Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tax Policy Center Named Think Tank of the Year

The Washington Post's Wonkblog has named the Tax Policy Center (TPC) the think tank of the year.

Here is more from Wonkblog:
The Tax Policy Center is the cool, nonpartisan, analytical yin to [Grover] Norquist’s hot, ideological, activist yang. The center is directed by Donald Marron, a former Bush appointee, and staffed by a who’s who of tax wonks who’ve served in both parties. They produce the best and most respected tax numbers in town, and they’re fearless while doing it. It was their analysis that showed Mitt Romney’s tax plan could not possibly fulfill all its stated objectives at the same time, and it’s been their work that has made clear the size of the tax increases embedded in the fiscal cliff. Their work has truly been essential over the last year.
TPC is a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.

Friday, December 21, 2012

In Defense of Think Tanks

Dr. Nadia Schadlow, a senior program officer at the Smith Richardson Foundation, penned this piece for Foreign Policy magazine.

Here are some excerpts:
Every major government program, from Obamacare to tax reform to defense budget realignments, has benefitted from the research and analysis of analysts who work at think tanks and in academic centers. If experts on health care or on Pakistan are not reaching out to non-government experts, they are not doing their job. And since these experts need to make a living, they must raise money for the institutions in which they work; They, unlike the government, do not have a tax base upon which to draw.
Think tanks are one of the great strengths of this country. They provide a dynamic environment of intellectual inquiry that helps to refine ideas and translate academic arguments into policy-relevant recommendations. They allow individuals who have been fast-paced operational practitioners some time to sit back and consider the history or politics of a country more deeply, and then go back and work the long hours with greater context. They provide a way for younger individuals to gain knowledge and then "deploy" that knowledge once they enter government.
Unlike the British executive branch, in which senior civil servants serve at the undersecretary level and hold the collective national wisdom in their expertise, the U.S. government populates the executive as far down as the office director level with short term political appointees. In our system, the think tanks and many in the academy constitute the collective national expertise, and every administration rightly calls upon them when weighing policies and making decisions. Many of the more successful high-level government officials today came from this community.
President Obama and other White House officials recognize that think tanks and universities generate debate and that is why they choose to speak at them. That is why White House and other officials cite non-government reports and books, often. That is why even during the last series of presidential debates, both candidates identified outside studies written by individuals who sought to influence debates about tax rates and health care and Iran.
Her piece is in response to a recent Washington Post article about think tankers (namely Kimberly and Frederick Kagan) involved in the war in Afghanistan.

Anthony Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), also came out in defense of think tanks, penning this opinion piece for the Washington Post.

Sen. Lugar to Join GMF

Here is what Politico is reporting:
Longtime Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) will become a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States when he leaves office next month, the nonprofit organization said Wednesday.
As a tribute to the former two-time Senate Foreign Relations chairman, the fund will also establish the Richard G. Lugar Institute for Diplomacy, which will be headed by the group’s congressional liaison, Maia Comeau.
Here is the press release for GMF.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Think Tankers Helped Run War in Afghanistan

The Washington Post today details how the husband and wife think tank duo Kimberly and Frederick Kagan put their think tanks jobs on hold for nearly a year to work for Gen. David Petraeus when he was the top US commander in Afghanistan.

On their compensation:
Their compensation from the U.S. government for their efforts, which often involved 18-hour workdays, seven days a week and dangerous battlefield visits?  Zero dollars.  The Kagans said they continued to receive salaries from their think tanks while in Afghanistan. Kim Kagan’s institute is funded in part by large defense contractors. During Petraeus’s tenure in Kabul, she sent out a letter soliciting contributions so the organization could continue its military work, according to two people who saw the letter.
On their influence:
The Kagans used those privileges to advocate substantive changes in the U.S. war plan, including a harder-edged approach than some U.S. officers advocated in combating the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan.
Fred Kagan on the arrangement:
Fred Kagan, speaking in an interview with his wife, acknowledged the arrangement was “strange and uncomfortable” at times. “We were going around speaking our minds, trying to force people to think about things in different ways and not being accountable to the heads” of various departments in the headquarters, he said.
On their freedom:
As war-zone volunteers, the Kagans were not bound by stringent rules that apply to military personnel and private contractors. They could raise concerns directly with Petraeus, instead of going through subordinate officers, and were free to speak their minds without repercussion.
On the Kagan's involvement with think tanks:
Fred Kagan, who works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, was one of the intellectual architects of President George W. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq and has sided with the Republican Party on many national security issues. Kim Kagan runs the Institute for the Study of War, which favors an aggressive U.S. foreign policy. The Kagans supported President Obama’s decision to order a surge in Afghanistan, but they later broke with the White House on the subject of troop reductions. Both argue against any significant drawdown in forces there next year.
 On Petraeus and the Institute for the Study of War:
On Aug. 8, 2011, a month after he relinquished command in Afghanistan to take over at the CIA, Petraeus spoke at the institute’s first “President’s Circle” dinner, where he accepted an award from Kim Kagan. To join the President’s Circle, individuals must contribute at least $10,000 a year. The private event, held at the Newseum in Washington, also drew executives from defense contractors who fund the institute.
 On think tankers and Afghanistan war visits:
By the time the Kagans arrived in Kabul in June 2010, it was commonplace for think-tankers and big-name columnists to make seven-to-10-day visits once or twice a year. Two analysts from the Council on Foreign Relations, Max Boot and Stephen Biddle, were in Afghanistan at the same time at the invitation of Petraeus.  Petraeus asked the four to remain for a month to six weeks. Boot and Biddle couldn’t stay that long, but the Kagans were game, even though they had packed for only a short trip.
 On their security clearances:
They were given desks in the office of the Strategic Initiatives Group, the commander’s in-house think tank, which typically is staffed with military officers and civilian government employees. The general’s staff helped upgrade their security clearances from “Secret” to “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information,” the highest-level of U.S. government classification.  The new clearances allowed the Kagans to visit “the pit,” the high-security lower level of the Combined Joint Intelligence Operations Center on the headquarters. There, they could read transcripts of Taliban phone and radio conversations monitored by the National Security Agency.
 On Kim Kagan's hiatus and the Institute for the Study of War:
For Kim Kagan, spending so many months away from research and advocacy work in Washington could have annoyed many donors to the Institute for the Study of War. But her major backers appear to have been pleased that she cultivated such close ties with Petraeus, who went from Kabul to head the CIA before resigning this fall over his affair with Broadwell.  At the August 2011 dinner honoring Petraeus, Kagan thanked executives from two defense contractors who sit on her institute’s corporate council, DynCorp International and CACI International. The event was sponsored by General Dynamics.
 Here is a Washington Post piece which outlines what Robert Gates thinks about the Kagans' influence.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Think Tank Quickies #30

  • Arab think tank conference organized by ACRPS.
  • Rise and fall of Russia's economic think tanks.
  • Former Bain Capital partner Edward Conrad joins AEI.
  • CSIS launches "Geopolitics of the Arctic" iTunes course. 
  • The Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) to organize forum on BSEC think tanks.

ACUS Chairman Hagel Likely to Become SecDef

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Chairman of the Atlantic Council of the United States (ACUS), is likely to become the next Secretary of Defense.

Here is how Foreign Policy describes his current stint at ACUS:
Hagel became chairman of the Atlantic Council, where his duties have kept him front and center with the likes of Bono and Bill Clinton and other global dignitaries and military leaders. The group’s annual awards dinner is a who’s who of military and international affairs glitterati.
Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on the "rise" of the Atlantic Council.

Based on the latest publicly available information, ACUS had total revenue of $7,955,033, and total assets of $6,643,988.  Hagel had no reportable compensation from ACUS.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Democrats Using Think Tanks to Groom National Security Specialists

Here is what Yochi Dreazen, contributing editor at the Atlantic and a writer in residence at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), wrote in the Washington Post's Outlook section this weekend:
Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are hoping to use think tanks to groom a new generation of left-leaning national security specialists, but the process will take time.
The Truman National Security Project is one of the few institutions with an avowed goal of getting more young Democrats into key Pentagon and State Department positions, but it’s a small organization, and it’s unclear how many of its alumni will get plum jobs in the second Obama term. The nonpartisan Center for a New American Security — where I’m a writer in residence — has had more success sprinkling its staffers into the administration, but most are relatively junior officials who aren’t likely to be viable candidates for top positions until the next Democratic presidency.
Democrats could speed that process by steering mid-level national security hands into the two organizations so they could gain the experience and outside connections that may help them land higher-profile administration jobs in coming years.

Larry Summers to Join CAP

Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary under the Clinton Administration and White House economic advisor under President Obama, will co-chair a new think tank project housed at the Center for American Progress (CAP) aimed at supporting President Obama's second-term goal of reviving the economy by rebuilding the middle class, reports the Washington Post.  Here is more:
The Growth and Competitiveness project will be housed at the progressive Center for American Progress, where Summers will also serve as a “distinguished senior fellow,” the center plans to announce Monday.
Summers’s co-chair will be David Miliband, a British Labor Party politician and member of Parliament and former British foreign secretary.
Summers’s appointment adds intellectual heft to the center’s ongoing efforts to provide a counterweight to Republican supply-side economic theory, which has animated the GOP for nearly four decades.
Here is the official announcement from CAP.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Limits to Tax Deductions to Impact Think Tanks

Here is what USA Today writes:
Think tanks and public policy non-profits – researchers of policy papers, creators of panels and advocates for causes ranging from a balanced budget, to lower taxes to a stronger military – share the same 501c3 charitable designation in the tax code as charities that provide social services.
Gifts to foundations could be the first casualties if the charitable deduction is lowered to 28% from 35% for individuals making more than $200,000 or couples making more than $250,000, as suggested by the White House. Other plans, including those from former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, would cap overall deductions for top earners from $17,000 to $50,000.
Because think tanks and public policy groups rely so heavily on donor contributions instead of government grants, they would be affected "disproportionately" by any change in deductions, said Diana Aviv, president and CEO of Independent Sector, a leadership network for America's non-profits.
It's unlikely donations would stop, but they would probably be reduced as wealthy donors look for the best way to give, said Melissa Berman, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Think Tank Quickies #29

  • New Turkey project at Brookings funded by the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD).
  • Rep. Don Manzullo (R-IL) to become President and CEO of the Korea Economic Institute (KEI).  Don Manzullo, Gangnam-style.
  • AEI releases post-ObamaCare health plan.
  • CBPP: Debt ceiling is the biggest threat.
  • How reliable are think tanks? 
  • The end of the think tank as we know it? 
  • The Hara Design Institute, a design think tank run by Kenya Hara of Muji. 
  • US generals, especially those at war, creating their own "mini-think tanks" designed to make the boss shine.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Graph: Top-Paid Think Tank Executives

This is from Washington Post's Sarah Kliff.  Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post of think tank CEO/President salaries.

On Washington's Evolving Think Tank Scene

Here are some excerpts from an article that J.H. Snider, President of and a fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, wrote for Politico:
Last week’s appointment of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to head the Heritage Foundation illustrates an important evolutionary change, going on for more than forty years, in Washington’s think tank community. Although there are many exceptions among Washington’s hundreds of think tanks, think tanks as a rule have been evolving from a type of organization that pursues disinterested public policy research, “a university without teaching,” to one that pursues research-based advocacy, “a lobbying shop with research staff.” Launched in 1973, Heritage has been a leader in this evolution.
The change in think tank leadership reflects a larger change in think tank personnel. The proportion of full-time think tank staff with Ph.D.’s, let alone former tenure track academics, has long been in decline.
DeMint’s move to Heritage also illustrates several other important think tank developments. That one of America’s most powerful politicians is willing, for the first time in U.S. history, to give up a seat in the Senate to lead a think tank as a full-time job, is testimony to the growing influence and wealth of modern think tanks.
The degree of taxpayer support for think tank compensation is also striking. Since think tanks are funded via tax deductible charitable donations, DeMint’s compensation will continue to be largely paid for, albeit indirectly, by taxpayers. Given the large step up from his former $174,000 salary as a member of the Senate, he may now cost U.S. taxpayers more as a think tank president than a U.S. Senator.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Map: Heritage Foundation Funders

Above is a Muckety map of Heritage Foundation funders.  Laurie Bennett of Muckety says this:
America’s top think tanks have grown into multi-million-dollar operations with expensive real estate in Washington and other cities. (Heritage, headquartered on Capitol Hill, values its properties at more than $50 million.) Some organizations, including Heritage, offer seven-figure salaries to their top execs.
As our Muckety map above shows, Heritage funders include some of the most conservative wealthy families in the country.
Many of these families, such as the Kochs, the Scaifes, the Popes and the DeVoses, are also big political donors. It’s hardly coincidence that as benefactors have become more overtly political, so have the think tanks receiving their money.
DeMint will likely attract the same donors who have backed the Tea Party, a group that includes the Kochs.
The importance of money-raising in his new job is evident in the multiple roles played by Edwin Feulner, the outgoing president of Heritage. Feulner sits on the boards of two funders of Heritage - the Roe Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation.
Here is a previous Think Tanks Watch post on billionaires who donate to think tanks.

Map: Congress & Think Tanks

Above is a Muckety map on Congress and its connection to think tanks.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on the connections that Congress has with think tanks.

Think Tanks Compete With Super PACs for Donations

Here is what Roll Call is reporting:
The think tanks are competing for donations with a new set of players such as Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super PAC, and the conservative grass-roots Americans for Prosperity, which says it raised more than $110 million this year.
“Now [think tanks] have to promote their ideas and explicitly tell the members ‘if you don’t pay attention to those ideas were not going to rate you very favorably,’” said former Republican Rep. David M. McIntosh of Indiana. “[DeMint] will have a great understanding of the potential that Heritage has to really make a difference with the changes in the law.”
While Heritage and CAP are the only think tanks that now field registered lobbyists and have advocacy arms, nearly all of the major research institutes in Washington have a team advocating their policies on Capitol Hill. As of September, CAP Action Fund spent nearly $200,000 on lobbying Congress and Heritage Action spent $120,000, Senate reports show.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) Resigns to Run Heritage Foundation

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is going to resign from the Senate in order to replace Edwin Feulner as President of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank he led for 36 years.

Here is a blog post from Heritage about the announcement.  Following is an excerpt:
Heritage’s Board of Trustees unanimously chose DeMint as the organization’s next leader, starting April 3. DeMint will resign from the Senate and start as president-elect in early January, so he and Feulner can ensure a smooth transition. After April, Feulner will continue serving as Chancellor of the Foundation and Chairman of our Asian Studies Center.
Here is a video from an October 2012 event in which Sen. DeMint talks about the importance of the Heritage Foundation.

Here is Ed Feulner's E-mail to members and supporters about DeMint.

Here is what the Huffington Post has to say about DeMint's move to Heritage.

Here is what Politico has to say:
Top positions at influential nonprofits such as the Heritage Foundation can come with at least six-figure salaries, and in Heritage’s case, seven-figures. Based on most recent reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service, leaders of seven conservative groups drew in average annual salaries of about $520,000 in 2010
Heritage’s outgoing president, Edwin Feulner, made $1,025,922 in 2010 and $989,634 in 2009, according to the foundation’s IRS reports.
As nonprofits and think tanks get more involved in lobbying and elections, and the gridlock on Capitol Hill continues, offers for plush jobs for members of Congress and staffers will only increase, said Peter Metzger, vice chairman of CT Partners, a lobbyist and executive headhunter outfit.
“It’s going to be a trend if not an avalanche,” Metzger said.
Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a group that pushes for government transparency, also expects DeMint’s move to a think tank to become common practice for members of Congress.
“DeMint has a Rolodex that he is basically selling to Heritage,” Holman said. “I haven’t seen the revolving door abuse happen with nonprofit groups, but I do expect this to become more common as these front groups from the election like Crossroads GPS get more into lobbying activity.”
Based on Feulner’s salary and DeMint’s influence, Holman predicts he could be getting an annual salary close to $3 million from Heritage.
Here is another Politico piece on the Heritage Foundation:
Jim DeMint's surprise departure from the Senate reinvigorates the 39-year-old Heritage Foundation at a time when much of the ideas and policy output flowing from conservative think tanks has become predictable, uninspiring and often lacking in influence.
DeMint’s appointment is raising concerns among conservatives that, given his past experience on the political battlefield, the former senator will be tempted to turn Heritage into a weapon against Democrats, rather than as a fount of bold new ideas to inspire the right.
Roll Call says that Heritage's star will rise with DeMint.

WPost's Jennifer Rubin on why DeMint heading the Heritage Foundation is a "bad" move.

Another WPost article says that DeMint marks a new, sharper edge for the Heritage Foundation.

Here is some commentary by the WPost's Dana Milbank:
At first blush, there is something delightfully dada about Jim DeMint being named president of the Heritage Foundation.
The senator, a tea party hero from South Carolina, is a smart guy and a good politician. But running a think tank? It is the scholarly equivalent of appointing Michael Moore to head the Brookings Institution, or Ted Nugent to the Cato Institute, or Roseanne Barr to the Council on Foreign Relations, or perhaps Donald Trump to the American Enterprise Institute.
But think about it some more and the choice of DeMint begins to look brilliant. He is, arguably, the perfect candidate to run a post-thought think tank.
There is less thinking going on in much of the Washington think-tank world these days: Following the trend in politics generally, these idea factories have turned away from idea production in favor of promoting well-worn policy prescriptions. The task is less to come up with new solutions than to win the argument with epithets, labels and caricatures.
The trend goes beyond Heritage. The Family Research Council has joined the shift from wonks to gladiators. The liberal Center for American Progress was created as a conscious imitation of Heritage — more political and aggressive, less bookish. Indeed, researchers there have done extensive opposition research into . . . Jim DeMint.
Now Heritage appears ready to shed that veneer and dedicate itself to ideological and partisan warfare. And there’s no better warrior than Jim DeMint.

Here is the WPost's Ezra Klein on DeMint and the "death of think tanks."

People for the American Way (PFAW) blasted the Heritage Foundation for picking DeMint.

The American Conservative Union (ACU) said it looks forward to continuing to work with DeMint at Heritage.

This week, Heritage also had a shake-up in its foreign policy team.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cool Think Tank Event of the Week: Beer

The New America Foundation (NAF) will be hosting an event on December 12 titled "Big Beer Blitzes America: Is Anheuser-Busch Too Powerful?"

Following are more details:
Two companies – Anheuser-Busch Inbev and MillerCoors – together control 90 percent of the U.S. beer market. And they still seek more — Anheuser-Busch now wants to buy out all of Mexico’s Grupo Modelo, the maker of Corona.

The effects of this consolidated power are clear. Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors are using their control to squeeze independent beer distributors and marginalize craft beer makers, hurting both America’s drinkers and brewers. Worse, the assault on distributors threatens to break down America’s system of local alcohol control, established at the end of Prohibition to safeguard social order and promote the health of consumers.

Join the New America Foundation for a conversation on how citizens should structure a modern market for beer, wine and alcohol that balances the interests of society, responsible drinkers, brewers and distillers. The discussion will draw on a new report by the New America Foundation’s Markets, Enterprise, and Resiliency Initiative that looks at the history of the U.S. beer market, a new report by the American Antitrust Institute on Anheuser-Busch’s proposed takeover of Grupo Modelo, and a new article in the Washington Monthly on the growing alcoholism in Britain.

Panel 1: The Market and Choice - Is Consolidation A Threat to the Consumer?
Sam Calagione
Founder and President, Dogfish Head Brewery

Steve Higginbotham
Director, Wholesale Beer Distributors of Arkansas

Sandeep Vaheesan
Special Counsel, American Antitrust Institute

Panel 2: The Market and the Community - Is Consolidation A Threat to Social Welfare?

Tim Heffernan
Author, “Last Call: Industry Giants Threaten to Remake America in
the Image of Booze-Soaked Britain” (November/December Issue of Washington Monthly)

Jerry Oliver
Former Chief of Police, Detroit
Former Director of the Department of Liquor License and Control, Arizona

Rev. Cynthia Abrams
United Methodist General Board of Church and Society

Paul Glastris
Editor-in-Chief, Washington Monthly

Barry C. Lynn
Director, Markets, Enterprise, and Resiliency Initiative, New America Foundation

Think Tank Quickies #28

  • CNAS responds to the Kagans' Afghan troop recommendations.
  • CSIS establishes new Schlesinger Chair for Energy and Geopolitics, to be chaired by Frank Verrastro.
  • Muckety: Think tanks we'd like to see in 2013. 
  • BPC's guide to the debt limit. 
  • Denise Grant of Russell Reynolds Associates recruited Rep. Jane Harman to head Wilson Center. 
  • Murray Weidenbaum radio interview: Do think tanks really think?

CAP Releases Deficit Reduction Plan

  The liberal-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP), which has close ties to the Obama Administration, released a deficit-reduction proposal yesterday.

The 28-page report can be found here.  The introduction and summary can be found here.

Here is how the Wall Street Journal describes the plan:
The liberal-leaning Center for American Progress on Tuesday proposed a deficit-reduction package that calls for raising tax rates on higher earners, suggesting that the Obama administration in some cases should try to tax the wealthy even more.
The plan, by a group that includes former Clinton administration and Obama officials, called for returning the top individual rate to 39.6%–the same top rate being pushed by the White House. The think tank also proposed taxing dividends as ordinary income, matching a White House proposal for ending the current 15% preferential rate. On Capitol Hill, many Democrats are uncomfortable with that approach, which would result in a near-tripling of dividend tax rates for the highest earners.
In two key areas the group went beyond the Obama administration, calling for higher capital gains and estate taxes than what the White House has proposed. On capital gains, the Center for American Progress proposed a 28% rate, the amount that some liberals believe is the amount that would generate the most revenue for the U.S. Treasury.
Slate has a good summary of the report.  Here is what The Hill says.

Authors of the proposal include:
  • Roger Altman
  • William Daley
  • John Podesta
  • Robert Rubin
  • Leslie Samuels
  • Lawrence Summers
  • Neera Tanden
  • Antonia Weiss
Here is Reuters analysis of the proposal:
It is unclear what sort of impact the proposal will have on the tense negotiations. It is certain to fall flat with Republicans, who have called Obama's first offer an insult.