foundation continues to look for a new president after Sen. Ben Sasse reportedly turned down the job.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Meet the 28-Year-Old Think Tanker Frightening Amazon

Here is more from The Washington Post:

Amazon’s general counsel, David Zapolsky, had a lot on his mind last month when he and four members of his legal team visited the offices of New America, a liberal-leaning think tank in Washington. The retail juggernaut was days from announcing its $13.8 billion purchase of Whole Foods, a deal that would not only roil the grocery industry but also trigger a government antitrust investigation into the strategies and practices of the “Everything Store.” And, as Zapolsky was no doubt aware, no organization had been more dogged in raising those concerns than New America — and, in particular, a 28-year-old law student named Lina Khan.
Earlier this year, the Yale Law Journal published a 24,000-word “note” by Khan titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” The article laid out with remarkable clarity and sophistication why American antitrust law has evolved to the point that it is no longer equipped to deal with tech giants such as Amazon.com, which has made itself as essential to commerce in the 21st century as the railroads, telephone systems and computer hardware makers were in the 20th.

Here is Lina Lina Khan's biography from New America, where she is a Fellow in the Open Markets program.

Think Tank Watch should note that Amazon is a donor to New America, giving between $50,000 and $99,999 to the think tank in the 2016-2017 period.  Other tech giants also help fund New America, including Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.

Think Tank Quickies (#279)

  • Obama's Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz starting low-carbon energy think tank.
  • Project 2049 Institute: China carries out think tank propaganda tour in US.
  • New think tank idea: Center for American ProgRock (via Timothy Noah).
  • New report on Armenian think tank industry.
  • Pic: Zbigniew Pisarski takes "beast" to DC for think tank visits.
  • First-ever think tank dedicated to college athletics.
  • New CSIS report on US-Carribean relations. 
  • CNAS launches future of sanctions task force.
  • Daniel Feehan, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness joins CNAS.
  • South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks at CSIS.
  • Third Way holds annual summer party at Long View Gallery with lots of lawmakers.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

CAP Gets Revenge Against Trump in New Report

The Clinton-friendly think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) suffered a big blow when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton for the presidency, but it is not giving up its battle to bring down Mr. Trump.  Here is more from BuzzFeed:

A major progressive think tank wants Democrats to stop being shy about accusing the Trump campaign of colluding with Russia.
The Center for American Progress has written a nearly 50-page report for Democrats in Congress, making the case for collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. The report, a draft of which was reviewed by BuzzFeed News ahead of its release Wednesday, makes the bold claim that “it is now clear there was collusion” and “this is the biggest political scandal in American history.”
CAP’s report, which includes several appendices linking to news reports and quotes from the Trump administration, does not include any new information, but it does represent a push for a dramatic change of tone for Democrats in Congress.
The draft of CAP’s report lays out everything the public knows about how the Trump campaign and Russia interacted during the campaign based on information gathered from press reports and congressional testimony. According to CAP, the evidence should be enough for Democrats to argue the campaign colluded with Russia.
CAP’s plan is to deliver the report to “key offices” on the Hill with the hope of giving Democrats the “confidence” to make a collusion argument. Jentleson said Democratic leadership, as well as members of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees in the House and Senate, will be receiving the report.

Update: Here is a link to CAP's new report, entitled "Russiagate: The Depth of Collusion," written by Max Bergmann.

Here is how Fox News describes the report.

Sen. Sasse Declines Top Job at Heritage Foundation

Although the salary would likely be more than six times as much as his current salary as a US senator, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) has declined an offer to lead the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation.  Here is more from Politico:

The Heritage Foundation has approached one of the Senate’s leading anti-Trump Republicans, Ben Sasse, to gauge his interest in serving as president — an indication the influential conservative think tank may turn away from its supportive posture toward the president.
Sasse, who was elected to his first term in the Senate in 2014, has swatted down the overtures from Heritage’s board of trustees, according to two sources familiar with the recruitment effort. The Nebraska senator rose to national prominence when he announced early in the primary calendar that he would support neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton, and he has been a persistent critic of Trump ever since.
The entreaties are one sign that Heritage may be looking to change course after the May ouster of its former president, Jim DeMint. In the Senate, DeMint was a leading antagonist of establishment Republicans, and at Heritage he suffered from the perception that the organization was becoming too political — and too reflexively pro-Trump — as its focus on scholarship fell by the wayside.
Kay Coles James, a member of the Heritage Foundation Board of Trustees' Presidential Search Committee, said in a statement that the group is considering more than 200 people for the job, "many of them nationally renowned. We have engaged a professional search firm and we look forward to reviewing the candidates they suggest.”
The organization’s interest in Sasse — sources say board members have been persistent to the point of irritating the senator — indicates that it is looking for a reset. Other conservative think tanks have been less explicitly pro-Trump than Heritage was under DeMint. While American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, for example, has sought to explain the source of Trump’s support, he has stopped short of expressing support for him.

Jim DeMint earned $1.1 million from Heritage in 2015, and US senators make $174,000 per year.  If Sen. Sasse took the job, his likely salary for one year (before taxes) would be approaching his entire net worth, which is estimated to be around $1.48 million.

In related news, here is what former Mr. DeMint is up to these days.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Former Heritage President Jim DeMint Launches New Institute

Former Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, who was ousted this spring from what is arguably the most influential conservative think tank in the US, is starting a new venture.  Here is more from Politico:

Former Sen. Jim DeMint will serve as chairman of the new Conservative Partnership Institute to fortify the presence of conservatives in Washington, he said in a news release Tuesday, adding that he thinks the status quo is hindering the development of conservative lawmakers and staffers.
Previously, DeMint served at the helm of the Heritage Foundation, a venerable conservative think tank that at times has had a turbulent relationship with the rise of Donald Trump. He was ousted in May after internal disputes over Heritage's mission.

Here is the Conservative Partnership Institute's (CPI) new website.

Here is a comprehensive Think Tank Watch guide to what happened at the Heritage Foundation that led to DeMint's ouster.

Think Tank Quickies (#278)

  • Think tank RethinkX says $25 oil is coming.
  • Exxon gave $1.6 million to think tanks and advocacy groups opposing climate change in 2016.
  • Ben Norton to AEI: Delete your think tank.
  • China criticizes Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) scholar Ely Ratner.
  • Center for American Progress (CAP) releases its own proposal to fix Obamacare.
  • Reactor Room: Very first think tank for adults with autism.
  • Chafuen: Cato and Heritage receive less than 3% of funding from corporations; average free-market think tank is 10%.
  • Balkan Think Tank Convention II, led by Turkish think tank SETA.
  • CNAS partners with The Washington Post.
  • Pic: A refurbished RAND Europe.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Think Tank Scholar Secretly Trying to Broker US-North Korea Peace

Suzanne DiMaggio of the think tank New America helped establish an unofficial channel with the North Koreans in early 2016, according to The Wall Street JournalHere is more of what they say about DiMaggio:

Early last year, Ms. DiMaggio established through interlocutors in Stockholm a “track two” dialogue with North Korea, a term reflecting the fact no active U.S. officials were present at the initial meetings. She made the first of two trips to the North Korean capital in February 2016, in an early bid to help defuse the nuclear crisis.
Ms. DiMaggio has long worked to establish diplomatic channels to countries in conflict with the U.S. She held numerous track two discussions with Iranian officials before the Obama administration formally started nuclear negotiations with Tehran in 2012.

Ms. DiMaggio is Director of the US-Iran Initiative at New America and a Senior Fellow at the think tank.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about another think tanker who has been active regarding talks with North Korea.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Congressman: CBO Should Aggregate Think Tank Reports

Here is more from The Hill:

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) is trying to eliminate 89 positions from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's staff and require the office to aggregate think tank data instead of using its own professional expertise.
“They ought to be aggregators; there are plenty of think tanks that are out there,” Meadows said at a National Press Club event. 
In an amendment to be offered to the security-related spending bill scheduled for a House vote this week, Meadows would cut $15 million of funding to CBO staff members responsible for estimating the budgetary costs of bills in Congress, and have them "carry out such duties solely by facilitating and assimilating scoring data compiled by the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, and the Urban Institute."

Scholars at the conservative think tank R Street Institute are advising against Rep. Meadows' idea, arguing, among others things, that think tanks "may not even have the manpower or desire to generate scores for the hundreds of pieces of legislation that are produced each year."

Think Tanks Using Congressional Hearings to Help Foreign Donors?

With more foreign money flowing into US think tanks, it is becoming more commonplace for think tanks and their scholars to use congressional hearings to lobby on behalf of their foreign donors.  The Institute for Gulf Affairs recently documented an example that brings some recent think tanker testimony into question.  Here is more:

Hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by the United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador to the U.S. to a witness testifying at a congressional hearing later today are casting doubts on his credibility, leaked documents show.
The Center for a New American Security, whose Director of the Middle East Security Program Ilan Goldenberg will testify before the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee, received at least $250,000 in from the United Arab Emirates embassy, the documents show.
The hearing “Assessing the U.S.-Qatar Relationship,” is scheduled for July 26 and called by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman, House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa.
The emails also show Mr. Goldenberg’s extensive email and phone communications with U.A.E. Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba since last summer to fund CNAS work and a trip of Goldenberg and colleagues to the U.A.E.
The emails came from the group known as Global Leaks who sent it to the Institute for Gulf Affairs days ago.
The emails also show Goldenberg pushing business contracts for Lockheed Martin, while CNAS’s chief executive officer Michèle Flournoy was lobbying Al Otaiba for Polaris to win a U.A.E. government contract.
The August 2016 invoice was signed by Flournoy and submitted to Ambassador Al Otaiba to request payment for a study about U.A.E missile technology control regime. The study was given to Al Otaiba in February 2017 and distributed to U.A.E leadership, including Abu Dhabi’s crown Prince and strongman Mohamed Bin Zayed, emails show.
CNAS did not answer any questions posed by IGA but emailed the written testimony of Mr. Goldenberg delivered to the subcommittee and included a footnote acknowledging the $250,000 payment. The payment, the statement said, was for a Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) project carried out by CNAS and managed by Goldenberg. U.A.E. is not party to the MTCR.

The Institute for Gulf Affairs (formerly the Saudi Institute), a think tank run by Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmed, goes on to note that this case "raises legal and ethical questions for congressional committees who rely on witnesses possibly compromised by foreign cash."

In 2015, the House passed a rule requiring witnesses of congressional panels to disclose whether they have been paid by foreign governments.

Update: Here is a new piece from The Intercept entitled "Hacked Emails Show UAE Building Close Relationship With DC Think Tanks That Push Its Agenda."  It has lots of interesting tidbits, including about a UAE-sponsored trip for think tank scholars that was organized by Ilan Goldenberg and Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#277)

  • Think tank European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) moving operations from London over Brexit.
  • Prestigious Chinese think tank (Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, or SASS) implicated in a scheme to entice US spies to leak classified information.
  • Western think tank funding cheat sheet for the Qatar-GCC conflict.
  • Chart: Should you ask a question during a think tank seminar?
  • New book: The Power of Ideas - The Rising of Thinkers and Think Tanks in China.
  • Video: What happens when you invite 100 local high school students to Brookings.
  • RAND Corp.: Strategic stability between the US and Russia is eroding.
  • Watch the 2017 Prospect Magazine think tank awards on Periscope.
  • Tevi Troy: Can conservatives and their think tanks find their way?
  • CSIS launches "Joint US-China Think Tank Project on the Future of US-China Relations."
  • Leadership Institute holds first Think Tank Opportunity Workshop.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Kushner Introduced to Russian Ambassador by Think Tank Head

This is from an 11-page statement to congressional committees that Jared Kushner has released (as reported by Axios):

With respect to my contacts with Russia or Russian representatives during the campaign, there were hardly any. ... [T]he day after the election, I could not even remember the name of the Russian Ambassador. ... I sent an email asking [Dmitri Simes of the Center for the National Interest, which hosted a Trump foreign policy speech], 'What is the name of the Russian ambassador?'"

In the statement, Kushner said that Simes had done a "great job" putting the event together and said that Simes had created the guest list and extended the invitations for the event.  Kushner also said that Simes has introduced him to four ambassadors at the event, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Here is more on that speech from a previous Think Tank Watch post.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Clinton Adviser Searches for Meaning in Think Tanks

Here is more from a Washington Post piece on Jake Sullivan, senior policy advisor to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and former Director of Policy Planning at the US State Department under President Barack Obama:

Sullivan...divides his time between an empty think-tank office in Washington and Yale, where he lectures one day a week on law and foreign policy. Almost everything about his professional life is transitory, uncertain, unsettled.
He ran through a list of his early mentors who had helped him find purchase in Washington: There was Leslie H. Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, where Sullivan had spent time as a summer intern, assigned by happenstance to Gelb’s office.
There was Strobe Talbott, who runs the Brookings Institution. In 2000, when Sullivan was starting law school, Talbott had just been chosen to lead the newly formed Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. “Those were the heady days when the mainstream foreign policy consensus was that globalization was a force for good,” Sullivan recalled. He had sought out Talbott after learning that they had both been Rhodes scholars and edited the Yale Daily News.

The "empty think tank office" that the piece mentions likely refers to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where Sullivan is a Senior Fellow in the think tank's Geoeconomics and Strategy Program.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Google Pays Think Tanks to Influence Policy

Here is more from The Wall Street Journal:
Over the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying $5,000 to $400,000 for the work.
Google has funded roughly 100 academic papers on public policy matters since 2009, according to a Journal analysis of data compiled by the Campaign for Accountability, an advocacy group that has campaigned against Google and receives funds from Google's rivals, including Oracle Corp.  Most mentioned Google's funding
Another 100 or so research papers were written by authors with financing by think tanks or university research centers funded by Google and other tech firms, the data show.  Most of the papers didn't disclose the financial support by the companies, the Campaign for Accountability data show.
Google's strategic recruitment of like-minded professors is one of the tech industry's most sophisticated programs, and includes funding of conferences and research by trade groups, think tanks and consulting firms...

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on Google's close ties to the think tank world.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#276)

  • AEI President Arthur Brooks weighs in on whether or not think tanks matter.
  • Chart: Elite confidence in various think tanks, via Dan Drezner.
  • William Burns (president of Carnegie Endowment), Jessica Mathews (also Carnegie), Leon Wieseltier (Brookings), Marie-Josee Kravis (Hudson), and Niall Ferguson (Hoover) attend Bilderberg  2017.
  • Patrick Crowley (of Dayblink Consulting) to marry AEI senior media associate Meg Cahill.
  • Hudson Institute hosted spring reception in New York at home of Joe and Marlene Ricketts; UN Amb. Nikki Halley sat down with Hudson CEO Ken Weinstein for an off-the-record talk.
  • New America's Bretton Woods II at Sea event took place aboard super yacht of philanthropists John Evans and Steve Wozencraft.
  • CSIS President John Hamre among those who attended Brzezinski funeral.
  • Fred Kempe, Jim Jones, and Jon Huntsman of Atlantic Council dined at Cafe Milano ahead of their Distinguished Leadership Awards ceremony.
  • Drezner: By moving from Harvard to the Hoover Institution, Niall Ferguson was able to relinquish all of his teaching responsibilities, which had become a distraction for him.
  • Heritage Foundation was the only think tank that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visited during his trip to Washington.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Think Tank Land Becoming Playground for Spies

Hacked US government emails show that certain experts at think tanks are being heavily targeted by foreign spy agencies.  Here is more from Foreign Policy:
A 2016 document from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and obtained by FP, warned that there have been more than a dozen recent cases of U.S. think tanks being hacked, including one breach that involved stealing data on Russia-Turkey relations. The document, which is marked “For Official Use Only,” says, “Cyber actors likely will continue to target think tanks and similar organizations, as many maintain significant connections to US government information and personnel, especially foreign policy officials.” The DHS did not respond to a request for comment.

Think Tank Watch has reported several times about Russian scholars at Western think tanks being targeted by foreign spies, and we have documented that nearly every major US think tank has been hacked over the past few years.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post on how a Chinese think tank was used to recruit a US spy.

Chinese Think Tank Used to Recruit US Spy

Here is more from Foreign Policy:
Caught with a bag of cash and an electronic device used to communicate with his handlers, a former government official with years of military and intelligence experience is accused of spying for China.
[Kevin] Mallory allegedly provided several classified government documents to a Chinese contact, who initially claimed affiliation with a prestigious Chinese think tank, in exchange for cash.
A Chinese handler posing as an employee of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) made contact with Mallory during trips to China in March and April.
The SASS is a reputable and internationally known think tank.  But it also maintains a close working relationship with the Shanghai State Security Bureau, a regional office of the Ministry of State Security, China's intelligence arm.
Chinese think tanks, including SASS, often work closely with the Ministry of State Security.  China's spy arm prefers to meet sources inside China, and social science academics provide a useful front for intelligence and influence operations.
Some intelligence-linked Chinese think tanks also maintain a known presence in Washington.  One of those is the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.  The institute actively engages in the Washington think tank ecosystem and also invites US officials and academics for events in Beijing.  The Center for Strategic and International Studies...has co-hosted numerous cybersecurity dialogues with the Chinese institute in recent years.
For more than two decades, the institute has sent a fellow to Washington, who stays for a year or two...

The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) is ranked as the 35th best think tank among the countries of China, India, Japan, and South Korea, according to the latest University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.

Think tanks in both the US and overseas are popular with spies, and a large number of spies are housed within policy shops while others are trying to spy on think tanks (and scholars) themselves.

In related news, Bill Gertz of The Free Beacon just reported that the Chinese spy network in the US may include 25,000 spies.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Heritage Gets Serious About Finding a New President

Here is more from Politico:
The Heritage Foundation has hired the executive search firm CarterBaldwin to assist in its search for a new president, according to a notification obtained by POLITICO.
The job listing, circulated by the Atlanta-based search firm on Tuesday, says the next president of the conservative think tank “has a historic opportunity to build strategically on the organization’s success, to promote unity within the conservative movement, and to positively address current public policy challenges facing our nation.” A spokesman for the Heritage Foundation did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The top job at the influential conservative institution opened up in early May when the Heritage Foundation’s board of directors unexpectedly pushed out former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who had led the organization since 2012, citing “significant and worsening management issues that led to a breakdown of communication and trust.”

Here is Think Tank Watch's ultimate guide to what happened at Heritage earlier this year that led to Jim DeMint's ouster.

The job as Heritage president earned DeMint $1.1 million in 2015, the highest of any of think tank head in the world.

Monday, July 10, 2017

USIP Getting Its Own Lobbyists?

These days, think tanks often do lobbying on behalf of donors, but it is quite rare for think tanks to have their own hired guns to help them with issues they have before the federal government.  However, with the possibility of certain think tanks budgets being squeezed in the new Trump era, having a support team to help on Capitol Hill never hurts.  Here is more from Politico:

The nonprofit Lobbyists 4 Good registered in August as a lobbyist “funded by the people, for the people.” The group aimed to raise money through crowdfunding to lobby for two issues: boosting the budget of the U.S. Institute for Peace and promoting campaign finance reform. It didn’t go so well. Some potential donors weren’t moved by the two causes that Lobbyists 4 Good was supporting, but others were turned off by the thought of hiring lobbyists at all. “There were a lot of pain points that we kept finding,” said Billy DeLancey, the group’s executive director. The group raised only $13,000 or so.
So Lobbyists 4 Good is trying a new model. The group terminated its lobbying registration last week, and it’s now running Kickstarter-style campaigns that allow members of the public to choose what issues they want to hire lobbyists for. “Anyone can submit a campaign, and it gets vetted through our founding principles,” DeLancey said, ensuring that people don’t create campaigns to benefit their own companies or themselves. Once donors have pledged $31,000 to a particular campaign, Lobbyists 4 Good will hire a lobbyists to work on the issue for six months. But the group has a long way to go before it can hire its first lobbyist. The campaign that’s furthest along, to lobby against United Nations funding cuts, had raised just $564 as of Monday afternoon.

Readers of Think Tank Watch may remember that the White House budget proposal earlier in the year called for deep funding cuts for the US Institute for Peace (USIP) and the Wilson Center.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Free-Market Think Tank NCPA Closing After 34 Years

Think Tank Watch has learned that the Dallas, Texas-based free-market think tank National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) is closing after 34 years in business.  Here is more from a statement on the think tank's website:

The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a 501c3 public policy research organization, announced this week that its Board of Directors has voted to dissolve the organization effective immediately. The thirty-four year old free market think tank has made significant contributions to free-market public policy research and implementation, including Health Savings Accounts, Roth IRAs, automatic enrollment in 401ks, and ongoing work in the areas of taxes, healthcare, entitlements, economic development, energy and national security.
The decision to leave the world of think tanks comes after the organization has faced significant financial challenges over the last three years. The incident is not isolated, according to a June 29 Article in Exempt Magazine. The article mentions a recent survey from The Bridgespan Group, which examined the financial health of nearly 300 grantees and cites, “More than half of surveyed nonprofits have frequent or chronic budget deficits; 40 percent have fewer than three months of operating reserves; and, 10 percent showed no reserves.”
The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a 501c3 public policy research organization, announced this week that its Board of Directors has voted to dissolve the organization effective immediately. The thirty-four year old free market think tank has made significant contributions to free-market public policy research and implementation, including Health Savings Accounts, Roth IRAs, automatic enrollment in 401ks, and ongoing work in the areas of taxes, healthcare, entitlements, economic development, energy and national security. The decision to leave the world of think tanks comes after the organization has faced significant financial challenges over the last three years. The incident is not isolated, according to a June 29 Article in Exempt Magazine. The article mentions a recent survey from The Bridgespan Group, which examined the financial health of nearly 300 grantees and cites, “More than half of surveyed nonprofits have frequent or chronic budget deficits; 40 percent have fewer than three months of operating reserves; and, 10 percent showed no reserves.”
NCPA...announced this week that its Board of Directors has voted to dissolve the organization effective immediately.  The thirty-four year old think tank has made significant contributions to free-market public policy research and implementation, including Health Savings Accounts, Roth IRAs, automatic enrollment in 401ks, and ongoing work in the areas of taxes, healthcare, entitlements, economic development, energy, and national security.
The decision to leave the world of think tanks comes after the organization has faced significant financial challenges over the last three years.  The incident is not isolated, according to a June 29 article in Exempt Magazine.  The article mentions a recent survey from Bridgespan Group, which examined the financial health of nearly 300 grantees and cites, "More than half of the surveyed nonprofits have frequent or chronic budget deficits; 40 percent have fewer than three months of operating reserves; and, 10 percent showed no reserves."

The news comes just days after it was announced that the conservative Washington, DC-based think tank Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) is closing after eight years in operation. 
The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a 501c3 public policy research organization, announced this week that its Board of Directors has voted to dissolve the organization effective immediately. The thirty-four year old free market think tank has made significant contributions to free-market public policy research and implementation, including Health Savings Accounts, Roth IRAs, automatic enrollment in 401ks, and ongoing work in the areas of taxes, healthcare, entitlements, economic development, energy and national security.
The decision to leave the world of think tanks comes after the organization has faced significant financial challenges over the last three years. The incident is not isolated, according to a June 29 Article in Exempt Magazine. The article mentions a recent survey from The Bridgespan Group, which examined the financial health of nearly 300 grantees and cites, “More than half of surveyed nonprofits have frequent or chronic budget deficits; 40 percent have fewer than three months of operating reserves; and, 10 percent showed no reserves.”
The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a 501c3 public policy research organization, announced this week that its Board of Directors has voted to dissolve the organization effective immediately. The thirty-four year old free market think tank has made significant contributions to free-market public policy research and implementation, including Health Savings Accounts, Roth IRAs, automatic enrollment in 401ks, and ongoing work in the areas of taxes, healthcare, entitlements, economic development, energy and national security. The decision to leave the world of think tanks comes after the organization has faced significant financial challenges over the last three years. The incident is not isolated, according to a June 29 Article in Exempt Magazine. The article mentions a recent survey from The Bridgespan Group, which examined the financial health of nearly 300 grantees and cites, “More than half of surveyed nonprofits have frequent or chronic budget deficits; 40 percent have fewer than three months of operating reserves; and, 10 percent showed no reserves.”
The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a 501c3 public policy research organization, announced this week that its Board of Directors has voted to dissolve the organization effective immediately. The thirty-four year old free market think tank has made significant contributions to free-market public policy research and implementation, including Health Savings Accounts, Roth IRAs, automatic enrollment in 401ks, and ongoing work in the areas of taxes, healthcare, entitlements, economic development, energy and national security.
The decision to leave the world of think tanks comes after the organization has faced significant financial challenges over the last three years. The incident is not isolated, according to a June 29 Article in Exempt Magazine. The article mentions a recent survey from The Bridgespan Group, which examined the financial health of nearly 300 grantees and cites, “More than half of surveyed nonprofits have frequent or chronic budget deficits; 40 percent have fewer than three months of operating reserves; and, 10 percent showed no reserves.”
The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a 501c3 public policy research organization, announced this week that its Board of Directors has voted to dissolve the organization effective immediately. The thirty-four year old free market think tank has made significant contributions to free-market public policy research and implementation, including Health Savings Accounts, Roth IRAs, automatic enrollment in 401ks, and ongoing work in the areas of taxes, healthcare, entitlements, economic development, energy and national security. The decision to leave the world of think tanks comes after the organization has faced significant financial challenges over the last three years. The incident is not isolated, according to a June 29 Article in Exempt Magazine. The article mentions a recent survey from The Bridgespan Group, which examined the financial health of nearly 300 grantees and cites, “More than half of surveyed nonprofits have frequent or chronic budget deficits; 40 percent have fewer than three months of operating reserves; and, 10 percent showed no reserves.”

Think Tank Quickies (#275)

  • Sens. Todd Young (R-IN) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) Co-Chair CSIS Congressional Task Force on Reform and Reorganization of US Development Assistance.
  • Karen Dynan, formerly at the Treasury Department and the Brookings Institution, joins PIIE as Nonresident Senior Fellow.
  • Amb. Robert King joins CSIS Korea Chair as Senior Adviser.
  • CSIS and Indonesia's PT Pertamina (Persero) launch partnership on Southeast Asia Energy Security and the Banyan Tree Leadership Forum.
  • Cato Institute announces new R. Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of Economics.
  • Atlantic Council names former top Pentagon official Christine Wormuth as first Director of new Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience.
  • Ambassador Daniel Fried joins Atlantic Council as Distinguished Fellow.
  • Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir joins Atlantic Council Global Energy Center as Senior Fellow.
  • Former Obama official John Morton joins Atlantic Council Global Energy Center as Senior Fellow. 
  • Wilson Center appoints Amb. Nirupama Rao as a Public Policy Fellow.
    Ambassador Nirupama Rao as a Public Policy Fellow
    Ambassador Nirupama Rao as a Public Policy Fellow
    Ambassador Nirupama Rao as a Public Policy Fellow

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Conservative Think Tank Collapses Due to Trump

Here is more from Josh Rogin of The Washington Post:

At the end of August, the Foreign Policy Initiative will cease to exist, ending an eight-year run for the conservative-policy organization. The small but active think tank has been a proponent of a hawkish, pro-defense national security policy agenda but found itself unable to survive in the Trump era.
[William] Kristol founded the non-profit organization with other neoconservative thought leaders Robert Kagan (now at the Brookings Institution), former undersecretary of defense for policy Eric Edelman and former Bush administration official Dan Senor. Although its funding wasn’t publicly disclosed, the bulk came from billionaire Paul Singer, according to staffers.
Those close to the organization said that in the new policy and political environment marked by the ascendency of Donald Trump, many donors, including Singer, are reassessing where to put their funds and FPI, although well established and well liked, simply didn’t warrant the continued investment.
Chris Griffin, the current executive director of FPI, noted that the think tank’s staff have gone on to serve in key positions with several members of Congress. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) was an FPI staffer. The organization’s first executive director, Jamie Fly, served as national security counselor to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Is all the speculation about the death of think tanks starting to come true?  Will more think tanks collapse in 2017?  Earlier in the year The Economist said that the world has reached "peak think tank."

Even with FPI going dark, Washington, DC still has around 400 think tanks, and the US has more than 1,800 of them.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

"Ideas Industry" and Think Tanks

The following are a few of Think Tank Watch's favorite excerpts from Daniel Drezner's new book The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas.

Drezner, a professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  He has previously worked at RAND Corporation and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).


Think tanks in general
  • "Both think tanks as institutions and individual analysts in the employ of think tanks must cater to client demands more than even the most conciliatory of academics.  Universities have larger endowments and an additional revenue stream from tuition; think tanks are much more reliant upon benefactors, donors, and grants to finance themselves.  Individual researchers at these institutions are also more interested in serving the government causing them to be more solicitous of the needs of the bureaucracy."
  • "On at least one occasion, I felt like my think tank boss was trying to reverse-engineer a report I was writing.  He knew the conclusions he wanted the report to draw and just wanted to make sure that my analysis was consistent with the conclusion."
  • "A century ago, America's plutocrats converted their wealth into university endowments, think tanks, or philanthropic foundations.  Today's wealthy set up their own intellectual salons and publishing platforms."
  • "The proliferation of media platforms renders it impossible for any intellectual to be heard."
  •  "A 2014 Chicago Council of Global Affairs survey suggest that Americans believe their voice should carry more weight in foreign affairs, while universities and think tanks should play a lesser role."
  • "Two Federal Reserve economics surveyed the state of replicable findings in top-tier economics journals, and found that, on their own, they were only able to reproduce a third of the surveyed findings."
  • "The comparative advantage of think-tankers has historically been the informal scuttlebutt they glean from being based in Washington, DC.  Compared to academics, policy analysts based at think tanks tend to know much more about the bureaucratic or legislative state of play surrounding a particular policy arena."
  • "Donors are more likely to provide project-specific funding rather than more general financial support.  They are less interested in funding think tanks than 'do tanks.'"
  • "Think tanks are competing with consulting firms, law firms, SuperPACS, lobbyists and advocacy groups.  That puts pressure on think tanks to be more responsive to donors."

On the Heritage Foundation
  • "Heritage [Foundation's] Index of Economic Freedom has been an important gauge of the market-friendliness of national policies around the world; it is also a component of the US Millennium Challenge Corporation's criteria for dispensing American foreign aid.  The foundation's Center for Data Analysis had the necessary intellectual firepower to compete with the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office in modeling the economic impact of proposed legislation."
  • "[Heritage] commissioned former Bush Administration Office of Legal Counsel head Steven Bradbury to write two papers on the role of the National Security Administration's controversial surveillance programs...[Then Heritage President Jim] DeMint did not like the paper's conclusions and therefore scotched its publication at Heritage."
  • "In my 2016 survey of opinion leader, an overwhelming 79 percent of respondents said they had little confidence in Heritage reports, more than double the percentage of any other think tank in the survey."
  • "On foreign policy questions, smaller right-wing think tanks like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies [have] supplanted Heritage's influence."
  • "Heritage [has] manage to avoid the rash of conflict-of-interest allegations that plagued more mainstream think tanks like Brookings or CSIS."
  • "The decline of Heritage's intellectual quality has come as its political grip over the GOP has increased."
  • "Despite backbiting about Heritage Action, its influence was large enough to entice most of the 2016 GOP presidential candidates to attend their September 2015 Take Back America candidate forum."

Trump Administration and think tanks
  • "The Trump Administration has at best a strained relationship with conservative think tanks."
  • "Most conservative think tanks distanced themselves from [Trump's] policies."
  • "During the Republican primary, [Trump's] campaign rejected most outreach efforts by GOP-friendly think tanks to help tutor him on questions of world politics."

Think tanks after 9/11
  • "The post 9/11 demand for international affairs research meant flush times for foreign affairs think tanks...salary inflation took off among think tanks fellows.  The sustained demand, combined with the pre-2008 boom in asset markets, triggered a surge in think tank budgets."
  • "In the five years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, one was hard-pressed to walk down Massachusetts Avenue in northwest Washington without seeing ground being broken for a new think tank building."

Think tanks after the Great Recession
  • "The Great Recession forced some wrenching changes in the economics of think tanks.  The most direct effect was the dramatic contraction in their traditional sources of financing.  Endowments naturally shrunk in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, as did the income earned from them...Longstanding philanthropic groups like the Carnegie Corporation and the MacArthur Foundation were forced to reduce their grant giving because their own endowments contracted during the Great Recession."
  • "The contraction of traditional revenue streams forced most think tanks to tap more unconventional sources.  In some cases, this has meant more partnerships with multinational corporations."
  • "At the same time that the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment's government funding shrank, its private consulting revenue increased nearly tenfold." 
  • "A welter of think tanks, including CFR, CSIS, and Brookings, developed corporate sponsorship programs to offer these companies select privileged access to their experts."
  • "Between 2003 and 2013, corporations went from being responsible for 7 percent of large donations at Brookings to being responsible for 25 percent."
  • "For the corporations, this kind of partnership can be as valuable as spending on lobbyists.  Think tank funding is less heavily regulated than more traditional forms of political spending, such as campaign contributions and lobbying members of Congress."

Tidbits about specific think tanks
  • "Questions have been raised about the intellectual independence of [the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's] leaders.  Several policy analysts for Carnegie also work for lucrative consulting partnerships.  Russian dissidents, as well as multiple think tank analysts based in the US, accused Carnegie of sacrificing its intellectual autonomy and analytical rigor to maintain its Moscow headquarters."
  • "Demos and the left and the Center for the National Interest on the right, have fired individuals who made public statements contrary to institutional preferences."
  • "Parag Khanna was a nondescript graduate students when he pitched the New America Foundation for a grant to travel the world and write about shifts in world politics.  He received a fellowship that led him to write his first book."
  • "Intelligence analysts Michael Tanji declared that 'virtual think tanks' could eventually supplant their brick-and-mortar forefathers.  He founded the online-only Center for Threat Awareness, convinced that "think tank 2.0" would prove to be leaner and meaner than organizations with such high payrolls, physical plant, and overhead.  His Center for Threat Awareness lasted only a year."

Private sector vs. think tanks
  • "Stylistically, the private sector is far better at conveying ideas than university professors or think tank fellows."
  • "Many ex-policymakers who are involved in consulting firms avoid disclosing possible conflicts of interest between their for-profit activities and their other roles in think tanks and policy boards." 
  • "A successful for-profit consultancy is far more lucrative than a think tank fellowship."
  • "Only a fool goes into foreign affairs for the money."

Corporations and think tanks
  • "Defense contractors have a long track record of aiding hawkish analysts at think tanks by placing them on their corporate boards.  Jack Keane's primary affiliation in his writings is as chairman of the board of the Institute for the Study of War; his presence on the board of General Dynamics comes up less frequently.  Roger Zakheim used his visiting fellowship at AEI to push for greater military spending at the same time that he worked as a lobbyist for the defense firm BAE Systems.  CSIS has approximately seventy affiliated experts who also do private-sector consulting."
  • "The financial sector has been equally active in leveraging support of think tanks research.  Hedge funds have used intermediaries to fund think tank analysts that advocate for their policy references."

Foreign governments and US think tanks
  • "In 2014 alone the Atlantic Council disclosed receiving financial support from 25 different foreign governments."
  • "The government of Qatar was the principal backer of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy."
  • "Even think tanks that expressly forbid receiving funds from foreign governments, such as CFR, do accept funds from foreign state-owned enterprises and foundations."
  • "A Chinese construction firm with close ties to the Chinese government sponsored a new institute at CSIS for 'geostrategy.'"
  • "The percentage of cash donations from foreign governments to Brookings nearly doubled between 2005 and 2014."

Wealthy individuals funding think tanks
  • "Conservative funders like Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, and Bernard Marcus have plowed significant sums into conservative think tanks like the Manhattan Institute or the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies."
  • "At the same time, more liberal institutions, such as the Truman National Security Project, have sought the support of funders like George Soros and Tom Steyer." 

Reading the entire book is highly recommended in order to get further insights into the ever-changing think tank world and world of ideas.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wife of Bernie Sanders Launches Think Tank

Think tanks may be losing credibility, but they are gaining in numbers.  Here is more on the latest think tank being formed, from USA Today:

A team of Berniecrats, including Jane O’Meara Sanders, launched a nonprofit, educational organization today that aims to “revitalize democracy” with progressive policies to address economic, environmental, racial and social justice issues.
“The Sanders Institute” is one of the organizations that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said last year would be created to help raise awareness of “enormous crises” facing Americans after he ended his bid for the Democratic nomination. His wife Jane is one of the 11 founding fellows who will direct the organization. Bernie Sanders will have no role in leading the institute.
The Sanders Institute has an office in Burlington and three staff members, but the fellows are participating as volunteers. Jane Sanders said she and the senator have contributed $25,000 of their personal funds to help cover startup costs of about $125,000, and they intend to be ongoing contributors. "Our Revolution" the political spinoff organization from the Sanders campaign, has provided the rest in seed money, which will be repaid as the nonprofit begins raising money for its work, she said.
Other founding fellows include high-profile advisers and supporters from the Sanders campaign. They are Robert Reich, who served as President Bill Clinton’s labor secretary; Vermont author and environmentalist Bill McKibben; actor Danny Glover; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii; economist Stephanie Kelton; Ben Jealous, former NAACP president and chief executive officer and now a gubernatorial candidate in Maryland; author and civil rights activist Cornel West; Former Ohio state senator Nina Turner; economist Jeffrey Sachs; and entertainer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte.

The new Sanders Institute website can be found here.  Salon says that the Institute will function as a hybrid between a think tank and an educational center.

The Sanders Institute is not the only think tank connected to a sitting US senator.  Another example is the McCain Institute for International Leadership, connected to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#274)

  • US-Colombia Business Partnership and Atlantic Council hold reception and dinner at Library of Congress for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
  • David Horowitz Freedom Center not a think tank, it's a "battle tank."
  • UAE and its ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, have close ties to small, pro-Israel DC think tank FDD. 
  • David Reaboi: Over the next few weeks, you will be slammed by op-eds and propaganda from Qatari-funded think tanks like Brookings.
  • A trial lawyers think tank. 
  • Former Bush official John Bailey joins AEI as Visiting Fellow. 
  • Former top Obama official Denis McDonough joins Carnegie's Technology and International Affairs Program as a Senior Fellow. 
  • Jake Sullivan, former advisor to Biden and Clinton, joins Carnegie's Geoeconomics and Strategy Program as a Senior Fellow.
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace establishes Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs.
  • Carnegie Europe announces that Tomáš Valášek is its new director.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Conservative Think Tank Coming to UW-Madison?

Here is more from the Superior Telegram:
Thursday, the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee allocated $3 million in state funds in an unprecedented move to use taxpayer money to fund a partisan, conservative think tank at UW-Madison called the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership.
Speaker Robin Vos stated in media accounts that this Center was designed to counter "left-leaning" research organizations and "liberal thinking" on campus.
A board of exclusively conservative Republican political appointees — without a single Democrat — would control the think tank.
According to press accounts, UW political science professor and former Thompson staffer, Ryan Owens, who has received funding from the conservative Bradley Foundation, is vying to lead the center. A significant portion, $500,000, must be used to pay speakers for engagements at other UW campuses.
UW-Madison currently has its own public policy school, the world-renowned Lafollette School of Public Affairs, which receives $600,000 of public funds annually. The Tommy G. Thompson Center will receive $1.5 million annually over the next two years, with more to come from the private sector.

Many seem to be up in arms about the think tank...

Think tanks housed within universities are quite common, the most popular being the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Here is an Inside Higher Ed article on the challenges that university-affiliated think tanks have been facing.

Monday, June 5, 2017

New Report Shows Extent of Taypayer Funding of Brookings

A new study shows the extent that US taxpayers are helping fund the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, a think tank that consistently collects more than $100 million a year in donations from corporations, foundations, and others.

Here is more from Capital Research Center:
Did you know you’re funding the well-heeled scholars at the Brookings Institution, a hoary D.C. think tank? A new report by OpenTheBooks.com, a database that tracks government grants, has uncovered millions of taxpayer dollars going to the Brookings Institution—and the findings are troubling.
Brookings was founded to be a government watchdog in Washington, D.C. Its motto is “Quality. Independence. Impact.” In reality, it has become the leading center-left think tank, and we’re all paying for it, to the tune of $19.5 million in public grants since 2008.
While there is no evidence that Brookings has violated the law, it’s certainly compromised its independence. OpenTheBooks CEO Andrew Andrezejewski puts it bluntly: “An organization loses all credibility to hold government accountable when the government becomes a donor.” Andrezejewski points to Brookings’ public policy studies as the most egregious example of its illusory independence. Brookings accepted $1.8 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for “humanitarian” causes. In 2016, Brookings published a white paper espousing the value of USAID public/private partnerships—without disclosing its obvious conflict of interest with the Agency.

Adam Andrzejewski, founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.com (which conducted the study), says that Brookings "does not resemble a think tank, but a jukebox - add a little coin and Brookings will play your tune, if the price is right."  Here is more from Mr. Andrzejewski:
Since 2008, Brookings amassed nearly $20 million in contracts and grants from 50 agencies – including the Obama Administration’s Office of the President. Despite assets of $496 million (IRS990, FY2014), our OpenTheBooks.com audit shows it was not enough. Brookings instituted an aggressive strategy to pursue federal business over the past nine-years.

Among other things, Mr. Andrzejewski notes that when Brookings published a 2016 white paper touting the veracity of US Agency for International Development (USAID) public/private partnerships, it failed to disclose that USAID was a donor to Brookings.

US government agencies that have recently donated to Brookings include: Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Central Command, US Department of Treasury, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Social Security Administration (SSA), USAID, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), US Department of the Navy, US Coast Guard, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), US Department of the Air Force, and the US Department of the Army.

More details (including raw data) about the US government funding of Brookings can be found here.

The reputation of Brookings (as well as other think tanks) was severely damaged last year after the New York Times exposed a number of pay-for-play schemes at think tanks.

To be sure, a number of think tanks receive money from the US government, including the RAND Corporation, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Atlantic Council, and many more.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Think Tank That Destroyed the Paris Climate Agreement

A little-known US think tank has played an outsized role in encouraging the Trump Administration to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

Here is more from Axios:
The non-profit Competitive Enterprise Institute played a big role in rallying outside conservative groups.  An administration source says CEI was "the energy" and "enabled the issue to stay high profile in the White House for months."  CEI marshaled a coalition letter of influential outside groups, and helped generate the letter from the 22 Republican senators — including Mitch McConnell — that gave Trump crucial ammo.

Myron Ebell, Director of Global Warming and International Environmental Policy at CEI, and the leader of Trump's transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recently said that the Trump Administration is moving too slowly to unravel climate change regulations.

Ebell correctly noted that Trump would pull out of the deal before the official announcement was made.  Here is CEI's statement commending Trump on pulling out of the agreement.

Here is a CEI statement on why the Paris agreement "is all pain and no gain" for Americans.

Here are some more tidbits about CEI's influence from The Daily Caller:

In early May, the heads of 44 free market groups sent a letter to Trump, urging him to withdraw from the agreement.  The coalition was led by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).
In May, CEI launched an online petition and ad campaign to remind Trump of his campaign promise to withdraw from the Paris accord, and AEA circulated another petition calling for Trump to withdraw from the agreement.
CEI senior fellows Chris Horner and Marlo Lewis published a report detailing the legal risks of remaining in the accord.  CEI’s Myron Ebell, who headed Trump’s EPA transition team, was also public about his opposition to the Paris agreement.

CEI has also been a big defender of EPA chief Scott Pruitt, and was among the groups that supported his nomination.

According to the latest publicly available Internal Revenue Service (IRS) records, CEI has 33 employees, annual revenue of around $7.4 million, and net assets of around $2.4 million.

In related news, the president of the conservative think tank Heartland Institute was among those invited to the White House climate announcement.

In more related news, the Heritage Foundation says that it impacted Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#273)

  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Counselor and Trustee at CSIS and co-founder of the Trilateral Commission, passes away
  • AEI head Arthur Brooks proposes a new think tank: James Bond Institute. 
  • Should we be able to sue think tanks for malicious misrepresentation?
  • Camille Busette joins Brookings to lead Race, Place, and Economic Mobility Initiative.
  • Third Way think tank obtained leaked copy of Trump's budget.
  • Andrew Bacevich destroys new Brookings report on national security strategy of the US: "The document is at once pretentious, proudly nonpartisan, and utterly vacuous."
  • Gary Bourgeault: Think tank (RethinkX) misses it concerning oil and self-driving cars.
  • 20 most influential think tankers on Twitter (methodology appears deeply flawed...).
  • Corporate taxes get the think tank treatment.
  • Think tank or fake tank, via Till Bruckner.
  • Pic: What a former leading think tank president (Jim DeMint) does with his free time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Head of Think Tank EPI to Step Down

It looks like 2017 is shaping up to be the a major year for turnover of think tank presidents.

New presidents are expected at both the Brookings Institution and Heritage Foundation, and now, Lawrence Mishel, the longtime president of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), will step down at the end of 2017, according to the think tank.

A search committee led by EPI's Board of Directors will work to find a new president.  Mishel will remain at EPI as a senior economist.

Here is more from a press release:
Mishel first joined EPI in 1987 as research director, and assumed the role of president in 2002. In the three decades he has been with the organization, Mishel helped build EPI into the nation’s premier research organization focused on the labor market, inequality, and living standards for low- and middle-income families. He was a coauthor on every edition of EPI’s flagship publication, the State of Working America, a cornerstone of EPI research that was published every other year from 1988 to 2012.

In late March, EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey announced his retirement after 15 years at the think tank.  EPI said that in anticipation of Eisenbrey's retirement, it has hired two labor lawyers (Celine McNicholas and Marine von Wilpert) who will be a part of the Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages.

The Worker Rights and Wages Policy Watch, an online tracker providing up-to-the-minute updates on policy actions that affect working people, was recently launched under that Project.

In related EPI news, former Obama Administration Secretary of Labor Tom Perez has joined the think tank's Board of Directors.  He joins three other former labor secretaries on the board - Robert Reich and Alexis Herman (Clinton Administration) and Ray Marshall (Carter Administration).