Sen. Elizabeth Warren today takes her ongoing crusade against the outsized influence of the financial services industry to one of Washington's most respected think tanks. The Massachusetts Democrat is questioning the independence of the Brookings Institution and one of its longtime scholars over a study that criticizes a proposed regulation aimed at reining in conflicts of interest among retirement advisors.
Post reporter Tom Hamburger obtained letters that Warren sent this week to Brookings and the Labor Department. The Massachusetts Democrat blasts a report by non-resident scholar, Robert Litan, which predicted high costs for a measure backed strongly by progressives, consumer groups and President Obama.
Citing the $85,000 combined fee that Litan and a co-author received from the leading investment firm, Warren calls their report "highly compensated and editorially compromised work on behalf of an industry player seeking a specific conclusion."
Litan, who held senior positions in Bill Clinton's administration, confirmed that the outline for his study was reviewed by its sole sponsor, The Capital Group, which offered some comments. The investment firm has more than $1.4 trillion under management in its American Funds and other products. The company, like others handling retirement investment assets, has made opposition to Labor's rule one of its top priorities.
The scholar forcefully rejects Warren's criticism, arguing that he disclosed the funding arrangement repeatedly, including in July testimony before a congressional committee on which Warren sits. He stressed that the funding did not influence hid study or its conclusions.
But Litan acknowledges one mistake: His testimony overlooked a relatively new Brookings rule prohibiting non-resident scholars - who are generally not paid by the institution - from associating their congressional testimony with the think tank.
Sen. Warren is now demanding more information from Brookings, including information about the think tank's rules for scholarship and congressional testimony.
This news comes as Brookings has faced increased questions about donor impact on its research.
Here is additional reporting on the Brookings-Warren sparring from the Boston Globe. It notes that a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Litan's research on the Brookings website has a disclaimer about the funding by Capital Group.
It Sen. Warren getting revenge on Brookings for slamming her student loan proposal in 2013?
Think Tank Watch should note that this is not the first time that Sen. Warren has lashed out at think tanks. Back in 2013, she sent a letter to the US's six largest banks asking them to disclose their donations to think tanks, saying that not doing so threatens the credibility and research of those policy groups.
We should also note that Sen. Warren seems to be taking a liking to none another than the libertarian think tank Cato Institute these days. She has been quoting Cato and went to the think tank this month to participate in a panel discussion. Is she angling for a post-Senate job in think tank land?
Stay tuned for more on the Warren-Brookings fight...