Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Think Tank Trying to Overthrow the Federal Reserve?

The libertarian Cato Institute has just established a new institute whose stated goal is to "challenge the Federal Reserve and the financial regulators in a way they haven't been challenged in 100 years."

The new entity, the Center for Monetary & Financial Alternatives, will focus on development of policy recommendations that will create a more free-market monetary system in the US.

Cato also said that the new Center will explore policy options that include the creation of a private deposit insurance pool for small depositors, as well as measures that would expose the largest financial institutions to a genuine risk of failure, and thereby compel them to either acquire more capital or take fewer risks.

Here is more about the Center:
George Selgin, a Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Georgia and one of the foremost authorities on banking and monetary theory and history, gave up his academic tenure to join Cato as director of the new center.
Luminaries from the banking policy world who have signed on to the Executive Advisory Council for the new Center include Richard Kovacevich, Chairman Emeritus of Wells Fargo, and George Melloan, former Deputy Editor of the Wall Street Journal.
The Council of Academic Advisors includes two Nobel Laureates in Economics, Thomas J. Sargent, from New York University, and Vernon L. Smith of Chapman University. John B. Taylor, a professor of economics at Stanford, Richard Timberlake, professor emeritus from the University of Georgia, and Guillermo Calvo, a professor of economics at Columbia University, also serve on the council.
James A. Dorn, Vice President for Monetary Studies and the long-time director of Cato’s annual monetary conference, will play a major roll in management of the Center. Mark Calabria, Director of Financial Regulation Studies at Cato, will also move to the new Center. Before joining Cato in 2009, Calabria served six years as a senior staff member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

A full list of advisors, fellows, and adjunct scholars connected to the new Center can be found here.  Cato is throwing a lot of weight and power into the new Center, which will have no less than 40 affiliated advisors/scholars.

The Wall Street Journal says that Cato's new Center boasts some heavy hitters in the economics world.  It notes that the think tank has raised about $9 million from a "number of independent contributors" for the center, enough to fund it for five years.  The Center will reportedly have 10 full-time personnel.

In related news, Cato will be holding its 32nd Annual Monetary Conference on November 6.

The Cato Institute was recently ranked as the 18th best think tank in the world by the annual University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.  It was also ranked as the 9th best think tank in the US.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Think Tank Quickies (#148)

  • Chinese ramp up spying on Australian think tanks.
  • Think tanks in South Korea blasted for fund misuse.
  • Brookings' Strobe Talbott to be honored by Cleveland Council on World Affairs.
  • Dan Drezner on thinking about think tanks; and five things I now think I think about think tanks.
  • Aspen Institute head: There's no real reason to have think tanks start before 10am.
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry gives speech at Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
  • Plagiarism from think tanks costs US senator his degree.
  • Heidi Shierholz, former economist at EPI, becomes Labor Department's chief economist.
  • CSIS launches "Global Sustainability Series" with support from Bechtel Corporation; announces new initiative in partnership with Fortune Magazine called "Smart Women, Smart Power."
  • CNAS announces formation of Defense Strategies and Assessments Program.
  • Andrew Selee of Wilson Center has piece in Time magazine - "Think Tanks: What Are They Good For?" (cites Jerry Seinfeld on think tanks)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Think Tank CAP to be Clinton's Policy Shop

The founder of Center for American Progress (CAP) John Podesta is in an awkward position.  He is currently President Obama's Counselor, but he has also been joining informal meetings of Hillary Clinton advisers who are working on Hillary's presidential bid.

Here is how The Wall Street Journal recently described the situation of CAP, as liberals begin to transition from an Obama era to a possible Hillary era:
He [John Podesta] founded Washington’s major liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, which is likely to be a pipeline of policy positions and staff for a Clinton presidential bid. Speaking at the 10-year anniversary party for CAP in 2013, with Mr. Podesta beside her on stage, Mrs. Clinton called him the “indispensable man.”

It was recently reported that Podesta will likely be Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, and CAP President Neera Tanden will likely be an outside informal adviser to Clinton.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on the Clinton connection to think tanks.

In September 2014, Clinton participated in a CAP roundtable on women's economic security.

Back in 2003, Clinton called John Podesta a "friend" and praised CAP, calling it an "important institution" and a "tremendous force."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rep. Wolf Forces DOJ's Hand on FARA Ruling for Think Tanks

The fallout from last month's New York Times piece on foreign government funding of US think continues, with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) demanding that the US Department of Justice look into whether think tanks are violating federal law by accepting foreign government money without registering as so-called "foreign agents."

Here is the letter, dated October 8, that Rep. Wolf sent to Attorney General Eric Holder.  The letter cites last month's New York Times article on think tank funding, and says that he does not think that think tanks such as Brookings, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Center for Global Development (CGD) intentionally sought to circumvent Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) laws or act inappropriately.

Rather, Rep. Wolf said that the DOJ needs to review its guidance and enforcement of FARA to provide clarity on whether funding from foreign government or state-run institutions to US think tanks should be disclosed under the law.  He also called on the DOJ to update its FARA regulations and guidance to help define whether the receipt of this form of foreign government funding would qualify a think tank as a foreign agent.

The New York Times, which broke the story, quotes a Justice Department spokesman of saying that they are aware of Rep. Wolf's letter and are reviewing it.

Here is a Think Tank Watch list of responses to the original New York Times piece on foreign government funding of US think tanks.

Shortly after that NYT piece, Rep. Frank Wolf called on the Brookings Institution to stop accepting money from all foreign governments.

Also in response, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) floated a proposal that would require witnesses that appear before congressional committees, including think tankers, to disclose the amount and source of any money received during the current fiscal year or either of the two previous fiscal years by the witness or an entity the witness has been paid to represent.

More details coming soon...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Think Tank Quickies (#147)

  • Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson speaks at CSIS.
  • Boston Globe piece bashes Third Way.
  • Boston University votes to remove student think tank.
  • US government should put North America first, says CFR Task Force recommendation.
  • Cato Institute expands its Board of Directors membership.
  • David Goldwyn to chair Atlantic Council's new Energy Advisory Group; Cynthia Quarterman to join Atlantic Council Energy Program as a Distinguished Senior Fellow.
  • Dr. Eliot Cohen, former Counselor of US State Department, joins CNAS as Adjunct Senior Fellow.
  • World Bank President Jim Yong Kim: "World Bank isn't just a think tank, it's a do-tank."
  • Do donors behind think tanks diminish their credibility? (via Curiousmatic)
  • Transparify on the integrity of think tanks.

Friday, October 3, 2014

AEI Wins Think Tank Softball League Championship

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a heavyweight in the think tank world, but it also a powerhouse in a lesser-known area: softball.

AEI's "Right Swing Conspiracy" just won the Think Tank Softball League (TTSL) championship, defeating the Roosevelt Institute's "Roosevelt Rough Riders" 17-15 in an extra-inning game.  It was AEI's first-ever TTSL title.  Here is a picture of the champs.

The TTSL is a summer-time, co-ed think tank league in the Washington, DC area.  The teams are mostly from area think tanks, but also include representation from a number of government agencies and private firms.  There are around 40 teams in the league.

Here is a 2010 list of the different think tanks involved, along with their team names.  Here is an NPR piece from 2008 on the TTSL.

The softball league is so popular that some think tanks, such as AEI and the venerable Brookings Institution,  tout it as a job benefit.

A few newspapers occasionally mention TTSL happenings (although your humble Think Tank Watch may have wider coverage).  [Fun fact: The Washington Post noted in 2011 that Michelle Flournoy, Co-founder and CEO of Center for a New American Security (CNAS), "wasn't the best" softball player in the TTSL.]

Newly Minted Think Tanker Bernanke Can't Get a ReFi

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is a scholar at the Brookings Institution, can't refinance his mortgage.  The culprit?  The fact that he recently started working at a think tank.

Bernanke left the Fed and starting working at Brookings on February 3, 2014.  And that job change makes him a steeper credit risk.  Here is more from The New York Times:
An employee of a think tank owns a house in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington. He wants to refinance his mortgage, but the bank won’t give him a loan.
It is perhaps not the most shocking story in the world, but it becomes so when you learn that the think tank employee is Ben S. Bernanke, who was until earlier this year the chairman of the Federal Reserve, charged with setting the course of interest rate policy for the United States economy.
The problem probably boils down to this: Anybody who knows how the world works may know that Ben Bernanke has vast earning potential, and that he is as safe a credit risk as one could imagine. But he just changed jobs a few months ago. And in the thoroughly automated world of mortgage finance, having recently changed jobs makes you a steeper credit risk.

Mr. Bernanke is a Distinguished Fellow in Residence at Brookings.

In more Bernanke news, a federal judge reportedly is not sympathetic with the fact that Bernanke is a busy think tanker.  A judge is forcing him to testify next week at a high-profile trial about the 2008 government bailout of big banks and other financial institutions.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

CSIS Establishes Brzezinski Institute of Geostrategy

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently announced that it has established the Brzezinski Institute of Geostrategy, named after Zbigniew Brzezinski, CSIS Counselor and Trustee.  Its mission will be to examine the interaction of history, geography and strategy, with the goal of developing policy-relevant analysis and recommendations.

CSIS also says that the new Institute "seeks to develop a new generation of strategic policy thinkers at home and abroad."  Here is more:
The launching grant for the Institute came from Rilin Enterprises, Ltd., a global construction and logistics firm based in Hong Kong with offices in New York, Beijing, and Dandong, China. Mr. Wenliang Wang serves as chairman of Rilin Enterprises. Mr. Mark Fung, who serves on the Institute’s Advisory Board, is the firm’s general counsel and in the 1990s was Dr. Brzezinski’s student and then seminar assistant at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Located in CSIS’s new state-of-the-art headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Institute will carry out a range of dynamic programming, including annual lectures, visiting fellows from around the world, original research by CSIS scholars on geostrategic issues, new publications, and cutting-edge multimedia content. Through this work, the Institute will help to inform today’s policymakers and train tomorrow’s global leaders.

Dr. John Hamre, President, CEO, and Pritzker Chair at CSIS will act as the Institute's director during its first year.

An event was held October 1 to celebrate the establishment of the new Institute, and former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd gave a keynote address.

Here is a video about the launch of the new Institute.  Here is its new website.  Here is a note from Dr. Hamre.  Here are some projects that the Brzezinski Institute is working on.  Here is a list of the Advisory Board and leadership at the Institute.

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Think Tank Quickies (#146)

  • The Fletcher School at Tufts University to hold event on the role of think tanks in foreign policy on October 14.
  • Rory Cooper, former Communications Director at Heritage Foundation and Communications Director for Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), becomes Managing Director at Purple Strategies.
  • LaDonna Pavetti (CBPP) does not agree with Ron Haskins (Brookings) on welfare. (CQWeekly)
  • Republican think tank intellectuals plot 2014 strategy. 
  • CNAS Senior Fellow Colin Kahl named Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden; Israel is not happy.
  • Oxford University review of Andree Selee's book "What Should Think Tanks Do?"
  • CAP blasts Cato Institute for calling Eric Holder "A Modern-Day George Wallace." 
  • Bob Cusack of The Hill: Khorasan Group is "a terrorist organization with a DC think tank-like name."
  • Is America fragmented because it has too many think tanks? 
  • Left-of-center think tank Minnesota 2020 shutting down.

DC's Newest Think Tank: PS21

Meet Project for the Study of the 21st Century, a new think tank that has just opened up shop in Washington, DC.  Here is how it describes itself:
The initial concept is very simple. It will build out a global network of people with a unique range of insights and backgrounds. It will use them to generate content, events, and discussions both on the events of the day and the larger questions of the 21st Century.
In the very short term, that means producing a small number of tightly focused eBooks over the next few months and using them to also generate some great discussions, events and smaller articles.
It should, hopefully, serve the interests of all of those involved. For its membership, it gives new ways to build branding and engage in new conversations with new contacts. For its growing and enthusiastic intern base, it provides the opportunity to get involved in a variety of activities with a range of other contributors and help build an institution from the ground up.

PS21 was incorporated as a UK company on August 28, 2014, and is currently is the process of registering with the UK charity commission.  It also plans to register as a US nonprofit in the coming weeks.

On October 1 the brand new think tank will be holding a reception.  It is also seeking interns.

Washington, DC currently has 395 think tanks, and even more will likely appear by year's end.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Will the Indian Gov't Sue AEI?


India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi touches down in Washington, DC to an array of meetings and feasts this week, but one organization that will likely stay far away from all the feting is the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Why?  Tensions are quietly rising between the government of India and the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) because India thinks that the think tank is running a smear campaign against the Indian pharmaceutical industry.

According to The Economic Times, the Indian government is considering legal action, including launching a defamation suit against Visiting Scholar Roger Bate, who, along with a group of researchers recently published a study alleging that Indian-made drugs sold in Africa are inferior and poorer in quality than those sold in India and other middle-income countries.

The Economic Times quotes an Indian government official as saying that the AEI study does not follow basic protocols of scientific rigour and methodology, and notes that legal consultation is being pursued through India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), a trust set up by India's Ministry of Commerce & Industry.  Here is more of what IBEF had to say about the study.

The study in question, titled "Poor Quality Drugs and Global Trade: A Pilot Study," can be found here or here.

On September 17 Mr. Bate and Aparna Mathur penned a piece in Forbes titled "India Must Fix Its Drug Quality Problem."  Earlier in the year, Mr. Bate penned a few other pieces bashing Indian drugs, such as this one, and in 2013 he said that India has the world's most isolationist drug industry.

Pharmaceutical quality (and think tank) issues reportedly are not on the formal agenda for Modi-Obama for now.

By the way, here is some AEI analysis about the Modi visit to the US.  Last week, AEI held a Google Hangout event on Modi's visit to the White House and US-India relations.  Also, this month, AEI scholar Derek Scissors penned a piece in Foreign Affairs titled "Modi Misses the Mark."

The US pharmaceutical industry is a big supporter of US think tanks.  Oh, remember when Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) threatened to cut funding to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in 2003 in retaliation for a seminar that featured a paper arguing for relaxing patent protections on life-saving drugs?

Even though India-AEI tensions may be high, Modi did speak at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on Monday.
The government is considering legal action, including launching a defamation suit against US think-tank American Enterprise Institute research scholar Roger Bate, for maligning the country and running a smear campaign against the Indian pharmaceutical industry through a recent study, government officials told ET.

"We are exploring all legal options, including a suit against this set of individuals who have started a malicious campaign against the country and its drug industry through  ..

The government is considering legal action, including launching a defamation suit against US think-tank American Enterprise Institute research scholar Roger Bate, for maligning the country and running a smear campaign against the Indian pharmaceutical industry through a recent study, government officials told ET.

"We are exploring all legal options, including a suit against this set of individuals who have started a malicious campaign against the country and its drug industry through  ..

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Think Tank Quickies (#145)

  • First Lady of Japan Akie Abe comes to CSIS to talk Womenomics.
  • How naming rights for think tanks can go terribly wrong, and how to protect yourself as a donor.
  • Who funds Princeton think tank Witherspoon Institute?
  • Will retiring hawkish Fed chief Charles Plosser join a think tank?
  • Think tanker Dinesh D'Souza avoids prison.
  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jinal to speak at AEI on Oct. 6.
  • Did Republican gubernatorial candidate in Connecticut Tom Foley plagiarize from think tanks? 
  • WPost on Brooke Williams, co-author of the recent investigative NYT piece on foreign government funding of US think tanks, and conflicts of interest.
  • Incoming Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai seeking to influence US think tanks.
  • Any think tankers experiencing blogger burnout
  • Is Silicon Valley cozying up more with Washington think tanks?

Are Think Tankers Better Than Ordinary Americans?

New research from Jennifer Bachner and Benjamin Ginsberg at Johns Hopkins University has set out to compare Washington "policymakers," including think tankers, and "ordinary" Americans.  Here is more about the findings from The Washington Post:
Bachner and Ginsberg found that compared to the average American, the group [which includes think tankers, consultants, lobbyists, and federal employees] "Is more educated. Their salaries are higher, they vote more and have more faith in the fairness of elections. They are probably Democrat and liberal." This in itself is not necessarily surprising - DC is a large metropolitan area, and as a rule the nation's metros tend to be wealthier, better-educated and more liberal than the rest of the country.
But these policymakers also pay more attention to politics, they're more likely to vote, and they have considerably more confidence in the fairness of the political process...

More about the study can be read here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ex-President of Georgia Starting US Think Tank



With all the fuss about foreign government funding of US think tanks, a former president of a foreign government is bypassing all that by starting his own think tank in the US.

Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, is reportedly helping start up a Washington, DC-based think tank.

It is common for former non-US heads of state to join a well-established think tank, but as far as Think Tank Watch is aware, this will be the first time that a former foreign head of state has established a US-based think tank.

The DC think tank market is already heavily saturated, with 395 think tanks within Washington, and 1,828 think tanks total in the US.

As a comparison, Georgia (the country) has 13 think tanks.  [By the way, Georgia (the state) has 29 think tanks.]

So, why start a think tank?  Well, besides having plenty of free time during his self-imposed exile in New York, he apparently wants to be more politically relevant.  The first step though?  Getting a US work visa.

And starting a think tank is not a piece of cake.  But fortunately, Mr. Saakashvili will have a good tutor.  He has recently been meeting with old pal Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who recently started his own think tank, the McCain Institute.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Think Tank Quickies (#144)

  • BPC releases new threat assessment report, authored by CNN's Peter Bergen, a member of BPC's Homeland Security Project; examines threat of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other jihadist groups.
  • Think tank study says Taiwan's spying operations in China are the most effective in the world.
  • Bitcoin gaining support of cryptography think tank.
  • Think tanker Veronica Chiu (CFR) goes on Date Lab date.
  • National Security Advisor Susan Rice and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell speak at Brookings.
  • Richard Burt, a member of CFR, is advising Rand Paul.
  • AEI President Arthur Brooks to speak at the Bill of Rights Institute on Sept. 30 in Wichita. 
  • Research of Guy Ziv (of American University) focuses on influence of think tanks in US foreign policy.
  • Politico, WSJ, WAPO give messaging advice to left wing "think tank."
  • Ian Livingston, a think tanker by day (Brookings), a forecaster/photographer/information lead for the Capital Weather Gang by night.

Syrian Embassy Staffer Worked with Think Tanker to Pass Secrets


The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article on a diplomat working at the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC who started working with the US government to issue passports for foes of President Bashar al-Assad.

It appears that a Syria analyst at a Washington think tank was instrumental in alerting the US government to a potential "friend" within that foreign embassy.  Here is more:
Bassam Barabandi [of the Syrian embassy] started to work with Andrew Tabler, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank. Meeting at a restaurant in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in August 2011, Mr. Barabandi said the Syrian ambassador was investigating Assad opponents in Washington, according to Mr. Tabler, who alerted his contacts in the U.S. government.

The article notes that during his stay in Washington, DC, Mr. Barabandi "made friends in Congress and at think tanks."

Andrew Tabler is a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), where he focuses on Syria and US policy in the Levant.  He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Syria Today, Syria's first private-sector English-language magazine.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Most Unique Think Tank Hire of the Year

The Atlantic Council has just made a very interesting hire.  Here is more from Foreign Policy:
The Atlantic Council's latest hire has been a key strategist for several wars -- all fought on gaming consoles and computer screens.
Until recently, Dave Anthony was a director and writer for Call of Duty, one of the biggest video game franchises ever. Known for its realistic graphics and plots inspired by real-world events, the series has sold well over 100 million copies and generated billions of dollars in revenue. Anthony managed a development team and budget on the scale of a Hollywood blockbuster.
That's not the typical resume for an Atlantic Council fellow. The centrist think tank, which was founded in the 1960s with a focus on NATO and now works on a broad range of international issues, in many ways represents Washington's classic foreign policy establishment. Past and present affiliates include Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice, Chuck Hagel, and other Obama cabinet members.

How did a game director come to join a think tank?  Interestingly, the article notes that Mr. Anthony was approached by Atlantic Council.  Mr. Anthony was a panelists at an Atlantic Council event held earlier this year on the future of war.

The article notes that the Atlantic Council hopes it can draw on Mr. Anthony's "experience waging fictional war to bring a new, creative approach to predicting global threats."

Here is the Atlantic Council press release about the think tanks' unique hire.  It notes that he will be a Nonresident Fellow in the think tank's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, and will contribute to the "Art of Future Warfare" project, which mines narrative fiction and interactive media for real-world insights into the future of conflict.

Mr. Anthony will speak at the Atlantic Council on October 1 in an on-the-record event titled "The Future of Unknown Conflict."  Today, Mr. Anthony said that he finally got a "real job."

Here is what Russia's RT had to say about the hire.

Billionaire Tech Entereprenuer Peter Thiel Coming to AEI

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has scored another big speaker.  This time it is billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who will be giving an talk at an invitation-only event at the conservative think tank on September 23.  Here is more:
In his upcoming book, “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future,” Peter Thiel looks back on his own experience as a startup investor and a cofounder of PayPal and Palantir to draw lessons about successful entrepreneurship and innovation. Thiel argues that successful people find value in unexpected places and that entrepreneurs and society benefit most when businesses create something new rather than copy existing models.

In this by-invitation event — the first in a series on disrupters in the tech sector — Thiel will discuss these ideas and others with AEI’s James Glassman. This conversation, followed by an audience Q&A, will give the audience a unique peek into the mind of one of the most successful tech entrepreneurs of our time.

Thiel is the co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook.  Forbes says he is currently worth $2.2 billion.  Perhaps he can drop a few pennies into AEI's coffers while he is around?  [After all, plenty of billionaires give to think tanks.]

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave a major economic speech at AEI, and earlier this year, AEI hosted the Dalai Lama and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, among others.

Think Tanks Doing Journalism

From The Economist:
...Think-tanks, the semi-academic institutions that come up with ideas for politicians. Their policy papers are meant to be dry; their wonks more like politicised civil servants than hacks. But increasingly think-tanks are doing journalism—not just blogging and tweeting but foreign reporting, too.
Foreign Policy, a magazine, now runs “Democracy Lab”, a website paid for by the Legatum Institute, a think-tank based in London. It has a modest budget for freelancers. In June the Centre for Policy Studies, a think-tank co-founded by Margaret Thatcher, launched “CapX”, which publishes daily news and comment on its website and by e-mail. The Centre for European Reform, a think-tank founded by Charles Grant (formerly of The Economist), publishes pieces with gripping headlines such as: “Twelve things everyone should know about the European Court of Justice”.
Unlike non-profits, such as ProPublica and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, think-tanks are in journalism more to promote ideas than to inform the public or expose wrongdoing. Much of what they publish is about policy. For officials and politicians, writes Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution, an American think-tank, “The thinkers are the validators. They will write op-eds, give pithy quotes to important newspapers, and appear on network news programmes.”
...Twitter, blogs and newsletters can get a think-tank’s ideas to its audience direct. Hence a relationship that used to be symbiotic, with wonks helping create news and hacks distributing it, is becoming competitive—especially in the battle for influential readers, such as politicians.

Here is a chart from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) on think tank ties to the media, and here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on media connections to think tanks.

Here is a new piece by Till Bruckner titled "US Foreign Policy Manipulation via Media is Systematic, Warns Expert."

Many Washington think tanks have been hiring well-known journalists in recent years in an effort to beef up their efforts to get good writers, network with media-types, and better disseminate information and policy proposals to a wider audience.  And nearly every influential think tank these days has a significant PR operation that is in constant contact with the media in an attempt to stay relevant in a world of thousands of competing think tanks and research organizations.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Rep. Speier's Remarks on Think Tank Funding Disclosure

In a hearing before the House Rules Committee last week, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) commented on her new proposal requiring all witnesses testifying before a congressional committee, including think tankers, to disclose any sources of foreign government funding.

In her comments, Rep. Speier said that "lobbyists and foreign governments are required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to register as foreign agents with the Department of Justice, but there is no similar requirement for think tank experts appearing before congressional committees."  She added that while funding may not distort the testimony of witnesses, the financial support should at least be disclosed to members of Congress to "appropriately address potential conflicts."

She went on to say that representatives from think tanks have testified before the Foreign Affairs Committee and Armed Services Committee "numerous times without disclosing their connections to foreign governments," and highlighted examples of testimony from scholars at Brookings, Atlantic Council, and Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

A press release from Rep. Speier can be found here.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on Rep. Speier's new proposal.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Think Tank Quickies (#143)

  • Acting President Kristin Lord to depart USIP on Oct. 3 to become President & CEO of IREX.
  • Norman Eisen, former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, joins Brookings as Visiting Fellow.
  • AEI and University of Nebraska host workshop on regulating broadband.
  • Cato announces newly expanded Center for the Study of Science.
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks at Atlantic Council.
  • Atlantic Council to give Global Citizens Award to presidents of Mexico and Ukraine, former presidents of Israel and Singapore, and Robert De Niro, among others.
  • OMB Director Shaun Donovan delivers speech at CAP on cost of climate inaction; Michele Jawando, a former staffer to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, joins CAP as VP of Legal Process.
  • Think tanks: New York hurts its millionaires.
  • Twitter Chat: Does think tank diversity matter?
  • Are think tanks in Canada obsolete?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Think Tank Noose Gets Tighter; CSIS Chief Accosted by Reporters

After the hard-hitting New York Times piece on think tank funding by foreign governments, think tanks and think tank heads are under an intense microscope.  Check out this latest story from The Washington Post:

At a classified meeting at the Pentagon this week to discuss U.S. policy in Iraq, two seats were reserved for foreign diplomats: the ambassadors from the United Arab Emirates and Britain.
The ambassadors were invited to a portion of the two-day meeting by John J. Hamre, the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, which advises Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on sensitive matters and gathers to discuss top-secret information.
Hamre also serves as president and chief executive of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an influential Washington think tank. The Emirati and British governments are donors to the center, and the high-level meeting at the Pentagon gave the ambassadors special access to U.S. officials trying to shape the Obama administration’s policy in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
In a brief interview Wednesday as he walked out of the Pentagon after the meeting ended, Hamre said there was nothing improper or unethical about inviting CSIS donors to appear at an official, closed-door Defense Department event.
“I was asked to help the secretary of defense, through the Defense Policy Board, think about a very serious issue of national significance,” he said. “And I brought together the best people I could.”
Outside the Pentagon, Hamre was reluctant to answer questions about the board, which he has led since 2007. He angrily jabbed his finger at a reporter, saying: “You’re acting like a little journalist. It’s time for you to be a real journalist.”

The story goes on to note that Hamre sent an email saying it was "preposterous" to suggest that the UAE's ambassador was invited to the meeting because his country donates to CSIS.

Besides the media going after think tanks, Congress has also gotten in on the action.

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Congress Continues Assault on Think Tanks

With think tanks the new whipping boy of Congress, they may have to start hiring lobbyists.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) has just floated a proposal that would require witnesses that appear before congressional committees, including think tankers, to disclose the amount and source of any money received during the current fiscal year or either of the two previous fiscal years by the witness or an entity the witness has been paid to represent.

Eric Lipton of The New York Times, who first reported the story, said that the proposal came in response to his NYT story on foreign government funding of US think tanks.  Here is more:
Witnesses who appear before the House, under the so-called “Truth in Testimony” rule, are already required to disclose if they or the organization they work for has received financial support from the federal government that relates to the topic they are discussing. But there is no such requirement for donations from foreign governments.
The chairman of the House Rules subcommittee, Representative Rich Nugent, Republican of Florida, and the ranking Democrat, Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, both expressed support for the new requirement, making it more likely that it will be adopted as of next year.

Think tank responses to Rep. Speier's proposal can be found here.

Here is Transparify's statement on Rep. Speier's proposal.

The disclosure proposal comes on the heels of Rep. Frank Wolf's (R-VA) demand to the Brookings Institution that it end the practice of accepting money from all foreign governments.

Here is a fairly large list that Think Tank Watch has put together on various responses to the New York Times report on foreign government funding of US think tanks.

So, will think tanks fight this proposal?  Outside lobbying of internal Congressional procedure is rare but not unheard of.  And there are certainly a lot of former members of Congress at think tanks, so think tanks could use those former lawmakers to fight the proposal instead of hiring outside lobbyists.  Bonus!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Stephen Colbert Parody of NYT Think Tank Piece

Comedian Stephen Colbert has just done a parody of the recent New York Times piece on foreign government funding of US think tanks.

The video can be viewed here.  Washington Post's Eric Wemple has just written a brief post about the video clip.

Mr. Colbert said that he has "always been suspicious of Washington think tanks" and that there is "too much think and not enough tank."

He went on to call think tankers "chin-stroking intellecta-nerds" and goes on to single out Qatar's funding of Brookings, and funding of US think tanks by Japan and Norway.

The latest reactions to the NYT think tank piece can be found here (there are more than three dozen).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Think Tank Quickies #142

  • CAP founder John Podesta likely to be Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman; CAP president Neera Tanden will likely play a role as an informal outside adviser.
  • New think tank taking a DIY approach.
  • Think tanks envious as Harvard receives $350 million (largest donation ever)? 
  • Think tank waving the white flag on assault weapons ban.
  • Bill Gates has financed an "army" of think tanks to advocate for Common Core.
  • Little-known think tank shapes Alaska policy.
  • Israeli think tank website tainted with malware; hackers targeting think tank not interested in state secrets.
  • Why think tank really matter.
  • Bill Maher bashes Heritage Foundation; NAF fellow Rabia Chaudry writes open letter to Maher in Time magazine. 
  • Centre for Research on Globalization "CSIS is a key part of the nexus of gov't and military officials and national security think tanks that actually shapes the life-and-death decisions, including going to war, that impact the American and world population."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Congressman Targets Brookings for Qatar Funding

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) wrote a strongly-worded letter to Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott this week, saying he was "deeply concerned" by last Sunday's New York Times piece on think tank funding by foreign governments which said that Brookings has accepted $14.8 million from Qatar.

Rep. Wolf says that Qatar is a country with a "troubling human rights record as well as a history of funding terrorist groups, including al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria and Libya, the Taliban and Hamas."

He called on Brookings to "end the practice of accepting money from Qatar and other foreign governments."

Eric Lipton, co-author of the New York Times piece on think tank funding by foreign governments, has an article today on Rep. Wolf's letter titled "Lawmaker Assails Foreign Donations to Think Tanks."

According to Lipton, Brookings receives about 12 percent of its annual budget from foreign governments.  [If Brookings were to institute a new policy of not taking foreign government money, it would be a big blow, but the venerable think tank would still have plenty of money to operate and thrive.]

Brookings is currently seeking to raise $600 million in a fundraising initiative called the Second Century Campaign for the think tank's centenary in 2016.

The NYT investigation from last week found that at least 64 governments, state-controlled entities, or government officials had given a minimum of $92 million to a group of 28 major US-based think tanks in the last four years.

Here is Think Tank Watch's list of how people reacted to the NYT piece on think tank funding.

Friday, September 12, 2014

New America Foundation to Host Iran President Hassan Rouhani


The think tank New America Foundation (NAF) has just announced that it will hold an event in New York on September 24 with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.  Here is more about the event:
In his first public remarks ahead of his much anticipated address at the United Nations General Assembly, President Rouhani will share his views on his first year in office, his domestic and international priorities ahead, his vision for stabilizing the Middle East, and his thoughts about the future of Iran’s relationship with the United States.

Fareed Zakaria, host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, will be the moderator of the event.  Suzanne DiMaggio, Senior Fellow & Iran Initiative Director of NAF, will give welcoming remarks.

As Think Tank Watch has reported before, Rouhani himself is a prolific think tanker.  But it will not be the first US think tank event that Rouhani has attended.  For example, last year, he spoke at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Update: Protesters apparently disrupted the event.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Think Tankers Advise Obama Before ISIS Speech

Major think tank leaders and scholars have been quietly advising President Barack Obama on Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), and those foreign policy experts have helped shaped the tone for his major speech on ISIS tonight.  Among those that President Obama hosted for a White House dinner on Monday include:


Major think tankers often advise top-level government officials, including the President of the United States.  And various think tankers have the ear of the President.  One example is Center for American Progress (CAP) founder John Podesta, who is now Counselor to President Obama. 

Here is a list that Think Tank Watch compiled of what experts at some major think tanks are saying about Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL.

Canadian Think Tanks in Decline; North-South Institute to Close


It was announced today that the Ottawa-based think tank The North-South Institute (NSI) is closing its doors after nearly 40 years in operation.  Here is more from the Ottawa Citizen:

The think tank’s board of directors announced the closing on Wednesday, acknowledging that the institute “has not been successful in diversifying and growing its funding sources to the extent required to ensure financially sustainable operations.”
Operating from a headquarters on Argyle Avenue, the institute billed itself as “Canada’s only independent policy research institution dedicated to foreign policy and international development.” It was established in 1976.
The institute is known for its annual Canadian International Development Report, which contains policy briefs on issues such as fair trade, resource development and the impact of conflict on economic and social structures in the developing world.
In its 2012 annual report, the institute listed a deficit of $61,000 on revenue of $2.4 million.

Here is NSI's statement about is closure.  Interestingly, if you go to the think tank's webpage, it still has a link at the bottom of the page asking for donations.

According to the latest University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings, NSI is the third best think tank in Canada and Mexico.

Here is a Think Tank Watch piece from last year titled "Canada's Think Tank in Decline?"

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How Do Think Tanks View ISIS?

What are think tanks thinking about ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State?  Here is a look at what some experts at major think tanks are saying:

  • Elizabeth Pierce of Brookings: ISIS and the Politics of Radicalization.
  • F. Gregory Gause of Brookings: ISIS and the new Middle East Cold War.
  • Lina Khatib of Carnegie Middle East Center: Defeating Islamic State Requires a Saudi-Iranian Compromise; and What is the Logic Behind Islamic State's Media Strategy?
  • Kawa Hassan of Carnegie Middle East Center: Islamic State is a Consequence Not a Cause of the Current Catastrophe.
  • Mona Alami of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP): The Islamic State and the Cost of Govering.
  • Frederic Hof of Atlantic Council: ISIS in Syria - Avoiding Assad's Ambush.
  • Khaled Dawoud of Atlantic Council: ISIS at Egypt's Door.
  • Moshin Khan of Atlantic Council: ISIS and the Iraq Economy.
  • Anthony Cordesman of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): Winning the Campaign Against the Islamic State - Key Strategic and Tactical Challenges.
  • Richard Haass of Council on Foreign Relations (CFR): Look to Syria to Halt the Deadly March of ISIS.
  • David Barno of Center for a New American Security (CNAS): ISIS- America's Next War?
  • Justin Logan of Cato: What Sort of Problem Is ISIS?
  • Elizabeth Slattery of Heritage Foundation: Does Obama Have to Notify Congress Before Taking Military Action Against ISIS?
  • Nile Gardiner of Heritage Foundation: Obama Should Talk About ISIS the Way David Cameron Does.
  • Helle Dale of Heritage Foundation: the ISIS Propaganda War.
  • New America Foundation (NAF) maps ISIS activity.
  • The team at American Enterprise Institute (AEI) weighs in on ISIS. 

More will be coming soon...

In the meantime, here is a previous Think Tank Watch post titled "ISIS Acronym Hurting Think Tank's Reputation."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cost Effectiveness of Most Widely Cited Think Tanks

The progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has released an updated version of a study about the cost effectiveness of the most widely cited think tanks.  CEPR, which rates itself as #1 again, describes it as "an analysis that calculates the number of media hits per budget dollar."

Here are the top ten:
  1. Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR): .86 citations per $10,000
  2. Economic Policy Institute (EPI): 0.76
  3. Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP): 0.53
  4. American Enterprise Institute (AEI): 0.37
  5. Cato Institute: 0.35
  6. Brookings Institution: 0.29
  7. Manhattan Institute: 0.25
  8. Center for American Progress (CAP): 0.22
  9. Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE): 0.22
  10. Atlantic Council: 0.22
If you click on the link here, you can also view the top think tanks rated by website traffic per budget dollar.  Topping that list:
  1. CEPR
  2. Cato Institute
  3. Heritage Foundation
  4. EPI
  5. WINEP

CEPR was co-founded in 1999 by economists Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot, and approximately 80 percent of CEPR's funding comes from grants made by foundations.

Foundation support in 2011 included:
  • Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • Arca Foundation
  • Atlantic Philanthropies
  • Ford Foundation
  • Moriah Foundation
  • National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI)
  • Open Society Foundations
  • Public Welfare Foundation
  • Rockefeller Brothers Fund
  • Rockefeller Family Fund
  • Russell Sage Foundation
  • Sloan Foundation
  • Streisand Foundation
The Washington, DC-based CEPR has no connection or relationship whatsoever with the London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research.

And in case you missed it, here is the 2013 "Think Tank Spectrum" study by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) which ranks think tanks by media citations.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Think Tanks Rush to Defend Funding Policies Amid NYT Report

It was the story that awoke the think tank world from the quiet end of summer.

I am referring to the major New York Times investigative report titled "Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks," written by Eric Lipton (NYT reporter), Brooke Williams (journalism fellow at Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics), and Nicholas Confessore (political correspondent for NYT).

Rather than list the highlights from the report, Think Tank Watch has put together reaction from the think tank community and beyond:

  • Here is Brookings President Strobe Talbott's response to the New York Times piece; and a statement by Brookings.
  • Rep. Frank Wolfs (R-VA) says Brookings should stop taking funds from foreign governments, including Qatar. 
  • Center for Global Development (CGD) statement in response to the NYT piece; and an updated CGD statement. 
  • Atlantic Council statement on donor policy.
  • Here is what David Roodman (formerly of CGD) has to say about the piece.
  • The Star Tribune points out the extra-special attention that Norway received in the piece.
  • The National Law Review weights in on whether think tanks should have to register with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
  • Daniel Drezner in the Washington Post: "Why I'm not freaking out too much about the foreign funding of American think tanks."
  • Bloomberg View contributor Leonid Bershidsky says that think tanks aren't foreign agents.
  • Technician Online says that lawmakers should know where think tanks get their funds.
  • The Daily Caller headline: "Yikes!: Influential Think Tanks in the Tank for Foreign Governments."
  • Ian Bremmer said that Qatar "giving scads of money to Brookings doesn't mean they're biased as a think tank.  It just means you shouldn't follow them on Qatar." 
  • Lauren Kirchner in The Baffler: Think Tanks for Sale
  • Tevi Troy points out that no conservative think tanks are mentioned in the NYT piece as receiving funding from foreign governments. 
  • InTheCapital: How foreign governments run the show at DC's think tanks.
  • Glenn Greenwald: "NYT think tank story has taken a jingoistic tone for some, as though the problem is foreigners buying influence as opposed to influence-selling." 
  • The American Conservative: "Think Tanks Go Lobbying as Washington Lines Blur." 
  • John Judis in New Republic: "Foreign Funding of Think Tanks Is Corrupting Our Democracy."
  • What Motley Fool had to say about the NYT article and think tanks.
  • Tom Medvetz, author of Think Tanks in America, weighs in
  • Actress-playwright "surprised" by NYT think tank article. 
  • City Paper: "In Washington, influence is a buyer's market." 
  • Inside Philanthropy: How Scary is it When Foreign Governments Give Money to Think Tanks? 
  • Do Israeli officials now mistrust Brookings?
  • Eric Lipton, James McGann, & Joseph Sandler debate foreign government influence at think tanks (KQED radio; Brookings, CGD, Atlantic Council, and CSIS decline appearance). 
  • Brooke Williams interviewed about NYT think tank piece. 
  • Breitbart: NYT think tank article provides proof that Muslim Brotherhood influences operationsin the US? 
  • On Think Tanks weighs in on the NYT think tank piece. 
  • Transparify says it is not involved in the NYT piece.  Till Bruckner of Transparify comments via Huffington Post
  • Robin Davies of Development Policy Centre weighs in.
  • James Gibney in Bloomberg View: Does Your Think Tank Accept Rubles?
  • Economist: Foreign Funding on NGOs. 
  • David Post, Nancy Birdsall's husband, calls the NYT piece a "hatchet job."
  • BloombergBusinessWeek on the NYT think tank piece. 
  • Matthew Continetti in Washingon Free Beacon: Stop foreign governments from buying American think tanks.
  • Gawker: Foreign government sure are donating a lot to America's think tanks.
  • Lawmaker assails foreign donations to think tanks.
  • Stephen Walt: Despite NYT piece, there's more discussion of ISIL's funding sources than of most DC's think tanks; Walt comments in Foreign Policy
  • Comedian Stephen Colbert on the whole think tank situation.
  • JNS: How independent is a think tank funded by "Hamas-backing Qatar?"
  • House proposal would require think tanks to disclose foreign funding. 
  • Breitbart on Brookings, Qatar and US's former Chief Israel-Palestine negotiator.
  • Jewish groups call on Brookings to return $14 million to Qatar. 
  • Azerbaijan and think tank funding; Saudi Arabia and think tank funding.
  • Iran's PressTV: US corruption is the price of empire.
  • "Mr. Think Tank" James McGann defends US's 1,800+ think tanks and 20,000+ scholars.  [Brooke Williams tells Think Tank Watch that she has never met/spoken with Dr. McGann.]
  • Think tanks, fundraising, and what money shouldn't buy, by David Blankenhorn of Institute for American Values (IAV).

Here is an information graphic from the report showing which countries give to nine major think tanks:  Atlantic Council, Brookings, Center for Global Development (CGD), Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Middle East Institute, German Marshall Fund, Inter-American Dialogue, Stimson Center, and World Resource Institute.

Think Tank Watch will be updating this post regularly throughout the week.  Stay tuned...

Friday, September 5, 2014

Speaker Boehner to Give Major Economic Speech at AEI

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will give a major economic speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on September 18 on "resetting America's economic foundation."

Rep. Boehner is among a variety of powerful Republicans who have used AEI as a platform to announce new policies and tactics.  Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is a frequent speaker at AEI, and so was former Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who recently left Congress.  Former Vice President Dick Cheney will be giving a speech at AEI on September 10 on 9/11 and the future of US foreign policy.

And on September 11, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck Mckeon (R-CA) will give a talk at AEI on how the US can defeat ISIS.

Why not give a speech at the Heritage Foundation?  Speaker Boehner and Heritage haven't exactly been on the best terms as of late.  And Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the think tank, has not been the kindest to Boehner.

Think Tanker Challenges ISIS to Debate About Islam

Barak Barfi, a research fellow at the New America Foundation (NAF), has challenged ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to a debate about the message of Islam.

Mr. Barfi, a friend of the Sotloff family, made the statement this week on behalf of murdered journalist Steven Sotloff and his family.

At NAF, Barfi specializes in Arab and Islamic affairs.  Previously, he was a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Think Tank Watch is quite confident that the Barfi-Baghdadi debate would be much more interesting than any presidential debate...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sen. Rand Paul Labeled as "One-Man Think Tank"

When one hears the words think tank, it often conjures up images of large buildings housing armies of scholarly-types thinking up brilliant ideas.  And then there is the "one-man think tank."

Politico Magazine has just released its "Politico 50," a list of the most interesting political thinkers/doers, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was labeled as a "one-man think tank."  Here is more:
While he’s consulting widely these days with the think tankers at the Heritage Foundation and the more libertarian-minded Cato Institute, by all accounts his real policy team is still pretty much Paul and his Senate staff. But it’s clear all this studying up is designed with a presidential campaign in mind, and presidential campaigns need a network of policy experts to churn out all those policy papers—especially so with an ideas-minded candidate like Paul.
By all accounts, up until now Paul has been an ideas guy without an ideas team; many of the usual suspects in Republican policy circles haven’t even dealt with him at all, they told me. Brian Darling, a Heritage alum who serves as a Senate counsel and spokesman for Paul, describes him as a “one-man think tank.”

The profile of Sen. Paul notes several think tankers in his "outer circle," including Stephen Moore and James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, and David Boaz of the Cato Institute.

Other think tankers made the Politico 50 list, including Michael Needham, CEO of Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation, as well as Robert Kagan, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution (his wife is State Department's Victoria Nuland)