Following are several interesting points from the article, which largely focused on the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP):
- The Center for American Progress, Washington’s leading liberal think tank, has been a big backer of the Energy Department’s $25 billion loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects. CAP has specifically praised First Solar, a firm that received $3.73 billion under the program, and its Antelope Valley project in California.
- Though the think tank didn’t disclose it, First Solar belonged to CAP’s Business Alliance, a secret group of corporate donors, according to internal lists obtained by The Nation.
- CAP doesn’t publicly disclose the members of its Business Alliance, but I obtained multiple internal lists from 2011 showing that dozens of major corporations had joined. The lists were prepared by Chris Belisle, who at the time served as the alliance’s senior manager after having been recruited from his prior position as manager of corporate relations at the US Chamber of Commerce. According to these lists, CAP’s donors included Comcast, Walmart, General Motors, Pacific Gas and Electric, General Electric, Boeing and Lockheed. Though it doesn’t appear on the lists, the University of Phoenix was also a donor.
- Nowadays, many Washington think tanks effectively serve as unregistered lobbyists for corporate donors, and companies strategically contribute to them just as they hire a PR or lobby shop or make campaign donations. And unlike lobbyists and elected officials, think tanks are not subject to financial disclosure requirements, so they reveal their donors only if they choose to.
- Most think tanks are nonprofit organizations, so a donor can even get a nice tax break for contributing. But it’s their reputation for impartiality and their web of contacts that makes them especially useful as policy advocates.
- CAP has emerged as perhaps the most influential of all think tanks during the Obama era, and there’s been a rapidly revolving door between it and the administration. CAP is also among the most secretive of all think tanks concerning its donors. Most major think tanks prepare an annual report containing at least some financial and donor information and make it available on their websites. According to CAP spokeswoman Andrea Purse, the center doesn’t even publish one.
- Several CAP insiders, who asked to speak off the record, told me that when Podesta left, there was a fear that contributions would dry up. Raising money had always been important, they said, but Tanden ratcheted up the efforts to openly court donors, which has impacted CAP’s work. Staffers were very clearly instructed to check with the think tank’s development team before writing anything that might upset contributors, I was told.
- Foreign governments and business entities can also join the Business Alliance, whose membership list includes the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office—which functions as Taiwan’s embassy in Washington and retains many lobbyists, including former Oklahoma Republican Senator Don Nickles and former Missouri Democratic Representative Richard Gephardt—and the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey (TUSKON).
Here is a link to an internal CAP document that The Nation obtained which discusses CAP's Business Alliance, including annual contribution levels for its members.
Center for American Progress (CAP) was recently ranked as the 30th best think tank in the world by the annual University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings. It was ranked as the 11th best think tank in the US. It was also ranked as the 2nd best think tank in the world in terms of best use of the Internet or social media.