Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: Do Think Tanks Matter?


Anyone who wants to understand the differences between Canadian and US think tanks needs to read Do Think Tanks Matter? by Donald E. Abelson.

On US vs. Canadian think tanks:
In size and resources, the majority of think tanks in the United States resemble those in Canada...A typical think tank in Canada and the US has approximately a dozen staff and a budget between $1 and $2 million.
On the proliferation of think tanks in the US:
Few other countries provide an environment more conducive to the development of think tanks [than the US.]  With a government based on separate branches sharing power, a party system in which members of Congress are free to vote as they wish, and a gorwing number of presidential candidates trying to develop new ideas, think tanks have multiple opportunities to shape public opinion and public policy.
On professors vs. think tankers:
Unlike most university professors, who have little incentive to produce timely and policy-relevant research, scholars at think tanks are more sensitive to the policy needs of officeholders.  Put simply, they can provide decision-makers with what they need - clear and concise summaries of the costs and benefits associated with particular policy proposals.
On think tank power:
It should not be assumed that the most visible think tanks are necessarily the most influential or credible institutes in the policy-making process.
On ranking think tanks:
It is virtually impossible to assign a numerical value to the amount of influence think tanks yield.
Besides discussions about US and Canadian think tanks, the book also has tons of useful charts, (particularly those relating  various think tanks citations in the media), think tank profiles, and budget tables comparing different think tanks.

Abelson is a professor and chair of political science, and director of the Canada-US Institute, and director of Centre for American Studies at The University of Western Ontario.

Think Tank Watch will shortly be reviewing Think Tanks, Public Policy, and the Politics of Expertise by Andrew Rich.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Which Think Tanks Do Billionaires Favor?

Laurie Bennett, co-founder of Muckety, points this out in a recent recent Forbes article:
Members of the Forbes 400 have poured millions of dollars into research organizations that fit their social, political and/or business concerns.
Following is a list of billionaires and the think tanks that they fund (via their foundations) that she has at the end of the article:


                                                                          ******

Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty

Richard M. DeVosRichard & Helen DeVos Foundation

Charles G. KochCharles G. Koch Charitable Foundation

American Enterprise Institute

Philip F. AnschutzAnschutz Foundation

George L. ArgyrosArgyros Foundation

Richard M. DeVosRichard & Helen DeVos Foundation

Charles G. KochCharles G. Koch Charitable Foundation

Bruce KovnerKovner Foundation

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

American Foreign Policy Council

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Aspen Institute

Steve CaseStephen Case Foundation

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Leonard A. LauderLeonard and Evelyn Lauder Foundation

Atlantic Council of the United States

George SorosOpen Society Foundations

Ted TurnerBetter World Fund

Brookings Institution

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Kirk KerkorianLincy Foundation

Haim SabanSaban Family Foundation

James H. SimonsSimons Foundation

Alice L. WaltonWalton Family Foundation

Jim C. WaltonWalton Family Foundation

S. Robson WaltonWalton Family Foundation

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

George SorosOpen Society Foundations

Carter Center

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

William Barron HiltonConrad N. Hilton Foundation

Cato Institute

Philip F. AnschutzAnschutz Foundation

Charles G. KochCharles G. Koch Charitable Foundation

Bernard MarcusMarcus Foundation

W.A. Moncrief Jr.Wm. A. and Elizabeth B. Moncrief Foundation

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

George SorosOpen Society Foundations

Center for American Progress

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Kirk KerkorianLincy Foundation

Gordon E. MooreGordon and Betty Moore Foundation

George SorosOpen Society Foundations

Steven SpielbergWunderkinder Foundation

Center for Economic and Policy Research

George SorosOpen Society Foundations

Center for Global Development

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Center for International Policy

George SorosOpen Society Foundations

Center for Security Policy

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Center for Strategic and International Studies

Richard Mellon ScaifeAllegheny Foundation

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

George SorosOpen Society Foundations

Commonwealth Foundation

Charles G. KochCharles G. Koch Charitable Foundation


Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Competitive Enterprise Institute

Charles G. KochCharles G. Koch Charitable Foundation


Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Council on Foreign Relations

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Henry R. KravisMarie-Josee and Henry R. Kravis Foundation

Leonard A. LauderLeonard and Evelyn Lauder Foundation

Economic Policy Institute

George SorosOpen Society Foundations

Foreign Policy Research Institute

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Foundation for the Defense of Democracies

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Free Congress Foundation

Richard Mellon ScaifeCarthage Foundation

Freedom House

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

George C. Marshall Institute

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Heritage Foundation

Richard M. DeVosRichard & Helen DeVos Foundation

Charles G. KochCharles G. Koch Charitable Foundation

Bernard MarcusMarcus Foundation

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Richard Mellon ScaifeAllegheny Foundation

Hoover Institution

Charles B. JohnsonCharles and Ann Johnson Foundation

Alice L. WaltonWalton Family Foundation

Jim C. WaltonWalton Family Foundation

S. Robson WaltonWalton Family Foundation

Hudson Institute

Israel A. EnglanderEnglander Foundation

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Henry R. KravisMarie-Josee and Henry R. Kravis Foundation

Bernard MarcusMarcus Foundation

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Human Rights Watch

George SorosOpen Society Foundations

George SorosSoros Fund Charitable Foundation

Steven SpielbergWunderkinder Foundation

David A. TepperDavid Tepper Charitable Foundation

Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Jamestown Foundation

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Richard M. DeVosRichard & Helen DeVos Foundation

Charles G. KochCharles G. Koch Charitable Foundation

Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

Philip F. AnschutzAnschutz Foundation

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Alice L. WaltonWalton Family Foundation

Jim C. WaltonWalton Family Foundation

S. Robson WaltonWalton Family Foundation

Mercatus Center

Philip F. AnschutzAnschutz Foundation

Charles B. JohnsonCharles and Ann Johnson Foundation

Charles G. KochCharles G. Koch Charitable Foundation

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

New America Foundation

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Open Society Foundations

Pierre M. OmidyarOmidyar Network

George Soros

Pacific Council on International Policy

George L. ArgyrosArgyros Foundation

Public Policy Institute of California

Donald BrenDonald Bren Foundation

Reason Foundation

Richard Mellon ScaifeSarah Scaife Foundation

Alice L. WaltonWalton Family Foundation

Jim C. WaltonWalton Family Foundation

S. Robson WaltonWalton Family Foundation

SRI International

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Stimson Center

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Urban Institute

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

World Resources Institute

William H. Gates IIIBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

George SorosOpen Society Foundations

The article also notes that billionaire's sometimes start their own think tanks, such as investor Nicolas Berggruen.  He founded a think tank called the Nicolas Berggruen Institute (NBI), which explores ideas of good governance.

Other billionaires, such as Warren Buffett, are members of prominent think tanks.  Buffett is a Life Trustee of the Urban Institute.

Update: A variety of other billionaires who give to think tanks are not on this list, including Tom Steyer, who, among other things, is a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for American Progress (CAP).  He is also on the Advisory Council of The Hamilton Project, an initiative of the Brookings Institution.

Think Tank Quickies #2

  • Prince Harry to visit Atlantic Council in Washington, DC May 7. 
  • Marco Rubio to deliver major foreign policy speech at Brookings.
  • Truman National Security Project unveils a campaign strategy for Democrats.  That strategy guide, titled the Truman Security Briefing Book, can be found here.
  • An attack on the Truman National Security Project.
  • Was Google Ideas involved in "regime change" in the Middle East?

Think Tanks Feature Prominently in Wikileaks

Many Washington think tanks are mentioned in various US cables that were leaked to the public by Wikileaks.  You can do you own search here.  Following are some interesting cables that mention specific think tanks:
  • A cable from Embassy Kabul (Afghanistan) says that former Finance Minister and presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani suggested establishing bi-weekly teleconferences with think tanks in the US, such as Atlantic Council (ACUS), Brookings, CSIS, USIP, and CNAS.
  • One cable outlines an Iran Intelligence Ministry's release of a "soft enemy" list, a list of about 60 organizations that they think are seeking to overthrow the Iranian regime.  Many think tanks are on the list, including: Wilson Center, Hoover Institute, WINEP, Aspen Institute, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), New America Foundation (NAF), Meridian International Center, German Marshall Fund (GMF), Brookings, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE).
  • This cable discusses a June 4, 2009 event hosted by the Brookings Doha Center just after President Obama's "Speech to the Muslim world."  It notes how the Brookings event "amplified" the President's speech and that it was the most well-attended event in the Center's two-year history. 
  • This cable talks about the US-Qatar relationship and says that Qatar's leaders have invested a major portion of their wealth in the education of their citizens, and have turned decisively to the US for help.  It notes how Qatar has so far imported branch campuses of six US universities, and that Brookings and RAND Corporation have also opened up offices in Qatar "at the Qataris request."
  • This cable talks about how a US Ambassador met with Riad Khawaji, Founder and CEO of the Dubai-based defense think tank the Institute for Near East and Military Affairs (INEGMA).  It notes how INEGMA was planning to hold Track II talks on Iran, and the US Ambassador urged him to invite think tanks such as Brookings and USIP, among others.
  • This cable talks about a November 2009 conference being hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Indonesia) and notes how it is extremely important that the US government attends in order to "convey US policy to key regional players and to demonstrate the depth of US engagement in Asia."

Monday, April 23, 2012

The World's Largest Think Tank: The World Bank?

Is the World Bank the world's largest think tank?  With a staff over more than 10,000, a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, and a network PhDs and other sharp minds in 125 countries, it has a good start.

This Ohio State University thesis paper tries to answer this exact question:
James McGann, Director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, defines think tanks as “public policy research, analysis, and engagement institutions.” Until recently, McGann did not consider the World Bank a think tank because of its relationship with rich governments. In 2009, McGann ranked the World Bank Institute, a division within the Bank, among the top think tanks worldwide. McGann does not consider other research branches of the World Bank think tanks. However, the Development Economics Vice Presidency, known as DEC, is the central research arm of the Bank and exemplifies all think tank characteristics.
Overall, after analyzing the different departments within the Bank and their research, it is evident that the World Bank goes beyond McGann’s definition. Last year the Bank spent $750 million on “knowledge,” or research, and in 2009 it was top-ranked among research institutions on development. The World Bank’s budget for research has declined significantly since a 2006 evaluation report, which ironically recommended just the opposite. Nations and donors should recognize the need for the World Bank to sustain the research budget in order to support the work and knowledge produced by DEC and the other research-intensive departments. This will continue the Bank’s role as a super think tank on global development and public policy advocacy.
Indeed, in the latest University of Pennsylvania think tank ratings, the World Bank Institute (WBI) is ranked as the #3 best government-affiliated think tank, behind Congressional Research Service (CRS) at #1 and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (GIISA) at #2.  WBI has about 200 staffers, or about the same size as many of the larger Washington think tanks.  A 2006 figure says that the DEC has 80 full-time staffers, 15 "other long-term researchers," and 30 support staff.

By comparison, the Commerce Department, which also has myriad economists but is not a think tank, has around 43,880 employees.  The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the top government-affiliated think tank, has a staff of around 675.

Many think tanks also attract former World Bank staffers.  Although I haven't done a full count yet, I know that myriad World Bankers reside at Brookings and the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE).

In addition, the World Bank does its own work with think tanks.  Recently, it has written about and sponsored several workshops and conferences related to think tanks in developing countries.

Explosion of Think Tank Partnerships

Collaboration among think tanks and with outside entities is nothing new, but a recent spate of partnership and collaboration announcements suggests that the pace is only quickening.  Following are a few examples:
  • The Heritage Foundation has teamed up with Breitbart News Network to bring the think tank's weekly Blogger's Briefing live on Brietbart TV.
  • Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy has announced that it will team up with Brazil's premier think tank Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) to "enhance research and academic relationships and to lay the foundation for long-term cooperation."
  • London-based Legatum Institute and Foreign Policy Magazine have teamed up to launch Democracy Lab, a website dedicated to covering political and economic transitions around the world.
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI), New American Foundaiton (NAF), and Center for a New American Security (CNAS) have teamed up to hold the "Election 2012: The National Security Agenda" event series.  The first event was held March 15, 2012.
  • Defending Defense is a joint effort by the Heritage Foundation, AEI, and the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) "to promote a sound understanding of the US defense budget..."
  • The Center for Social Cohesion is a joint project of the New American Foundation (NAF), Arizona State University, and Zócalo Public Square dedicated to "studying the forces that shape our sense of social unity."
  • The Hudson Institute has teamed up with the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) for a series of strategic dialogues, the first one taking place in May 2012.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Louisiana State University (LSU) have partnered to host an international speakers series, The CSIS-LSU Series on Disaster Management and Emergency Response.
  • CSIS has a partnership with Texas Christian University's (TCU) Schieffer School of Journalism.
  • CSIS has a partnership with Chevron Corporation to promote US leadership in international and economic community development.
  • New America Foundation (NAF) teamed up with Google, Skype and others to produce Measurement Lab, an open platform for researchers to collect and analyze data related to broadband performance.

But not all recent partnerships have been successful.  Several weeks ago, York University in Toronto, Canada decided not to accept tens of millions of dollars from Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research in Motion.  Balsillie's offer was linked to the school's close participation with his private think tank in Waterloo, Ontario, the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

UPI reports:
Hundreds of York professors and faculty rallied against the proposal, saying it would have eroded academic freedom by allowing the CIGI think tank to influence curriculum and the hiring of faculty...Last year, CIGI made a similar offer to the University of Ottawa, which also rejected it.
The AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, established in 1998, no longer exists.  Neither does the joint AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project.  The Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center, however, still appears to be going strong.  So does the Carter Center, which still has its longstanding relationship with Emory University.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hillary Clinton's Think Tank Beefing Up

The Office of Policy and Planning is the State Department's internal think tank.  Here is a description of the staff:
The Policy Planning Staff is typically a mix of career government officials and outside experts who bring differing perspectives and bases of experience to the conduct of U.S. diplomacy.  Recently, the staff has included Foreign Service Officers, academics from universities and think tanks, intelligence analysts, former congressional staffers, an emergency room physician, a retired military officer, a business consultant, an arms control expert, and an economist. The staff is responsible for covering the full range of foreign policy issues facing the United States, although staff members exercise discretion and judgement in identifying the areas they focus on.
The new Foreign Affairs Policy Board, launched in December 2011 to provide the Secretary of State, the Deputy Secretaries of State, and others with "independent, informed advice" on foreign policy matters, is led by the Policy Planning Staff.  A list of members can be found here.  It is chaired by Brookings President Strobe Talbott and includes at least three other current or former think tank heads:

  • Jane Harman, President & CEO of the Wilson Center
  • John Podesta, Chairman and former President of Center for American Progress (CAP)
  • Ellen Laipson, President & CEO of the Stimson Center

The Director of the Policy Planning Staff is Jake Sullivan, who has deep connections to the think tank world.  Mr. Sullivan served in various research posts for Leslie Gelb during Gelb's tenure as President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and for Strobe Talbott during Talbott's time at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.  Talbott now heads up the Brookings Institution.

Jared Cohen, the Director of Google Ideas, used to work for the State Department's Policy and Planning Staff in both the Bush and Obama Administration.  Here is a good FP interview with him.

As a side note, some call the Center for American Progress (CAP) "the official Hillary Clinton think tank."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Only One Thinker Tanker Makes Time 100

Time magazine's just released the 2012 Time 100, a list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

How influential or think tankers this year?  Well, only one think tanker, Walter Isaacson, made the list.  Isaacson, President & CEO of the Aspen Institute, made the list because of his biography on Steve Jobs, not because of his think tank connection.  AEI scholar Charles Murray was up for consideration but did not make this year's cut.

Also, Spanish chef José Andrés made the list.  His ThinkFoodGroup has a "think tank" called ThinkFoodTank which is described like this:
ThinkFoodTank conducts research and development efforts with a highly talented group of chefs and Food & Beverage professionals focused on new products, culinary concepts, education and training, and philanthropic work.
Foreign Policy magazine, which the Washington Post purchased from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) in 2008, has its own list called Top 100 Global Thinkers, the most recent one which was released in December 2011.  That list is much more DC-centric and includes several think tankers, including:

  • Lester Brown, Founder & President of the Earth Policy Institute & Founder of Worldwatch Institute
  • Tyler Cowen, General Director of the Mercatus Center; Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute
  • Arvind Subramanian, Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) and CGD
  • Nancy Birdsall, President of the Center for Global Development (CGD) & PIIE Ex-Officio
  • Carmen Reinhart, Senior Fellow at PIIE
  • Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas & Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  • Joseph Nye, Trustee at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)

Vanity Fair's Next Establishment list has two think tankers on the most recent list (if you include the State Department's internal think tank).
  •  Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas & Adjunct Senior Fellow at CFR
  • Jake Sullivan, Director of the State Department's Policy & Planning Staff (i.e., the State Department's think tank) 
But no think tankers made Vanity Fair's most recent New Establishment list.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book Review: The Competition of Ideas

Anyone who wants to explore the world of Washington think tanks should read Murray Weidenbaum's The Competition of Ideas: The World of Washington Think Tanks, a concise, 118-page book which focuses on the so-called "DC-5," the top five "large and diversified" Washington-based think tanks: AEI, Brookings, Cato, CSIS, and Heritage.

Here is one quote from the introduction:
...No think tank is quite as influential as it claims to be, especially in its messages to its financial supporters.  Not every think tank researcher is brilliant or a person of great experience and judgment.  Nor is every think tank report lucid or even relevant to the needs of the time.  Far more often than not, there is a great deal of disagreement among think tanks and, at times, on the part of the staff members within an individual "tank."
Here is a quote from the book on the limitations of think tanks:
 ...No one think tank commands true expertise across the wide spectrum of policy issues that face the society.  The Department of Commerce, in comparison, employes many more economists and statisticians than all of the Washington area think tanks combined.
At the end of the book, it is predicted that the Aspen Institute could eventually be a part of the "DC-6," due in part to its large endowment and the current inflow of new revenue.

The author, Murray Weidenbaum, has been a visiting scholar at AEI and CSIS. He has also been a speaker at and written publications for Brookings, Cato, and Heritage.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Think Tank Quickies #1

  • Billionaire Koch brothers file second lawsuit against Cato.
  • Niels Veldhuis becomes president of Canada's #1 think tank, Fraser Institute.
  • On think tank fundraising in India.
  • Brookings & CEIP quietly setting up shop in India?
  • On the defense industry's "favorite" think tank.
  • US & China think tanks conducting "secret" cyber war games.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Think Tank Finances

What are the revenues and net assets of the larger, more popular think tanks?  I've compiled a list here, ordered by highest revenue to lowest revenue. The figures are the latest that are publicly available, and all are from 2009-2011.  Many of the figures have been rounded.

I've also listed how many employees (and volunteers, if any) each think tanks has, based on the most recently available public records.

  • Rand Corp.: Revenue = $261.9 million ($250.1 million = prior year revenue); $179.4 million net assets; 2051 employees; 11 volunteers
  • Heritage: Revenue= $78.2 million ($69.2 million); $164.8 million net assets; 530 employees; 231 volunteers
  • Aspen Institute: Revenue = $69 million ($66.5 million); 160.2 million net assets; 285 employees; 40 volunteers
  • Brookings: Revenue = $67 million ($75.2 million); $299.3 million net assets; 545 employees
  • Urban Institute: Revenue = $64.3 million ($62.7 million); $105 million net assets; 404 employees
  • CFR: Revenue =  $42.7 million ($28.7 million); $317.8 net assets; 317 employees
  • Cato: Revenue = $40.4 million ($31.5 million); $51.9 million net assets; 200 employees
  • CSIS: Revenue = $39.1 million ($29.3 million); $55.3 million net assets; 259 employees
  • CAP: Revenue = $36.7 million ($38.6 million); $36.6 million net assets; 325 employees
  • NBER: Revenue = $32.3 million ($25.7 million); $79.7 million net assets; 679 employees
  • GMF: Revenue = $23.5 million ($12.9 million); $185.8 million net assets; 84 employees
  • BPC: Revenue = $21.7 million ($24 million); $21.2 million net assets; 64 employees
  • CEIP: Revenue = $20.9 million ($16.5 million); $252.6 million net assets; 124 employees
  • Wilson Center: Revenue = $16.4 million ($9.5 million); $103.8 million net assets; 152 employees
  • NAF: Revenue = $15.8 million ($15.6 million); $15.8 million net assets; 144 employees; 44 volunteers
  • AEI: Revenue = $13.1 million ($52.5 million); $135.5 million net assets; 111 volunteers (I assume that that this means 111 employees, not volunteers)
  • Hudson: Revenue = $9.8 million ($12.4 million); $14.6 million net assets; 79 employees; 200 volunteers (Interesting how there were so many volunteers listed...)
  • PIIE: Revenue = $9.6 million ($13.8 million); $68.7 million net assets; 62 employees
  • ACUS: Revenue = $7.9 million ($6.5 million); $5.3 million net assets; 46 employees; 25 volunteers
  • Third Way: Revenue = $7.7 million ($8.3 million); $13.9 million net assets; 60 employees; 2 volunteers
  • EPI: Revenue = $6.5 million ($7.8 million); $5.8 million net assets; 59 employees
  • Stimson: Revenue = $6.1 million ($6.6 million); $1.9 million net assets; 56 employees; 58 volunteers
  • CNAS: Revenue = $4.3 million ($6.1 million); $1.4 million net assets; 63 employees; 15 volunteers
  • IPS: Revenue = $2.9 million ($3.6 million); $987,720 net assets; 46 employees; 56 volunteers
  • Lexington Institute: Revenue = $2.1 million ($2.4 million); $3.3 million net assets; 7 employees
  • CNP: Revenue = $2 million ($1.2 million); $1.5 million net assets; 11 employees

Think Tank Fact of the Day: Think Tank Names

  • Cato Institute is named after Cato's Letters, essays by British writers John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, first published in the early 1700s under the pseudonym of Cato (also known as Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, or Cato the Younger; 95-45 BC), the foe of Julius Caesar and a champion of republican principles.
  • Mercatus Center, another libertarian think tank, gets its name from the Latin Word meaning "markets."

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Lobbying Arm of Think Tanks

Here is a good article by First Street Research Group which explains the lobbying "arms," or lobbying "sisters," of think tanks:
While think tanks are usually 501(c)(3) nonprofits, advocacy groups operate as 501(c)(4) organizations.
Few think tanks register as lobbying groups.  But in recent years, some think tanks have affiliated with advocacy groups, typically described as “sister organizations.”
We checked tax returns and other data for the top 50 U.S. think tanks, as identified in the recent study by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania.
We found four think tanks linked to advocacy groups:
  • Heritage Foundation: Heritage Action for America
  • Center for American Progress: Center for American Progress Action Fund
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute: Freedom Action
  • Open Society Foundations: Open Society Policy Center
The rise of these sister organizations is an indication of the increasing politicization of think tanks, which were once regarded as independent idea labs.
(We should also note that there is no legal definition for a think tank. Groups are free to describe themselves as such while doing advocacy work.)
As former Treasury Department economist Bruce Bartlett warned in a 2010 column: “At least in Washington, think tanks are becoming so political that they are more like lobbyists than academic institutions.”
But the trend doesn’t apply to all research institutes.
Old-school think tanks such as The Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations don’t have these affiliations. Think tanks that have launched spin-off groups, while claiming to be nonpartisan, have clear political bents.
In essence, Heritage is the most well-known Republican think tank with a lobbying arm, and CAP is the most well-known Democratic think tank with a lobbying arm.  Heritage is older, more well-known, and better funded than CAP.  Within the US government, Heritage has the most clout among conservative Members of Congress.  CAP, while smaller, has enormous influence within the Executive Branch of government, as dozens of CAP-affiliates have gone into the Obama Administration or have advised the Administration.

Fun fact: Based on Google Maps, CAP is a 7-minute walk to the White House and a 39-minute walk to the US Capitol Building.  Heritage is an 11-minute walk to the US Capitol Building and a 34-minute walk to the White House.

Here is an article written in 2010 by Ed Feulner (President & Co-Founder of the Heritage Foundation) and Michael Needham (CEO of Heritage Action for America) titled "New Fangs for the Conservative 'Beast'" which discusses the Heritage Foundation's new advocacy organization Heritage Action for America.

Gingrich's Think Tank Collapses

The health care think tank that Newt Gingrich started nearly a decade ago, The Center for Health Transformation, has filed for bankruptcy.
The Center for Health Transformation had promoted private-sector solutions to America’s skyrocketing health-care costs. It also became a source of significant for Gingrich and his wife, Callista. The Washington Post reported that the center took in $37 million in donations, primarily from big pharmaceutical and health-care corporations, in its eight years in business.
The center had advertised Gingrich as its primary asset, and dues-paying companies such as Astra Zeneca and Blue Cross Blue Shield were offered direct access to the former House speaker and his strategic advice. But when Gingrich announced his plans to run for president last summer, he sold his ownership interest in the group and had to give up his role as chief fundraiser for the center.
Several years ago, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) started his own think tank called The National Council for New America.  Here are the members of that think tank, which has been "in a suspended state" since 2010.

In related think tank/policymaker news, former President of the European Central Bank (ECB) Jean-Claude Trichet has been appointed the head of Bruegel, a Belgium-based organization that is considered the #9 best non-US think tank in the world.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What is the Most Influential Think Tank Document Ever Created?

In recent times, the most influential paper/report would probably be the Center for American Progress's (CAPs) "Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President."

The 600-page paper (which has been published into a book) was reportedly modeled on the 1,000-page book written by the Heritage Foundation in 1981.  That book, titled Mandate for Leadership, became the blueprint for the incoming administration of Ronald Reagan.
The book was placed on the seat of all the Reagan Cabinet officials at their first meeting, making about 2,000 recommendations for how Reagan should govern. Lee Edwards, a Heritage historian, estimates that about 60% of its ideas were adopted in whole or in part by Reagan.
Many of the ideas in the CAP document, which was released eight days after the November 4, 2008 elections, have been used by the Obama Administration.  The blueprint was written by about 60 people who were commissioned by CAP.

CAP is currently ranked the #11 best think tank in the US.  Here and here and here are more about CAP's influence in liberal politics.

Another extremely influential think tank document, mainly for the Clinton Administration, was Progressive Policy Institute's (PPI) 388-page book Mandate for Change.  PPI was the "idea arm" of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which has since folded.  Bill Clinton was DLC's chairman from 1990-1991.

If libertarianism becomes more popular, as polls are suggesting, the Cato Handbook for Policymakers, a 600+ page guide, likely will become more influential.  This is how the Washington Post had described the handbook:
A soup-to-nuts agenda to reduce spending, kill programs, terminate whole agencies and dramatically restrict the power of the federal government.

On the Lexington Institute & Insider Information

Many think tankers, including the heads of think tanks, are involved in various non-think tank projects such as running or consulting for businesses.

Here is an interesting article from Politico about Loren Thompson, COO of the Virginia-based think tank Lexington Institute, and his non-think tank job:
The 501(c)(3) Lexington Institute doesn’t disclose its donors. But Thompson said it receives contributions from defense giants Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and others, which pay Lexington to “comment on defense.”  The institute brought in $2.4 million in 2009, according to its financial statements.
 Thompson also heads the for-profit defense consulting firm Source Associates, which he said offers “proprietary insights and intelligence.”  A Harper’s Magazine story last April took Thompson to task for promoting his private defense clients in the public domain.
He’s long been on the side of Boeing, which is a client. And he’s dead-set against a win by EADS, which is not among Lexington’s benefactors.
In the first run at bidding for the tanker contract, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) unearthed e-mail between Thompson and an Air Force public affairs officer in which Thompson agreed to promote tanker modernization.

In the second go-round, after Boeing lost the competition, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) and other House appropriators publicly fumed that Thompson received information about the Air Force’s decision before they got it.
Here is a link to the Harper's Magazine story mentioned above (subscription needed) written by Ken Silverstein, that calls the Lexington Institute "the defense industry's pay-to-play ad agency."

Based on the latest available reports, Thompson is paid a base salary of $359,000 from Lexington Institute.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Explosion of Libertarian Think Tanks?

The newest libertarian "think tank," as just reported by the New Zealand Herald:
[New Zealand's] newest libertarian think tank, the New Zealand Initiative, has been launched in Wellington, merging the New Zealand Business Roundtable and the New Zealand Institute into a new body to lobby for pro-market economic and social policies.
Leading the new organisation will be German-born economist Oliver Hartwich, a research fellow at the Australian Centre for Independent Studies, a Roundtable-equivalent organisation that at one stage had operations in New Zealand.
Although this New Zealand "think tank" appears to be more of a trade association, it seems that bloated budgets around the world, coupled with groups such as the Tea Party, have helped create a renaissance in libertarian thinking and think tanks.

You can go here to view and compare various libertarian think tanks.  Wikipedia has a more comprehensive list.

As was mentioned earlier on Think Tank Watch, the king of libertarian think tanks, Cato Institute, has been thrust into the spotlight (audio) as the billionaire Koch brothers try to take over the think tank.

The audio, by Peter Overby of NPR, includes an interview with Matt Welch, Editor in Chief of the libertarian magazine Reason.  Mr. Welch says that the current Cato/Koch court battle probably will continue "for the next year or two" and that we likely will see "a different Cato" once all is said and done.

Another Koch-funded think tank is the under-the-radar Mercatus Center at George Mason University located in Arlington, Virginia.  This Wall Street Journal article from July 16, 2004 says that the Mercatus Center is "the most important think tank you've never heard of."

Below is one map of the "Kochtopus," a map of the libertarian/corporate reach of the Koch brothers.  You can click on the map to get a bigger image.


A different Kochtopus map can be found here.

Another cool chart can be found here.

Profile of C. Fred Bergsten - PIIE Head

Here is an interesting profile of C. Fred Bergsten, Director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) written by Prakash Loungani, an Advisor in the IMF's Research Department, in a March 2012 IMF publication.
In 1981, he set up a think tank, the Institute for International Economics, with
the help of a substantial grant from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an American public policy institution.  Bergsten was no stranger to the world of think tanks: he had spent his years between government service at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution.
The institute—since renamed the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), partly in recognition of the financial support of its founding chairman of the board, Peter G. Peterson—has been described by British journalist Martin Walker as “the most influential think tank on the planet.”
PIIE, which renamed itself October 24, 2006 in honor the the Founding Chairman of its Board of Directors, Peter G. Peterson, announced on the same day that it completed a "capital campaign" that raised $50 million for its Capital Fund.

On January 25, 2012, Bergsten announced that he will step down as Director of PIIE at the end of 2012.  PIIE's Board of Directors is expected to choose a replacement by the middle of 2012.  Dr. Bergsten will remain a senior fellow and director emeritus at PIIE.

Any guesses on who the next director of PIIE will be?  Based on the latest reports, Dr. Bergsten got paid a base salary of $252,035.

Update: On May 18, 2012, it was announced that Adam Posen will become PIIE's new president effective January 1, 2013.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Think Tank Junkets

Think tanks often take Members of Congress on trips to various exotic (and non-exotic) locations, but rules need to be followed.

Here is an amusing article describing a "payment issue" with Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), who attended an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) sponsored forum in Sea Island, Georgia in March 2012.
According to documents filed with the House clerk brought to our attention by LegiStorm founder Jock Friedly, Scott brought along his mother and Zee Patel, a woman he identifies as a “friend,” for the three-day getaway. Patel is a general manager and buyer for the Bits for Lace lingerie store in Charleston, S.C, a boutique that identifies itself as a “bra-fit specialist.”
It’s against ethics rules for AEI to pay for Patel’s meals in addition to Scott’s and his mother’s — that’s a no-no, since the rules permit outside groups to pay travel expenses for members and their relatives, but not their pals.
A spokesman for Scott said the congressman had planned all along to personally reimburse AEI for the cost of Patel’s meals after the trip and is just waiting for an invoice from the think tank.
That AEI-sponsored trip was held at the 5-star hotel The Cloister at Sea Island.  Not bad.

Here is also a Federal Times article on lawmakers "taking advantage" of travel perks, with several mentions of the Heritage Foundation.

Find out which think tank-sponsored trips various Members of Congress and their staff are taking at LegiStorm.  Here are several things I found after searching around for think tanks trips from 2000 to present:
  • Aspen Institute: 1246 trips listed (418 approved by Republicans; 821 approved by Democrats; total cost of all trips: $7,440,733)
  • Heritage Foundation: 587 trips listed (577 Republican; 10 Democratic; total cost of all trips: $536,126)
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI): 66 trips listed (57 Republican; 6 Democrats; total cost of all trips: $173,168)
  • Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS): 51 trips listed (26 Republican, 25 Democratic; total cost of all trips: $203,431)
  • Atlantic Council of the United States (ACUS): 38 trips listed (22 Republicans, 16 Democratic; total cost of all trips: $83,422)
  • Brookings: 25 trips listed: (5 Republican; 20 Democratic; total spent: $142,132)
  • Council on Foreign Relations (CFR): 19 trips listed (8 Republican; 11 Democratic; total cost of all trips: $39,412)
  • Center for American Progress (CAP): 10 trips listed (1 Republican; 8 Democratic; total cost of all trips: $78,845)

Obviously, some think tanks are very active in sponsoring trips, and others are less so.  It is worth noting that some think tanks, such as CAP, are much newer than other think tanks (such as Heritage), and thus, they have had less time to sponsor events.

Roll Call notes that one of the most expensive per-person trip costs on record includes the $28,000 that AEI and the Vail Valley Foundation paid to send former Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), on a two-night trip to Beaver Creek, Colorado in 2005.

Update: Rep. Tim Scott reportedly has repaid AEI for the meals of the friend he bought with him to a conference AEI held in Georgia.