Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Great Think Tank Bubble?

Ken Silverstein, Fellow at the the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and a contributing editor to Harper's, just wrote a piece for the New Republic on the fact that "think tank salaries are looking more and more like lobbyist salaries."

Here are some of my favorite lines:
  • Think-tanking and lobbying have come to look more and more alike. Just like lobbyists, think tanks can frame policy debates and generate political pressure—for the right price.
  • Outgoing Heritage president Ed Fuelner received nearly $1.2 million in 2011, according to the group’s tax filing. If DeMint gets the same compensation—and one expects he’ll get more—it would amount to a raise of about 700 percent from his $174,000 annual take as a senator.
  • In addition to Feulner, at least 19 other officials [at Heritage] cleared $200,000, including former attorney general Ed Meese ($420,000), former congressman Ernest Istook ($303,000), and former labor secretary Elaine Chao ($290,000).
  • AEI’s 2011 tax filing shows Dick Cheney received $210,000 for toiling an average of one hour per week as a board trustee.  Poor John Bolton, a senior fellow, took in roughly the same as Cheney even though those same tax documents say he spends 60 hours per week on AEI work.
  • There are plenty of well-respected scholars at prominent Beltway think-tank positions. But supporting such large organizations requires the same ceaseless fundraising that politicians conduct when running for reelection—and the same sort of ignoble temptations.
  • Nowadays if donors don’t like the results they get, they are increasingly inclined to move their money to more compliant think tanks, or to more expressly political operations. “Think tanks are competing with consulting firms, law firms, Super PACS, lobbyists and advocacy groups,” says James McGann, director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. “That puts pressure on think tanks to be more responsive to donors.” The new buzz term among private and public donors is “high impact philanthropy,” McCann says.
  • “Think tanks have become more like PR and lobbying shops than research organizations,” says Steve Clemons, a former executive vice president at the New America Foundation. “That they’re lesser regulated than lobbyists makes them especially attractive to some funders.”

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on think tank salaries, which will be updated soon.