Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thinks Tanks Have Deep Ties to Fortune 500 Companies

The University of California at Santa Cruz has put together a "Power Elite Database" showing the deep relationship between think tanks and corporations.  Here is an excerpt:
After the trustees of these 33 think tanks were added to the corporate network, we first looked at the relative centrality of Fortune-500 companies and think tanks in the combined database. (The six general business groups were excluded for the moment.) This analysis revealed that nine mainstream think tanks, such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Institute for International Economics, and combined think tanks/policy-discussion groups, such as the Atlantic Council and Council on Foreign Relations, were among the 15 most central organizations in the network, with the ultraconservative and liberal think tanks that remained in the database more peripheral. To make this point with one good comparison, 38.3% of the trustees of The Brookings Institution, a prestigious centrist think tank that goes back to the 1920s, are Fortune 500 directors, as compared to only 9.1% of the trustees for the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation, which was founded in the early 1970s and is not considered to be reputable by most mainstream scholars.

A map of the corporate world's connection to think tank's can be found here.

The think tanks with the deepest connections to the most powerful corporations were:
  1. Brookings Institution
  2. Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)
  3. Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE)
  4. Atlantic Council
  5. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  6. Aspen Institute
  7. American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
  8. RAND Corporation
  9. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Among other things, the study concludes that its findings "cast doubt on any claim that think tanks are a unique independent sector."  It adds: "The idea that think tanks have a considerable degree of independence becomes even more questionable when it is added that they receive a significant share of their funding from wealthy individual donors and various foundations.  The authors of the study say that think tanks can basically be characterized as "subsidiaries of the corporate community."

The study goes on to note that between 2003 and 2011, 1,260 foundations gave $1.9 billion via 10,549 individual grants to the 41 most prominent think tanks.  Moreover, the 25 largest foundations accounted for over 71% of the total donations.