Tuesday, April 30, 2013

David Brooks: Think Tanks = Rapid Response Teams for Partisan Masters

David Brooks writes:
Look at most think tanks. They used to look like detached quasi universities; now some are more like rapid response teams for their partisan masters.
David Frum, in response, writes:
Why are think tanks tax exempt?  It's a good joke, but there's a serious question here: why are think tanks allowed to issue tax receipts if they function as, effectively, either communications operations of existing political parties or else outright lobbying & PR organizations?
It is certainly an interesting question.  Tevi Troy answers a part of the question in a National Affairs article titled "No More Thinking With Think Tanks."  Writes Troy:
Because think tanks are understood to offer important support to making good public policy, they are included among the charitable and public-service institutions exempted from income tax.
The question about tax-exempt institutions and their activities/influence goes back decades.

There are sometimes calls for changes to be made.  In 2009, J.H. Snider called for a strengthening of think tank accountability, and said, among other things, that IRS Form 990 (which think tanks must file with the IRS each year to retain their tax-exempt status) should require think tanks to disclose their donors.  This is not a new idea.

In 2003 then Cato President Ed Crane said that too many think tanks are taking openly partisan political stances that undermine their credibility and threaten the tax-exempt status of 501(c)3 policy research groups over the long-term.