Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why Are Washington Think Tanks So Powerful?

Washington is a town that oozes power.  Powerful lobbyists, powerful interests groups, powerful government entities such as Congress and the White House, and powerful think tanks.  But what makes Washington's think tanks so powerful and influential?

A new book, written by Dr. Kent Calder, Director of the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at SAIS/Johns Hopkins University, and a former scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), has some answers.  Think Tank Watch just completed reading the book, titled "Asia in Washington,"  and has aggregated some of our favorite excerpts on think tanks:

  • Washington houses a formidable information analysis complex, including the world's most influential think tanks.
  • Many of Washington's think tanks are a short walk from one another and are highly competitive.  Like Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and K Street in Washington are classic "competitive clusters," where rivals generate information and ideas because of close proximity. 
  • Networking and information gathering are the lifeblood of Washington, and these are pursued in diverse forums across the city, including think tanks.
  • Seven of the top twenty think tanks on earth are located within less than a mile of the 1700 block of Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., and nine are based in Greater Washington.
  • Washington tanks tanks are not primary generators of original research; that function lies with universities.
  • Think tanks are a relatively new type of Washington institution, which has risen sharply in prominence over the past twenty years, aided by the information revolution and globalization.
  • Think tanks are the ultimate idea brokers, or intellectual middlemen.
  • Although the Brookings Institution was founded in 1916, most of its counterparts were born in the 1960s and 1970s and have risen to policy prominence only over the past decade.
  • Think tanks are known for their ability to scour the world for attractive ideas, to legitimate them, and to promote them through electronic communications.
  • Think tanks have developed an especially intimate relationship with Asian nations, as their strengths are particularly complementary to the weakness and needs of Asian actors in Washington.
  • Think tanks, over the past two decades, have emerged as a complement to, and in some cases a substitute for, lobbyists, due to the ability of think tanks to exploit the rapidly growing information search and propagation capacities of electronic communications.
  • The number of think tanks with major US-Japan activities fell for many recent years, from twenty in 1998 to only ten in 2009, although it has since rebounded slightly.
  • In 2009, there were only four Japan specialists at Washington think tanks, compared to seven Korea specialists and 42 who focused on China.

The book, which was published by Brookings Institution Press, can be found here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

More Revelations on Butler's Move from Heritage to Brookings

It was the think tank transition heard around the world (or at least in Washington).  The liberal Brookings Institution has poached economist Stuart Butler from the conservative Heritage Foundation, and reaction has been nonstop.

Today, Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post weighed in on the move and had some interesting commentary and revelations.  His reaction was "holy cow!" as he compared the move to something like Derek Jeter deciding to play for the Red Sox of Vladimir Putin becoming secretary general of the United Nations.

The WPost says that Brookings, whose "veneer is undeniably middle-of-the-road liberal," approached Butler last fall about taking a job at Brookings.  Here is more from WPost:
It was less disaffection with Heritage than the appeal of working with a new group of people — many longtime friends and debating partners — that caused him to accept. “There’s a logic for me to take conservative ideas to different audiences,” he said.
I suspect that there’s a bit more to his move.
Most think tanks were once idea factories. They sponsored research from which policy proposals might flow. In the supply chain of political influence, their studies became the grist for politicians’ programs. But think-tank scholars didn’t lobby or campaign. Politicians and party groups did that. There was an unspoken, if murky, division of labor. This was Butler’s world.

Samuelson goes on to bash the modern-day think tank for being too politically active, and says that think tanks are now "message merchants" that "package and merchandize agendas" for the broader public.

His ultimate fear?  That think tanks will do less thinking and more politicking and self-promotion.  Welcome to modern think tank land!

Think Tank Quickies (#134)

  • New CFR InfoGuide explores Islam's Sunni-Shia divide.
  • Amr Adly and Carole Nakhle join Carnegie Middle East Center.
  • CSIS hosts presidents of Guatemala and Honduras to discuss migrant situation; announces partnership with the Embassy of Denmark.
  • CAP's Andrea Purse leaves think tank to become Director of Broadcast Media at the White House.
  • Atlantic Council names Dr. Salam Fayyad, former Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, as a Distinguished Statesman in the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.
  • RAND Corp. to study marijuana legalization in Vermont.
  • Experts from Brookings and CFR support lifting US's ban on crude oil exports.
  • Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings: Send more troops to Iraq.
  • Evidence from Tax Policy Center that Obama had made headway on inequality?
  • Intelligent intelligence: How good are think tank analysts?  Better than government analysts?

"Secret" Think Tank Recordings Reveal UK Tax Plans


The British press is reporting that two "secret" tape recordings from think tank events have emerged that give insight into tax plans of the Tory Party and Labour Party.  Here is more about the recordings:
One is a recording obtained by Sky News, from a source, of Labour’s Andy Burnham, saying he would consider a 15% levy on estates to pay for social care.
The other, obtained by The Mirror, is of Minister for Government Policy, Oliver Letwin, in which he suggests a flat rate of income tax could be discussed in the future.
The tapes have emerged simultaneously – even though they were both recorded several weeks ago.

More about the tax plans can be read here.  One was apparently a recording from the Fabian Society's summer conference, and the other came from the right-wing think tank Politeia.

Fabian Society is a British socialist organization which functions primarily as a think tank.  The Society says it is Britain's oldest think tank.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Brookings Poaches Talent from Heritage

The brain drain continues at the Heritage Foundation.

The Brookings Institution announced last week that that Heritage Foundation economist Stuart Butler would be joining the Economic Studies program of the think tank starting September 3, 2014.

What is fascinating is that Butler spent 35 years at the conservative Heritage Foundation and it now headed to the left-of-center Brookings, a chief "rival" of Heritage.

The transition to Brookings may be a bit of a shock for Butler.  As InTheCapital points out, a 2011 study looking at donations from think tankers from 2003 to 2010, showed that 97.6% of those from Brookings donating to political parties donated to Democrats.  A whopping 0.0% percent from Heritage donated to Democrats.

Here is more from InTheCapital on the big career move:
One has to wonder if Butler had a little change of ideological heart to make such a dramatic career change. Then again, the Heritage Foundation isn't exactly what is was when Butler first joined the team all those decades ago. Since former Senator Jim DeMint took over in 2013, the direction of the think tank has shifted to be more sympathetic to populist Tea Party political causes rather than the pro-business Republican establishment. DeMint's penchant for preferring political games to heady academic pursuits has resulted in a loss of respect for the Heritage Foundation on Capitol Hill.
Therefore it doesn't seem all that surprising that Butler, who had a hand in crafting the intellectual conservative message that formed the backbone of the Reagan Administration, would rather leave the political games of the Heritage Foundation behind to continue to pursue his policy work at an institution like Brookings, which is more divested from Capitol Hill.

Butler, who joined Heritage in 1979 when it was still relatively obscure, currently directs the think tank's Center for Policy Innovation (CPI), an entity that former Heritage president Ed Feulner called a "think tank within a think tank."

Butler told The Wall Street Journal last week that he was attracted to Brookings "by the idea of working at a place that is not monolithic in its approach to public policy."

Butler is one of many scholars from the Heritage Foundation who has fled the think tank since Jim DeMint took over as president last year.

The WSJ reports that Brookings Vice President Ted Gayer said Mr. Butler will help "diversify" Brookings, which has had a reputation of a left-of-center think tank.  To be sure, Brookings has both liberal and conservative scholars.

NYT: Conservative Think Tanks Being "Marginalized"

The New York Times has made a bold claim: Conservative think tanks are being marginalized.  Here is what they say:
The policy journals and think tanks that once played a key role in shaping conservative thought have been marginalized by the grass-roots populism of talk radio, Fox News, local political movements — and now, perhaps, documentary films.

The statement was made in an article about Dinesh D'Souza, a political commentator, author, filmmaker, and convicted felon, who has been affiliated with a number of powerful conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Hoover Institution.

So, what do you think?  Are conservative think tanks being marginalized?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Think Tank Quickies (#133)

  • The Project on Leadership and Development and Project on Prosperity and Development at CSIS launch a new development blog called Prosper.
  • Think Tank Watch's Think Tank Quickies now featured in On Think Tanks.
  • Britain's Ed Miliband does roundtable discussion at CAP.
  • AEI President Arthur Brooks guest hosts Squawk Box on CNBC (and its not his first time); pens piece in WSJ titled "Love People, Not Pleasure."
  • Centrist and dovish think tanks underrepresented at hearings on Iran sanctions?
  • Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks AGAIN at AEI.
  • 21 contributors from Heritage and other think tanks explain why trends in social and economic indicators matter in efforts to strengthen society.
  • Fox News on CAP: "CAP Founder Podesta now serves as Counselor to Obama, highlighting the awkward relationship between the donors he's courted and the public policy decisions they want from the president."
  • Reclusive Swiss multi-billionaire Hansjorg Wyss has given $4.1 million to CAP and $2.6 million to CBPP.
  • RIP: John Blundell, head of Institute for Economic Affairs; shaped Tory policy.

Woman Makes Millions Tweaking Think Tank Name

It is often considered the most powerful think tank in the world, but its name has been butchered for decades.  A non-profit employee was even able to make millions tweaking the think tank's name.

Of course, we are talking about the Brookings Institution, which is often referred to, incorrectly, as the "Brookings Institute."

Here is the how one person made millions off of that small discrepancy.  It is the tale of an administrative assistant at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) who pocketed big bucks in an embezzlement scheme using the Brookings name:
Under her system, which was detailed in court, a spelling change of just four letters netted $3.7 million for Green when she created nearly 200 false invoices­ in the name of the well-known Brookings Institution public policy organization but deposited the checks into accounts she opened for her own “Brookings Institute.”

Here is more from the FBI about the scheme.  And here is more from the US District Court for the District of Columbia.  Court documents say that the nefarious "Brookings Institute" name was registered on or about July 9, 2001.

The big question is how could this have gone on for so long without anyone at the AAMC noticing.  Besides "institute" and "institution" being used interchangeably, news organization's constantly butcher the Brookings name.

Think Tank Watch just checked some recent news reports and noticed a variety of news organization's making the same Brookings error.  Those recently calling it "Brookings Institute" include: The Washington Post, The Washington Times, NewsWeek, The Hill, Vox, Forbes, Fox Business, and Boston Globe.

Think Tank Watch wonders if Brookings Institution has ever considered changing its name to just Brookings...

We should note that the Smithsonian Institution suffers from the same name  issues.

By the way, which is worse: calling Brookings the "Brookings Institute" or "Bookings Institution." [sic]

How One Powerful Think Tank Gives Grants

It may be one of Washington's newest think tanks, but it has a lot of money and a lot of powerful backers.  More precisely, it was founded by someone who is arguably President Barack Obama's most influential adviser - John Podesta.

Now that Podesta is back at the White House, what has this "think tank within a think tank" - Washington Center for Equitable Growth (WCEG) - been up to?  Well, it appears that, among other things, it has been giving away lots and lots of money.

A recent Washington Post articles outlines the think tank's efforts to get economists to study and write about inequality and how it has been difficult for the liberal think tank to get conservatives on board.

Here is a clip from that article:
She’d [Heather Boushey, head of WCEG] come dangling money, or at least the promise of it. That helped her stand out among the several thousand researchers gathered for the annual just-after-New-Year’s meeting of all the big American economic societies. She was offering grants, and jobs, and a blend of academic idealism and Washington strategy. What she wanted, Boushey said, was to fund an intellectually honest investigation of arguably the hottest issue in American economics right now: the widening gap between the richest Americans and everyone else. She wanted to learn more how and why that gap might hurt the nation’s overall economic performance.

Here is more about the grants that have been given:
Boushey and the center have selected their first frontiers of inquiry. They’ve awarded 15 grants, totaling nearly $500,000, to researchers studying how three channels through which inequality might affect growth: human capital (the skills and talents people bring to the economy), consumer demand (who buys what, and how much of it) and changes in government and labor market institutions (public policy, broadly speaking).
There are no identifiably conservative economists among the grantees, however. There are a lot of well-renowned economists, and a lot of promising recent graduates of doctoral programs, but not the ideological diversity Boushey repeatedly said in Philadelphia that she was looking for.

Here is more on WCEG from the same Washington Post article:
...[Heather] Boushey was newly installed as the head of a start-up Washington think tank, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, which had been spun out of an existing, quite identifiably liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, which, like a lot its peers in Washington, was known for supplying analysis to partisan policy disputes. Boushey is a former CAP economist who has testified many times before Congress, often at the request of Democrats, speaking in favor of policies Democrats generally support. The equitable growth center is funded in large part by the Sandler Foundation, which traditionally backs liberal causes.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on WCEG.

What if you missed the first tranche of grants from the think tank?  Have no fear, a new request for proposals is coming this fall, with grants generally ranging from $25,000 to $125,000, and smaller proposals up to $15,000 also being considered.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Buzzfeed Caught Plagiarizing From Heritage Foundation

First it was revealed this week that a US senator had plagiarized from various think tanks, and now a reporter at BuzzFeed reportedly plagiarized from a think tank.  Here is more from Politico:
BuzzFeed is conducting an internal review of editor Benny Johnson's work after identifying multiple instances of what editor-in-chief Ben Smith described as "plagiarism."
The instances were brought to BuzzFeed's attention by Twitter users @blippoblappo and @crushingbort, who cited six instances in which Johnson lifted passages from sites like The New York Times, Wikipedia, The Heritage Foundation and National Review Online without attribution.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) allegedly plagiarized his master's thesis from various think tank reports, including from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP).

With K St. Labor Market Tight, Will Democrats Flood Think Tanks?

Most Congressional-watchers are predicting tough times for Democrats in the upcoming midterm Congressional elections, and with many lobbying firms facing tough times, many Congressional aides and lawmakers may aim to land a job in think tank land.

Politico recently explained the tough situation on K Street:
Democratic staffers whose bosses lose in November may be in for more bad news in January.
Staffers leaving Capitol Hill as a result of a retirement or election loss will enter one of the tightest K Street labor markets in recent memory as firms of all sizes have struggled to gin up new business and keep existing clients amid several years of anemic growth and stalled legislation.
“The town has changed over the last five years,” said Rich Gold, who heads up the lobbying operation at Holland & Knight. “The era of million-dollar contracts for former senators or $600,000 contracts for former House members is well past.
Age, lack of lobbying experience and party affiliation will also make life difficult for some Democratic staffers, even for senior staffers who have paid their dues on Capitol Hill.
Unlike previous party changes in 1994, 2006 and 2010, the downtown labor market is much weaker than it once was. Growth has been almost nonexistent for the top firms since 2011 while many K Street’s hottest shops are fairly small, single-issue boutiques focusing on issues like defense, appropriations or tech policy.

With a lobbying gig difficult to snag, many Hill folks will likely turn to think tanks for employment.  There are a many former members of Congress and Hill staffers at numerous think tanks in and around Washington, DC.

But unless you are heading a large think tank, the salary is likely to be a disappointment compared to lobbying pay.  Former Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who now heads the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, commands an annual salary of around $800,000.  But former Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO), a Distinguished Fellow at Heritage, makes only a quarter of that: $191,000.  In other words, he is making only slightly more than he did as a US senator.

As for former Hill staffers, working at a think tank vs. working at a lobbying shop will cut their salary by half or more.  At a think tank, many can expect to make roughly what they were paid on the Hill.

Here is a guide from Think Tank Watch on think tank salaries.  Happy job hunting!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

US Senator Plagiarized Heavily From Think Tank Reports

Many think tankers over the years have been caught plagiarizing other peoples work, but when it comes to members of the US Congress plagiarizing think tank work, that is a bit more rare.

Well, that is apparently what happened with Sen. John Walsh, the recently appointed Democratic Senator from Montana, according to The New York Times.  Here is more:
...One of the highest-profile credentials of Mr. Walsh’s 33-year military career appears to have been improperly attained. An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh’s master’s degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors’ works, with no attribution.
Mr. Walsh completed the paper, what the War College calls a “strategy research project,” to earn his degree in 2007, when he was 46. The sources of the material he presents as his own include academic papers, policy journal essays and books that are almost all available online.
Most strikingly, each of the six recommendations Mr. Walsh laid out at the conclusion of his 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy,” is taken nearly word-for-word without attribution from a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace document on the same topic.

Sen. Walsh also plagiarized from The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, a research institute at Harvard, according to The New York Times.

Think Tank Watch has written about plagiarism at think tanks over the past couple years, and examples can be found here and here.

Although rare, members of Congress plagiarizing from think tanks is not unheard of.  Last year, it was reported that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has plagiarized from the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute.

Think Tank Quickies (#132)

  • Think tanks do scientific method in reverse: start with your (cash-sponsored) conclusion, then search for scraps of supporting evidence?  Ouch.
  • The Employment Policies Institute isn't a think tank, via PR Watch.
  • Strong argument against making think tank donor lists public?
  • Heritage Action trolling Sen. Elizabeth Warren?
  • AEI scholar Marc Thiessen: The world is on fire.
  • Cato's Stephanie Rugolo: The richer we become the less impact we have on the environment.
  • Brookings: The Top 10 global cities sending FDI to the US.
  • Brookings: The federal government is failing now more than ever.
  • Brookings on the World Cup: FIFA is corrupt.
  • Think tank: Teach happiness in schools to slash mental health bill.

Is the BPC a Failed "Think Tank"?

CQ Weekly recently had an article titled "Finding a Middle Without Moderates" in which it talks about various centrist groups in Washington, DC.  In terms of think tanks, the article focuses on Third Way and the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), which launched in 2007.

The article notes that BPC has yet to see any of its major policy proposals adopted.  If that is the case, is BPC a failed think tank?

Here is more background from CQ:
In 2007 Jason Grumet, a Democrat and environmentalist, teamed with Cameron Lynch, A Republican who was working for former Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas, to persuade Dole to serve as a co-founder of BPC along with three other past Senate party leaders: Tom Daschle, Howard Baker, and George Mitchell.  Grumet got the idea from his experience running the National Commission on Energy Policy, a project of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, that helped lay the goundwork for Congress's 2005 energy law.
The idea was to replicate, on a broader scale, the success the commission had in bringing a bipartisan group together to tackle difficult issues.
The groups is mostly known for its policy work, such as its bipartisan proposal for revamping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and its strategy for strengthening the country's mix of energy options.  But while it has had success in persuading former members of Congress to work together on policy ideas, it's had far less getting current members to take them up.
In an effort to overcome that reluctance, the center last year launched Citizens for Political Reform with the idea of engaging the grass roots.  This spring, it released a series of videos poling fun at the political stereotypes liberals and conservatives hold about each other, while touting its June 24 release of recommendations aimed at breaking gridlock.

Think Tank Watch thinks, however, that a think tank should not be judged solely on its political "wins."  After all, think tanks often play an important role outside of the legislative realm.

In related news, BPC, along with the Annenberg Public Policy Center, reconvened the 9/11 Commission members to develop updated recommendations.  That report, which says that terrorism has entered a new and dangerous phase, can be found here.

Last year, BPC was criticized for the funding it receives for its "manufactured reports and white papers."  Ken Silverstein of Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics called BPC the "Bipartisan Lobbying Center."  One can see how politically involved BPC is here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Brookings Saban Center is No Longer

The Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy has dropped "Saban" from its name and is officially just The Center for Middle East Policy.

Here is more from Tamara Cofman Wittes, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center:
After an incredible 12 years that produced 33 monographs, 32 policy briefs and 16 books, the Brookings partnership with the Saban Family Foundation is entering a new phase. We will now operate as the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. The Saban Family Foundation and Brookings will continue our work together on the annual Saban Forum, in the spirit of our shared commitment to research and activities on Israel’s future and the future of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. We are deeply grateful to Cheryl and Haim Saban for their longstanding and generous support to Brookings and look forward to our next Saban Forum in December 2014.

The Saban Center launched in 2002 and was named after multi-billionaire American-Israeli film and television producer Haim Saban.  The Saban Family Foundation, led by Haim Saban and his wife Cheryl Saban, donated $13 million for the establishment of the Saban Center at Brookings.

Last year the Saban Center's Saban Forum hosted none other than President Barack Obama to celebrate its 10th anniversary.  Here is a video of that event.

Think Tank Awards & Rankings: A Futile Exercise?

To borrow some words from W.C. Fields, Think Tank Watch is free of all prejudices, it hates all think tank awards, rankings, and ratings equally.

Actually, we respect those who try to put them together and think of useful metrics to measure think tanks against each other.  Rankings/awards get lots of attention and Think Tank Watch loves to write about them.

That said, all awards and rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, and Think Tank Watch and others have found numerous faults with every think tank ranking around.

With that in mind, you may want to check out Jeff Knezovich's new piece on the Prospect Think Tank Awards, in which he argues for the positive aspects of Prospect Magazine's awards.  To be sure, he also points out some of its faults, such as the fact that think tanks actually have to enter to "win" and how EU-centric it is.  [By the way, Think Tank Watch does not actually think that the awards are rigged.]

Of course, the same could be said about the well-known University of Pennsylvania's think tank rankings which have been widely criticized, have lots of flaws, and appear to be US-centric.

I largely agree with Enrique Mendizabal of On Think Tanks who said that "think tanks are political actors and are only relevant in relation to their political context."  I would add, however, that many think tanks go beyond the political realm to influence non-political society.  To measure all of this is a very tricky task.

How Comcast Is Quietly Using Think Tanks to Kill Net Neutrality

Esquire just published an article saying that scholars at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) are printing op-eds throughout the media in support of killing net neutrality - without disclosing the think tank's ties to Comcast.  Here is more:
A Net neutrality proposal—one that Comcast publicly supports and has been subject of protest and mainstream media criticism from those who believe the rules would slow innovation, limit speech and drive up the cost of access to the Internet—is open for public comment.
And now, op-eds in favor of the unpopular proposal from Comcast-linked think tanks are appearing in major publications—from the Wall Street Journal to U.S News and World Report—without disclosing the institutions' ties to the telecom.
Yesterday, a visiting fellow at one of those think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute’s Richard Bennett, wrote a story for leading tech website GigaOm in favor of the FCC's new Net neutrality rules. Bennett did not reveal the Institute’s relationship with Comcast at any point within the piece.
Comcast and its cable lobby partners spent over $70 million in the last decade lobbying for the new net neutrality rules that would allow them to create a slow lane on the web, charge more for tiered services, and artificially slow traffic to competitors.
When reached by phone, Bennett said that he had been writing about Net neutrality for a decade before joining the American Enterprise Institute. 
“AEI’s only had a tech policy center for maybe a year,” he said. “I think you’re trying to connect dots that aren’t there.
“The Institute has no official stance on the Net neutrality issue,” he added.
But the Institute’s most read stories on Net neutrality clearly favor the FCC’s new plan for a regulated Internet. One, titled “Time to give up the Net neutrality quest” was reprinted in the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion section.
Another, titled “Net neutrality is a bad idea that’s run its course,” was reprinted on RealClearMarkets.com. Neither Bennett nor the publication discloses his employer’s ties to Comcast in either piece, but both identify the American Enterprise Institute next to his byline.

The Esquire article notes that Holly Yeager of The Washington Post first reported about Comcast's close ties to various think tanks, including AEI, Aspen Institute, and Brookings Institution.  Of course, Comcast has close ties with a variety of other think tanks, including the Center for American Progress (CAP).

To be sure, numerous corporations have numerous ties with numerous think tanks, and the Comcast-think tank arrangement appears to be nothing out of the ordinary.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Think Tank Pic of the Day: Snacks at Third Way

Last week Think Tank Watch started a new series called "Think Tank Pic of the Day" in which we highlight the best think tank-related photo of the day.

Today's winner is Michelle Diggles, a Senior Political Analyst for the Social Policy & Politics Program at Third Way.  Here is her picture of "pre-5pm snacks" and "post-5pm snacks" that the think tank provides.


Think Tank Watch hopes that stash is locked away safely so that the mysterious Panel Crasher doesn't get his grubby hands on it...

The Hill newspaper recently wrote a piece that mentions another cool characteristic of Third Way - office paint that allows staffers to write with markers on the wall.

Are you ready to start working at Third Way?  Check out the current career opportunities here.

The previous winner of Think Tank Pic of the Day was Richard Fawal of Brookings, for his shot of the ominous sky over think tank row.

Third Way, founded in 2005 by former staffers in the Clinton Administration, was selected last year as Prospect Magazine's best think tank in North America.


Update: In related Third Way news, the think tank was mentioned several times in a CQ Weekly Article from July 21 titled "Finding a Middle Without Moderates," saying that Third Way has "pushed for more compromise on Capitol Hill, only to see increasingly less of it."

It also notes that Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson helped found Third Day, and that the center-left think tank aims to move the Democratic Party to the middle of the political spectrum.

Think Tank Quickies (#131)

  • What if the Brady Bunch had started a hawkish think tank?  Welcome to the Cheney think tank?
  • Art Pope has directed millions into creating a think tank that has blasted UNC as being wasteful.
  • Is the corruption of peer reviewing harming think tank credibility?
  • Cato's Alan Reynolds calls Thomas Piketty's wealth data worthless.
  • Jim DeMint pays off for Heritage and Heritage pays off for Jim DeMint, via Daily Kos.
  • Jeff Knezovich covering this year's Prospect Magazine Think Tank Awards.
  • US think tanks want US grand reception for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
  • Prof. Sven Biscop: Are think tankers academics?
  • US Mission to NATO invites think tanks to submit grant proposals on NATO's future.
  • The Hill profiles Third Way's Mieke Eoyang, director of the think tank's national security program; calls Third Way "center-left"; says think tank has paint that allows staffers to write with markers on the wall.

Think Tanks Rush to Solve Malaysia Airlines Tragedy


If there is a current event in the news, the odds are very good that a think tank somewhere in Washington (or elsewhere) is commenting on it.

Here is what some think tanks are saying about the apparent shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
  • Brookings analysis from Steven Pifer and Hannah Thoburn.
  • AEI's Michael Auslin says that freedom of the skies is at risk.
  • AEI's Michael Rubin considering the implications of the plane crash.
  • AEI's Leon Aron asks if the crash will be traced to a Russian-made missile.
  • Heritage Foundation asks if Russia's aggression contributed to the Malaysian plane crash.
  • CSIS's Anthony Cordesman says avoid rushing to judgement.
  • Carnegie Europe's Judy Dempsey on the tragedy in Ukraine.
  • Atlantic Council's Alex Ward: Is the MH17 crash a turning point in the Ukraine crisis?

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on think tank analysis of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Are Prospect Magazine's Think Tank of the Year Awards Rigged?

Many of the top US think tanks were not on Prospect Magazine's Think Tank of the Year shortlist.  What about Brookings?  What about American Enterprise Institute (AEI)?  What about Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)?  What about Cato Institute?

Why didn't these think tank behemoths make the list?  And what exactly was the criteria?

According to Prospect Magazine, entrants to the awards were scored according to six criteria: coherent selection of topics of importance; innovative and plausible policy prescription; rigour of analysis; influence on politics; influence on media and wider impact; convening power.

Knowing this, let's examine who made the list this year.  The four US think tanks on the shortlist were:
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Institute for Women’s Policy Research
  • Inter-American Dialogue

Think Tank Watch passes no judgement on these think tanks, but it leaves us wondering about the so-called think tank "majors."  Is there bias toward the little think tanks?  [Of course, we are not referring to Carnegie, which is a sizable think tank.]

Prospect Magazine and its judges may have been thinking the same thing, and in an article outlining the results, there was an explanation about some of the major think tanks that Think Tank Watch has mentioned.  Here is what they say:
The Brookings Institution, although not on the shortlist,was cited this year for its especially strong work on the Syria crisis and was described by one judge as “huge, but nimble.” The American Enterprise Institute was also noted for its significance, especially in its attempts to fashion a more moderate policy offering for the Republican Party, while the Centre [sic] for American Progress drew plaudits for its work on the left of the US political spectrum.

Think Tank Watch also wonders if there are there enough judges and do those judges have enough knowledge about US think tanks...

 So, are these think tank awards biased?  Contact Think Tank Watch and let us know your thoughts.

Think Tank Quote of the Week: A Cheney Think Tank?

The award goes to David Nather of Politico in his article about the Cheney clan titled "Cheneys Show United Front...Minus One."  Here it is:
Sing it with us: “Here’s the story of a man named Cheney …”
Dick, Lynne and Liz Cheney had a message they wanted to send with their appearance at POLITICO’s Playbook lunch on Monday: We’re a family, we’re happy together, we joke together, and we’re beating the drum for an aggressive foreign policy together.

It’s almost as if the Cheneys were the Brady Bunch — if the Brady Bunch had started a hawkish think tank and were warning the country about the failures of President Barack Obama’s leadership around the world.


Think Tank Watch should point out that the closest thing to a Cheney think tank is the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where Dick Cheney is on the Board of Trustees, and Lynne Cheney is a Senior Fellow focusing on education and culture.  Liz Cheney, however, has no affiliation with AEI.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Inter-American Dialogue Wins Best US Think Tank of Year Award

The Inter-American Dialogue (IAD) just won this year's Prospect Magazine Best Think Tank of the Year Award for best US think tank.

In the annual University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings, IAD is rated as the 37th best think tank in the US.  It will be interesting to see next year's UPenn rankings to see if IAD moves up.

IAD is a Washington, DC-based think tank focusing on Western Hemisphere affairs.  It celebrated its 30-year anniversary in 2012.

The other thinks tanks on the "shortlist" for best US think tank were Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), Foreign Policy Research Institute, and Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Last year, in the best US think tank category for 2013, Third Way was the winner, and Brookings Institution was the runner up.

Carnegie Europe won the best European think tank of the year award, the Institute for Fiscal Studies won the best UK economic and financial affairs think tank, Chatham House won the best UK energy and environment think tank, and European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) won best UK international affairs think tank.  IPPR won the award for UK's best social policy think tank.

The "think tank to watch" award was won by Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), which is UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

Here is more about Prospect Magazine's think tank awards, which has been supported by oil giant Shell for many years.

Update: Here are the final results from Prospect Magazine.

Top Economic Think Tanks Rated

IDEAS, a Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has an updated ranking of the top economic think tanks in the world.

Here are the top ten think tank on the list, as of June 2014:
  1. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
  2. Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
  3. Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)
  4. Brookings Institution
  5. ifo Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung an der Universität München e.V.
  6. DIW Berlin
  7. Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE)
  8. Resources for the Future (RFF)
  9. Institutet för Näringslivsforskning (IFN)
  10. Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI)

Here is more on the methodology.  There were 183 think tanks from all over the world in the running for this ranking.

RePEC is a collaborative effort of hundreds of volunteers in 82 countries to enhance the dissemination of research in economics and related sciences.  IDEAS is the largest bibliographic database dedicated to economics and available freely on the Internet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

DeMint's Salary at Heritage Revealed for First Time

One can argue whether the Heritage Foundation is in decline, but one cannot argue when it comes to the think tank's dominance in terms of salary and compensation.

Put simply, Heritage is the Goldman Sachs of think tank pay.

Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who became head of the Heritage Foundation last year, took home a salary (with bonuses) of $614,000 from the conservative think tank, according to tax documents obtained from The Hill newspaper.  Here is more:
DeMint received $614,000 in compensation in 2013 from Heritage, including his $380,000 base salary and a $200,000 bonus, according to the tax document.
When the Republican announced his resignation from the Senate in 2012 to become president of Heritage, it was reported at the time that he would likely earn $1 million.
DeMint, however, did not take over as president until April of 2013, so the compensation reported in the tax return does not reflect his current salary as president. Still, it’s a significant jump from the $174,000 he received annually in the Senate.
Edwin Feulner Jr., the organization’s outgoing president who led Heritage for 36 years, received $3.5 million in compensation in 2013, a figure that could raise eyebrows among the think tank’s critics.
Feulner earned a 2013 base salary of $181,000 and a $700,000 bonus for his service as the think tank’s president in 2012. He also received $2.52 million from a deferred compensation plan into which he contributed $865,000 from 1980 to 2006. The plan accrued $1.66 million in investment earnings.

Annualized over a full year, DeMint's annual salary should be approximately $800,000. That is more than 4.5 times what he made as a senator. [Go Little Green Footballs for the nice guess back in 2012 of a 500% salary increase.]

The Hill also notes that the think tank's annual revenue grew by 31 percent during DeMint's first year at the helm, largely due to a $25.9 million contribution from an "unnamed donor."  Actually, as Think Tank Watch reported at the time of that record-breaking think tank gift, it came from the family of the late Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis.

DeMint is making a killing compared to another former member of Congress affiliated with the think tank - Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO).  Sen. Talent, a Distinguished Fellow at the think tank, made a mere $191,000.  Another notable Distinguished Fellow at Heritage, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, pulled in $267,000.

Here is a recently updated Think Tank Watch list of think tank salaries.

So, are you ready to apply for a job at Heritage?  If so, you may first want to check out their full-time positions section.  The think tank is looking for eight full-timers at the moment...[We hear that even interns at Heritage are pulling in six-figure salaries...okay, just kidding.]

By the way, have you heard the argument that taxpayers are subsidizing huge think tank salaries?  Dean Baker, Co-Director of CEPR, said this year that think tank head pay should be capped at 20 times the median salary, which is currently around $40,000.  That would cap DeMint's salary at $800,000 per year.

Think Tank Pic of the Day: Sky Over Think Tank Row

Storms rolled across the Washington, DC region today, leaving many think tankers stuck inside cranking out memos and policy pieces.

Here is a nice shot of ominous-looking clouds above Think Tank Row, taken by Richard Fawal, Associate Vice President for Communications at The Brookings Institution.

In the picture, which was taken from the Brookings Communications Office across the street from the Brookings main building, one can see the construction of the future home of American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Breaking: UK's Prospect Mag Releases Shorlist for Best Think Tanks

UK's Prospect Magazine has just released the shortlist for its 2014 Think Tank of the Year Awards: 


USA Think Tank of the Year
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Foreign Policy Research Institute
Institute for Women’s Policy Research
Inter-American Dialogue

European Think Tank of the Year
Carnegie Europe
Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei
Open Europe
The Hague Institute for Global Justice

UK Economic and Financial
Institute for Fiscal Studies
Institute of Economic Affairs
IPPR
Resolution Foundation

UK Social Policy
CentreForum
IPPR
Legatum Institute
Reform

UK Energy and Environment
Chatham House
IPPR
Population Matters
ResPublica

UK International Affairs
Chatham House
European Council on Foreign Relations
Overseas Development Institute
Royal United Services Institute

One to watch
Centre for Cross Border Studies
Higher Education Policy Institute
Legatum Institute
Transform Drug Policy


Winners will be announced tomorrow evening at an awards ceremony.  More coming soon...

Think Tank Quickies (#130)

  • Climate change-skeptical think tank CEI demanded corrections in Obama Climate Czar John Holdren's climate speech.
  • New CSIS report: Defense Department should prepare for big budget cuts. 
  • Security firm CrowdStrike works with a number of think tanks on a pro bono basis
  • CQ Weekly profiles Tim Daly, former legislative director for Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), who this spring left for CAP to become director of campaigns for the think tank, focusing on guns and crime.
  • Cyberspies like breaking into think tanks and....algae farms? 
  • Think tank advice from Sola Oluwadare of AfriHeritage.
  • Think tank inclusion at the White House by Jeremy Shapiro in FT.
  • Think tanks in India need less activism and more research.
  • Building a Think-and-Do Tank by Lawrence McDonald and Todd Moss.
  • Picture: The Lego Movie think tank.

US Ambassador to Canada has Bumpy Ride at Think Tank


Think tanks are generally safe places to give speeches.  Sure, you may get a rogue audience member asking bizarre questions, or a mildly tense exchange among panelists, but softball questions usually reign.  Usually being the operative word.

The US Ambassador to Canada ran into a very awkward situation at a Canadian think tank (hey, aren't Canadians supposed to be friendly to the US?), leaving Think Tank Watch wondering if he will take a "think tank pause" for a few months while he recovers.

The Washington Post column In The Loop has some more details:
Seems it’s been a bit of a rough patch of late for our man in Ottawa, Bruce Heyman, a mega-bundler who formerly was with Goldman Sachs in Chicago. It began last month when the ambassador gave his first big speech at a think-tank dinner.
The speech, judging from the audience applause, went over quite well. But then came a Q&A with Canada’s former ambassador to Washington, Frank McKenna, who said he wanted to ask about some “irritants:” the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement; a Detroit area bridge connecting the two countries; and, of course, construction of the Keystone XL pipeline taking oil from Canada down to the Gulf Coast.
That part didn’t go well. Not at all. And it garnered Heyman a blistering attack in the Wall Street Journal and in the Canadian press, calling his comments an “egregious insult” and offensive. An attendee told us he found the remarks “patronizing” and “condescending.” (It should be noted that the Canadians, while unquestionably the nicest people on the planet, are quick to take offense when they perceive they are belittled by their southern neighbor.)

The think tank referenced in the article  is Canada 2020, which is based in Ottawa.  Canada 2020 considers itself an independent, progressive think tank.  You can watch a video of the think tank event here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fearing Waning Influence, Hong Kong to Study US Think Tanks


Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, head of Hong Kong's Legislative Council will be coming to the United States this summer to study high-powered think tanks before attempting to form one himself in Hong Kong.

Tsang has said that he plans to visit various think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, Brookings Institution, and Center for American Progress (CAP).

Earlier in 2014, Tsang commissioned a group of experts to "nurture a mature think tank" in Hong Kong.  Among other things, he will the relationship that think tanks have with government, Congress, and political parties, and well as their funding and media relations operations.

Andrew Fung Ho-keung, the chief executive of the Policy Research Institute reportedly is working closely with Tsang on the think tank project.

Here is more about Hong Kong's think tank scence from the South China Morning Post (SCMP):
There are several policy institutes in Hong Kong which have formed a close relationship with the government.
The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre, set up in 2006 by the head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, Norman Chan Tak-lam, was regarded as former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's think tank.
But the centre's influence has diminished since Leung Chun-ying took office in 2012.
The One Country Two Systems Research Institute, led by executive councillor Cheung Chi-kong - a close aide of Leung - has since gained prominence.

Hong Kong currently has 30 think tanks according to the latest think tank survey conducted by the University of Pennsylvania.

As Howard Winn of SCMP pointed out earlier in the year, Hong Kong only has two think tanks ranked by that ranking: Hong Kong Centre for Economic Research and Civic Exchange.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Russia Hacking Pro-NATO Think Tanks?


All the news last week was about China cyberspying on Middle East experts at US think tanks, but very little has been reported about another recent cyberspying phenomenon, apparently involving Russia.  Here is more from the Financial Times:
Pro-Nato think-tanks, military organisations linked to member states and Nato itself have been the target of internet trolling campaigns, traditional media disinformation and cyber attacks designed to bolster domestic support and attack foreign opponents, in traditional media and online. Senior Nato officials have told the FT they are in little doubt that such activities are orchestrated on a large scale by the Russian government.

It is unclear exactly which think tanks FT is referring to, but one example may be the Cooperative  Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE), a "think tank"  associated with NATO.

Here is more from the alleged Chinese attacks on US think tanks, as mentioned above.

In the American Thinker this weekend, Stephen Bryen and Shoshana Bryen asked why foreign governments are opting to collect information at think tanks by hacking them, and not attending their events and/or having personal meetings with think tankers.  They speculate that China's leaders probably thought they could find out more than think tank scholars would be willing to tell them in public discussions.

Remember the good old days of 2010 when foreign spies actually applied for think tank jobs?

And as a more basic question, why are foreign governments even going after think tanks?  Here is more their article:
It has been said that one can eat out every day in Washington by visiting different policy organizations for the ubiquitous “luncheon panel and discussion.” Foreign governments with representation in Washington, who generally devote a lot of effort to gleaning policy information, often find it easier to learn the nuances of American government thinking and talk to those who talk to administration sources than it is to get appointments with the sources themselves. China, like Russia, and all the friendlier countries (UK, Japan, Israel, and many others) make the rounds, collect information, and send it home.

Oh, I thought they were just interested in think tank food...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Abercrombie Exec Starting New Think Tank

Todd Corley, Chief Diversity Officer for clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch Co., is leaving to start his own think tank.

The new "think tank," which appears to be closer to a strategic advisory firm, is called TAPO Institute, and will advocate for more inclusive leadership.

The think tank site is already up and running and can be found here.

Think Tank Watch estimates that hundreds of so-called think tanks are launched each year in the US, but very few become multidimensional or widely recognized.

Think Tank Quickies (#129)

  • Contradictions between Obama and CAP founder Podesta and Joe Romm of CAP?
  • Think tanks taking membership pitches straight to Silicon Valley's doorstep.
  • Brookings scholar Peter Singer to join New America Foundation as Strategist & Senior Fellow.
  • Seth Jones named Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND. 
  • BPC's new 120-page report on governing in a polarized America. 
  • Mega conservative think tank donor Richard Scaife dies. 
  • UK's Prospect Magazine Think Tank Award judges for 2014 announced; awards to be held July 16.
  • WSJ bashes Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) for firing scholar over climate disagreement.
  • British politician John Prescott says UK's main political parties rely too much on think tanks.
  • China's most influential scientific and technological think tanks rethinking admissions process.
  • Politics & Ideas creating online course on understanding funding models at think tanks.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

China Holds "1st Ever" Think Tank Summit?


If you thought China spying on US think tank scholars was the only relationship that China had with think tanks, well, we don't blame you, but think again.

China, which has 426 think tanks, is hungry to ramp up and diversify its own think tanks.

China recently held a think tank summit, a two-day Shanghai confab June 25-26 co-hosted by the University of Pennsylvania's Think Tank and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) and the Shanghai Academy for Social Sciences (SASS).

UPenn claims it was the first-ever think tank summit in China, but it has been pointed out to Think Tank Watch that various think tank "summits" in China have previously been held.  And what about the Sino-African think tank summit last year in Beijing?

In any event, the conference was attended by 28 Chinese think tanks and 24 other organizations representing 15 countries.  The event consisted of three panels: two related to generally improving think tanks around the world, and one China-specific panel.  A list of participants can be found here.

Much of the talk reportedly was about steering away from solely government-affiliated think tank system (as they have in China) and expanding to more universities and independent institutions.

Here is a recent SASS report on the ten most influential think tanks in China.  Interestingly, SASS rated itself at the 9th best think tank in China.

In the annual University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) was rated as the best think tank in China, and as the 20th best in the world.

But oddly, under the category for top China think tanks in China, India, Japan, and Korea, the  Chinese Institute for International Studies (CIIS) was rated as the top think tank in China and the 3rd best overall among those countries.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Chinese Hackers Targeting Middle East Experts at Think Tanks


Chinese hackers are back to targeting US think tanks.  The latest revelation is that Middle East experts at think tanks were hacked by Chinese cyberspies during the past few weeks.

The think tank targeting strategy being used by Chinese cyberspies appears to have changed, as they have switched from attacking Asia experts to Middle East experts.  Reuters says that experts on Iraq are being targeted.

Here is more from The Washington Post:
The group behind the breaches, called "DEEP PANDA" by security researchers, appears to be affiliated with the Chinese government, says Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer of the firm CrowdStrike. The company, which works with a number of think tanks on a pro bono basis, declined to name which ones have been breached.
Alperovitch said the firm noticed a "radial" shift in DEEP PANDA's focus on June 18, the same day witnesses reported that Sunni extremists seized Iraq's largest oil refinery. The Chinese group has typically focused on senior individuals at think tanks who follow Asia, said Alperovitch. But last month, it suddenly began targeting people with ties to Iraq and Middle East issues.
Experts say that breaking into organizations like think tanks can give adversaries access to sensitive communications about international strategy – and potentially allow them to use compromised e-mail accounts to get at other targets: A phishing message coming from a trusted acquaintance at a prominent think tank that asks a user to download an attachment is more likely to succeed than a seemingly random e-mail.
Experts say Chinese interest in U.S. think tanks is part of a larger information gathering strategy aimed at understanding how Washington works. Chinese officials often assume that think tanks and news outlets are being influenced by the U.S. government as their Chinese counterparts are by Beijing, these experts say.

One weaknesses at think tanks, according to the article, is that they often do not have the monetary resources to fend off sophisticated cyber attacks.  After all, Goldman Sachs can drop millions of dollars in a few days on cybersecurity, but a think tank like Center for American Progress (CAP) or American Enterprise Institute (AEI) needs to be more careful with its relatively limited resources.

Richard Bejtlich, Chief Security Strategist at FireEye and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, also noted that it is hard to get think tankers to adhere to strict security measures because the atmosphere at think tanks is "more like a university than some place with stricter security needs like a financial institution."

So, which think tanks in the US have Middle East experts?  A ton do, including Brookings, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), US Institute of Peace (USIP), Atlantic Council, Heritage Foundation, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and New America Foundation (NAF), among others.

Think Tank Watch has written extensively about cyber attacks at think tanks, particularly by the Chinese.  Here is one post revealing an attack on the Aspen Institute.  Here is a post from last year about China targeting US think tanks.

By the way, RAND Corporation, which several days ago was faced with a fake "leaked" document regarding the crisis in Ukraine, issued a report detailing the shortage of cybersecurity professionals and how that poses a risk to national security.

Update: China on Tuesday (July 8) disputed claims by security firm Crowdstrike that China was cyberspying on think tanks.  Geng Shuang, press counselor for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC said "Chinese law prohibits cyber crimes of all forms, and Chinese government has done whatever it can to combat such activities."  [Think Tank Watch would note that the Chinese response is not a 100% denial of the claims.]