Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New Think Tank Quickies (#245)

  • Think tankers partying at Georgetown rape house?  Topless models covered in body paint mingled with foreign policy experts...lots of cocaine...
  • Tech companies tap new talent from academia (and think tanks)?
  • Donna Harris, co-founder of start-up incubator 1776, suggests she may move to a think tank.
  • Max Abrahms: Media treats think tanks like they're objective information sources rather than advocacy centers funded by ideologues with specific agendas.
  • Max Fisher: Will Gulf states pull $$ out of think tanks and put it into Trump hotel suites?  "Cheaper way to buy influence as think tank reach declines."
  • Surprisingly high numbers of safe spaces and grief counselors at DC think tanks...
  • First-ever "black girls think tank."
  • Careers in think tanks by Minna Islama Horowitz.
  • Clinton think tank asks for cash by depicting itself as the progressive firewall to Trump (via David Sirota).
  • Doing data journalism as a think tank.
  • Alt-right "think tank" comes to Washington?

Trump's DOT Pick Elaine Chao Has Close Ties to Heritage Foundation

President-elect Donald Trump has selected Elaine Chao to be his Secretary for the Department of Transportation (DOT).  Chao, whose husband is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), was a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation from 2009 to June 2016 and has been a Distinguished Fellow at the Hudson Institute since June 2016.  Chao was also a Distinguished Fellow at Heritage from 1996 to 2000.

With the Heritage Foundation's close connections to Donald Trump, the Chao pick was by no means a surprise.

Paul Conway, a former Heritage staffer who is heading up the landing team at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for the Trump transition, was the chief of staff to Chao when she served as US Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush Administration.

Here is an interesting tidbit about Chao from WND:
When she [Elaine Chao] served the conservative Heritage Foundation as Asian studies adviser, a military analyst who sounded warnings about Chinese threats to U.S. security was shown the door, WND reported at the time. Chao served at Heritage beginning in 1996 before leaving to become Bush’s labor secretary in 2001. While at Heritage, the think tank opened an office in Hong Kong.
Some reports by the ousted Heritage analyst – 16-year veteran Richard Fisher Jr. – were footnoted in the declassified version of the bipartisan Cox Report, which documented Chinese espionage at U.S. defense labs, while warning of China’s goal of modernizing the People’s Liberation Army to project power past the mainland’s waters, targeting U.S. allies like Taiwan and even the U.S.
“Elaine Chao was part of the deal that got Rick Fisher fired from Heritage,” a congressional aide who worked with him on China matters told WND. “She pushed him out not because of free-trade issues, but because he raised national security concerns over China.”  A Heritage insider agreed: “She was not supportive of any of his writings on the Chinese military.”

A WND article from 2001 notes that one of Chao's "patrons" at the Heritage Foundation was former Chairman and CEO of American International Group (AIG) Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, then a "pro-China lobbyist."  Greenberg, protested about a Heritage paper by analyst Stephen Yates and threatened to cut off funding to the think tank.  After that threat, Heritage reportedly issued a new report (co-authored by Yates' replacement Larry Wortzel) that was beneficial to Greenberg.

With Chao's deep connections to Heritage, the Department of Transportation may be loaded up with people from that think tank.  When she was Labor Secretary, Chao hired former Heritage analyst Mark Wilson who wrote a paper in 1995 calling for closing the department and moving its key functions to other Cabinet agencies.

Citing her past writings at the Heritage Foundation, safety advocates are worried that Chao may roll back consumer protections put in place under the Obama Administration.

Here is the Heritage Foundation's statement on Mr. Trump's nomination of Elaine Chao.  Her past work at Heritage can be found here.

In other Trump-think tank news, here is a Think Tank Watch piece on speculation that the former head of the Cato Institute may get a top White House post in the Trump Administration.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Former Cato Head Met With Trump; May Get Top Econ Post

John Allison, the former head of the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, had a meeting with Donald Trump this week and it is rumored that he may get a top slot in a Trump Administration.  Here is more from the Wall Street Journal:
The 68-year-old North Carolina native [John Allison] met Monday with President-elect Donald Trump. In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Allison said he spent an hour to 90 minutes with Mr. Trump and others, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence and chief strategist Stephen Bannon.
Mr. Allison said they discussed the financial arena and the Federal Reserve. He added that the talks touched on “possibilities” for roles in the new administration, but he emphasized that nothing had been offered and he would have to know more about any potential role before deciding whether he could accept a position.
Until recently the CEO of libertarian think tank Cato Institute, Mr. Allison is a frequent quoter of Aristotle and a devoted fan of author Ayn Rand, who argued for minimal government and self-interest. As chief executive of BB&T Corp., he distributed copies of Ms. Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” to senior officers and influenced BB&T’s charitable arm to fund classes about the moral foundations of capitalism at a number of colleges.

Mr. Allison retired from Cato after just two and a half years as the think tank's head.  Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on how Mr. Allison came to power at Cato.

Other think tankers are reportedly being considered for top Cabinet posts in a Trump Administration, including Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) head Richard Haass and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) John Bolton who are both possible picks for Secretary of State.

Think Tank Quickies (#244)

  • Leaders of 17 think tanks around the world react to election of Donald Trump. 
  • Josh Boak: "Whoa.  Even think tanks are getting into the Cyber Monday action."
  • Chris Baker: If you start to search most think tanks in Google, the top suggested result is the think tank's name followed by "bias."
  • These professors (and think tankers?) make more than a thousand bucks an hour peddling mega-mergers. 
  • Think tank funded by Dick & Betsy DeVos: "Bring back child labor: Work is a gift our kids can handle"; Blake Hounshell says may come up at confirmation hearing.
  • Chicago Council partnered with Brookings and Atlantic Council to produce "Preserving Ukraine's Independence" report.
  • John Bolton of AEI and Richard Haass of CFR are potential Secretary of State picks under Trump. 
  • Burson-Marsteller and Bipartisan Policy Center host panel discussion focused on policing, race, and the media.
  • "Think tank" (British Influence) plans legal action to keep UK in EU single market. 
  • Foreign Policy Research Institute provided reports to the Washington Post on misinformation campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Monday, November 28, 2016

French Think Tank Hosts Trump's Son to Talk Syria

Donald Trump and his sons have been quietly embracing think tanks both in the US and overseas as they work to beef up their foreign and domestic policy credentials.  Here is the latest example from The Wall Street Journal:
Donald Trump’s eldest son, emerging as a potential envoy for the president-elect, held private discussions with diplomats, businessmen and politicians in Paris last month that focused in part on finding a way to cooperate with Russia to end the war in Syria, according to people who took part in the meetings.
Thirty people, including Donald Trump Jr., attended the Oct. 11 event at the Ritz Paris, which was hosted by a French think tank. The founder of the think tank, Fabien Baussart, and his wife, Randa Kassis, have worked closely with Russia to try to end the conflict.  Ms. Kassis, who was born in Syria, is a leader of a Syrian group endorsed by the Kremlin.
Mr. Baussart’s think tank, the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs, has hosted a number of current and former government officials and leaders of multilateral organizations, according to its website.
Those meetings have included Turkey’s former president, Abdullah Gul; former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; and James Rubin, a one-time State Department spokesman who advised Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Here is a link to the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs (CPFA), which is based in Paris, France.  Others who have attended the think tank's events in the past include Al Gore, Bob Woodward, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Donald Rumsfeld, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) President Richard Haass, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) President John Hamre, and Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott.

As Think Tank Watch noted last week, the lobbyist purge from Mr. Trump's transition team has allowed think tankers to gain a stronger foothold into the Trump team.

By the way, did anyone else notice that acronym for the think tank CPFA is an anagram of FCPA - the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (a US law against foreign bribery)?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Lobbyist Purge Allows Think Tanks to Dominate Trump Transition

The recent purge of registered lobbyist from Donald Trump's presidential transition team has created more work (and more influence) for think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation.  Here is more from Daily Mail:
The Trump transition team has lost nearly half its staff and volunteers in a matter of days since instituting a ban on registered lobbyists at the end of last week, the Daily Mail has learned.
...The sources estimated that the number of staffers and volunteers working on the transition plummeted from around 250 late last week to less than 125 on Tuesday.  The sudden purge of lobbyists has allowed conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) to take a stronger role in the transition.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on how the Heritage Foundation is vetting resumes for the Trump team.  Here is a piece on the fact that many think tankers are worried about the new Trump era.  And here is a piece about the new think tank landscape in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Heritage Vetting Resumes for Trump Team

Politico has just published a story on the Heritage Foundation's close connection to the Donald Trump team.  Here are some excerpts:

Three sources from different conservative groups said that Heritage employees have been soliciting, stockpiling and vetting résumés for months with an eye on stacking Trump’s administration with conservative appointees across the government. One source described the efforts as a “shadow transition team” and “an effort to have the right kind of people in there.”
...There’s no question that the organization is recognized, among other conservative movement leaders, as the entry point into the Trump transition team.
After Heritage Action, the foundation's political arm, offered a bruising assessment of Trump last November, Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint went on to meet with Trump during the campaign. Although there were certainly many tied to Heritage who preferred other candidates in the primary, the main organization largely steered clear of anti-Trump rhetoric throughout the rest of the election, instead assisting the candidate and his team with matters like determining potential Supreme Court justice nominees. That dynamic has helped pave the way for a relationship with an incoming administration that so heavily prizes loyalty.
Heritage, as a think tank, cannot engage in partisan campaign activity — it makes its research available to everyone, staffers stress — but that doesn’t mean its members can’t advise candidates on both political and policy matters.
It’s also unclear how much Trump, who maintains a very tight circle of trusted advisers — his family makes up a significant portion of that circle — can actually be influenced by outside forces. The Trump administration’s ultimate commitment to conservative approaches on a host of issues, including spending, is very much an open question.

Here is a new Think Tank Watch piece on the new think tank landscape in a Trump Administration.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Economist on "Worried Wonks" at Think Tanks in New Trump Era

The Economist magazine has a new piece entitled "Why Think Tanks Are Concerned About a Trump Administration."

Here are some excerpts:
All across the triangle from Dupont Circle to the White House and Capitol Hill, Washington, DC think-tank staff arrived at work on November 9th with bloodshot eyes. The news of a Russian-based internet attack on some of their colleagues in the Brookings Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations was some small consolation that they remained important and relevant to the Cosy Bear hacker group, at least. But the evidence closer to home was less reassuring. There are 397 think-tanks in the city, each incubating ideas for new policies and frequently incubating the policymakers themselves during periods out of power. In the run-up to a vote, they usually provide the fodder for candidate proposals as well as material to condemn ideas from the other side. But in this election, the system stuttered badly, and it has the wonks worried.
The election result was a shock for think-tank fellows because most are left-leaning. For all many think-tanks are meant to be non-partisan to preserve their tax status, their staff live in a liberal town and their fellows usually have post graduate degrees, which means they are part of a group that identifies Democratic 57% to 35%. 
But it is more than that: think-tank employees are part of the American political establishment, and the election season was a repudiation of establishment presidential candidates in the Republican primary as well as in the November general election. That was one reason (beyond the offensive absurdity of many of his statements) why Donald Trump was unpopular even amongst right-leaning policy shops. Danielle Pletka, the vice president of the American Enterprise Institute which is home to Lynne Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, called Mr Trump an idiot. 
The candidate felt no more respect for DC experts than they felt for him. Names of people working to advise Mr Trump on policy proved almost as elusive as the candidate’s tax returns. Numerous attempts by non-partisan think-tanks to engage were ignored or rebuffed by the campaign. Compare the Democratic presidential candidate: “Brookings” appears 1,469 times in the emails from Hillary Clinton’s account released by the State Department and 484 times in the emails from John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chair (and former think tank head) that were provided to Wikileaks. Three prominent think-tanks in the city are run by former Clinton staff members. Mrs Clinton's campaign had scores of policy groups, many with scores of members, many from the DC policy community: the campaign’s own best guess on the number of people working on foreign policy proposals alone during the primary was “several hundred.” 

The piece goes on to point out a very serious issue facing a number of think tanks in the new Trump era.  "...They are also worried about their own relevance: a think tanker's job is to influence policy.  What is policymakers don't want to be influenced?"

But the piece also points out that more establishment Republicans in Congress are embracing Mr. Trump, meaning that "Republican establishment figures in think tanks have cover to do the same."

In other words, "life for policy wonks goes on - as will the production of policy papers, op-eds, and blogs," notes the Economist.  The magazine also suggests that the Trump win could make think tanks even more necessary as they rush to fight against many parts of Trump's policies.

Think Tank Watch should note that outside of think tanks like Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution, and the Cato Institute, think tank staffers do indeed largely identify as Democrats, as a past US News & World Report analysis shows.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Obama Alumni-To-Be Contemplate Life at a Think Tank

Thousands of officials serving in the Obama Administration are contemplating life after the White House, with many angling for a job in think tank land.

Here is more from Associated Press:
Their BlackBerrys are still buzzing, day and night. For the moment, aides to President Barack Obama still have world leaders to worry about, distant wars to help manage and decisions to make that affect the nation.
All that will come to a crashing halt on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.
Hoping to ensure that his staffers find decent jobs, Obama and his team have brought in representatives from Facebook, Instagram and other companies to offer insights into the job market. Officials from LinkedIn are helping White House staffers identify ways to market their skills.
That change can be jarring for longtime staffers, and even a letdown. Ivan Adler, a headhunter at McCormick Group who specializes in government affairs, said most go on to work in one of two settings: firms, like consulting and lobbying agencies, or organizations like trade associations, think tanks and nonprofits.

It is a good time to go into the think tank world because think tank salaries seem to be increasing (see also the link to Think Tank Watch's salary guide to think tanks.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Best Think Tank Event of 2016: Atlantic Council at DC Improv

On November 15 the Atlantic Council held what is clearly the most interesting and creative think tank event of 2016.  It also made history as the first-ever comedy event focused on a think tank report.

The event, entitled "A Robot Walks into a Bar: What's Funny About the Future?" took place at the Improv, a comedy club in Washington, DC, where comics participated in a contest to determine who can make the best jokes about life in 2035.

The comedians used material from the recently released Atlantic Council report "Global Risks 2035," a nearly 75-page report written by Dr. Matthew Burrows which lays out trends for the future.

Dr. Burrows, the Director of the think tank's Strategic Foresight Initiative in the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, formerly worked at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Intelligence Council (NIC).

Think Tank Watch is told that the comedians spent much of the evening parodying and poking fun of the report and noting how smart and well-behaved the crowd was. The evening's festivities were headlined by Erin Jackson and hosted by Jason Weems.

As noted by Atlantic Council's August Cole, the event was kicked off by Alex Ward, Associate Director of the Scowcroft Center (picture inside the Improv here).

One thing is for sure: the event definitely beat the average think tank event by a mile.

Think Tank Quickies (#243)

  • 2020 beginning already with John Kasich speaking at AEI!
  • VP Joe Biden likely to choose university over think tank.
  • Mae Podesta (John Podesta's daughter) was deputy executive director of Clinton's transition team; John Podesta had topped Clinton's short-list for chief of staff.
  • Think tankers among those surveyed in Prime Group's Washington Insiders Survey.
  • CAP's Neera Tanden interviewed by Ben Smith.
  • AEI's Michael Strain has new son.
  • Atlantic Council to host live gray zone pathgame. 
  • Think tanker Kori Schake couldn't be more politically different than her sister. 
  • Matt Schewel: Funeral services for the TPP will be held at 12pm on Jan. 20, 2017...donations can be sent to the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE).
  • USTR Mike Froman does closed lunch at Brookings, hosted by neoconservative Robert Kagan.
  • In January 2012, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy asked RAND to generate national estimates of market sizes for four illicit drugs (cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and meth).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Think Tanks Targeted in Post-Election Hacking Campaign

Here is more from The Hill:
Think tanks and NGOs have received a flurry of spear phishing attempts linked to a Russian espionage group since the election.  
“Think tanks being targeted by APT29/COZY today, spearphishing emails claiming to be about election,” tweeted Adam Segal, Lipman chair of emerging technologies at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Wednesday.
APT 29, also called Cozy Bear, is a hacking group believed to be connected with the Russian government. It recently made headlines as part of the hack on the Democratic National Committee. 
The attempts echoed attacks over the past couple of years similarly targeting think tanks, universities and NGOs, including Transparency International, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Eurasia Group and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Morning Consult notes that hackers "sent malware-laden emails" to people who worked at the Brookings Institution, RAND Corporation, Atlantic Council, and other organizations.

Think Tank Watch should note that during the presidential election season hackers were very active in trying to gather intelligence from think tanks and think tankers.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trump Presidency Means Tectonic Shift in Think Tank Landscape

Hello Heritage Foundation.  Goodbye Center for American Progress (CAP), Brookings Institution, and Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

The Donald Trump presidency will usher in a completely new think tank landscape that will shape think tank influence, funding, and policy for years to come.

The Trump win means that much of the traditional think tank establishment as we know it will be severely weakened - on both the Democratic and Republican sides - as the handful of think tanks that Mr. Trump and his allies have cozied up to will begin to accrue an outsized amount of power and influence.

The biggest think tank winner for the incoming Trump presidency in clearly the Heritage Foundation.  The conservative think tank, which will have a huge say on who Mr. Trump chooses as his next Supreme Court nominee, is playing a very significant role in the Trump transition and has been recruiting via email for the Trump Administration.  A number of think tankers are already on Mr. Trump's transition team, including dozens of Heritage staffers and alumni.

An acknowledgement of the Heritage Foundation's newfound influence was on display at an event at Heritage on November 10, where John Yoo, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, apparently received a warm reception from the audience after making a joke about the closeness of Heritage and Trump. "I'm surprised there are so many people here because I though everyone at Heritage was working over at transition headquarters.  I asked the taxi cab driver to take me to Trump transition headquarters and he dropped me off here, instead."

As Bloomberg's Nick Wadham points out, dozens of Republican national security experts who declared during the campaign that Donald Trump was unfit to lead the country may be automatically disqualified from jobs in the Trump Administration.

During the campaign season, as Bloomberg reminds us, more than 120 former Republican national security officials signed a letter saying they opposed the Trump presidency, and another anti-Trump statement with 40 signatories was also circulated.

Those who signed letters speaking out against Trump include think tankers from the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), among others.

The biggest losers in a Trump presidency?  That would be the think tanks with deep Obama and Clinton ties who put all their efforts into a Clinton win.  That includes Center for American Progress, Brookings, and Center for a New American Security.  It was a huge blow to those think tanks as many had already been measuring the drapes of a Clinton White House.

The thousands of pages of policy papers that those think tanks wrote instantly go up in smoke as a Trump Administration will instantly dismiss them.

However, those think tanks will still act as Democratic "governments-in-waiting" and will start to hire the flood of Obama officials who will soon be leaving their jobs.

Here is an article from the Washington Examiner saying that Heritage took and risk and won big with Trump.

It should be noted that not all think tankers on Trump's transition team are from Heritage.  For example, there are people from other think tanks such as Manhattan Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Hoover Institution, among others.

Moreover, even though Mr. Trump has many allies at those think tanks, it does not necessarily mean they will agree with him 100% of the time.  For example, Heritage Action and CEI are already speaking out against Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

Think Tank Watch will soon be publishing a list of all the think tankers in the Trump transition and Trump presidency.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Warning from Dennis Kucinich on Washington Think Tanks

Think tanks are taking a beating these days.  Here is the latest from former congressman Dennis Kucinich, who wrote a piece for The Nation entitled "Why Is the Foreign Policy Establishment Spoiling for More War?  Look at Their Donors.":
Washington, DC, may be the only place in the world where people openly flaunt their pseudo-intellectuality by banding together, declaring themselves “think tanks,” and raising money from external interests, including foreign governments, to compile reports that advance policies inimical to the real-life concerns of the American people.
The DC think tanks provide cover for the political establishment, a political safety net, with a fictive analytical framework providing a moral rationale for intervention, capitol casuistry. I’m fed up with the DC policy elite who cash in on war while presenting themselves as experts, at the cost of other people’s lives, our national fortune, and the sacred honor of our country.
Any report advocating war that comes from any alleged think tank ought to be accompanied by a list of the think tank’s sponsors and donors and a statement of the lobbying connections of the report’s authors.

The full piece can be read at the link above, and Mr. Kucinich's website can be found here.

It is the latest in a slew of articles that have recently come out detailing and/or lamenting the rampant pay-for-play at many major think tanks.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Clinton Gave State Dept. Appointments to Top Think Tankers

Here is more from The Washington Examiner:

...The Foreign Affairs Policy Board, for instance, was filled with donors in Dec. 2011. Thirteen of the 25 appointments to that panel went to Clinton donors that year, while at least two other positions went to advisers at the Center for American Progress — a group closely connected to the Clintons.
Familiar faces who landed posts on the foreign affairs board in Dec. 2011 included John Podesta, the current chair of Clinton's presidential campaign and founder of the Center for American Progress, Strobe Talbott, head of the Brookings Institute and a close confidante of Clinton during her time as the nation's chief diplomat, and McLarty, who had already earned an appointment to a different board earlier that year.

Here is a list of current members of the State Department's Foreign Affairs Policy Board.  A number of think tankers are on the list, including Jon Huntsman, the head of Atlantic Council; Karen Donfried, the head of the German Marshall Fund (GMF); William Burns, the head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Jane Harman, the head of the Wilson Center; Anne-Marie Slaughter, the head of New America; Strobe Talbott, the head of Brookings; and Robert Kagan, a Senior Fellow at Brookings.

A number of other think tanks hold positions on other advisory board.  For example, members of the State Department's Committee on International Economic Policy include Jeffrey Schott of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) and Scott Miller of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Think Tank Quickies (#242)

  • Heritage Foundation recruiting via email for potential Trump Administration.
  • Hollywood comes to think tank land: TMZ shows up at Brookings.
  • Best think tank project ever (Mowat Centre)!  Maximize candy haul on Halloween.
  • Billionaire David Rubenstein, co-chairman of Brookings and vice-chairman of Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), now chairman of Smithsonian Institution.
  • Think tankers attending Teneo's Washington salons?
  • International think tank watch: Major think tank (China Institute for Urban Governance) set up to help solve China's urban management issues. 
  • Max Abrahms: Obama has been aloof from think tanks; Hillary is the opposite.
  • Think Tank Shark Tank contestants announced at Atlas Network; to compete for $25k.
  • AEI: If an army marches on its stomach, a think tank thinks on its coffee maker.
  • New America on the promise of open think tanks.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

DC Insider Speaks Candidly About Pay-for-Play at Think Tanks

Investigative reporter Ken Silverstein recently spoke with an unnamed think tank insider who has been a donor to think tanks and held multiple board positions at various think tanks.  Here are some excerpts:

He who pays the bills, calls the tune, as much as people try to deny it. There’s a vicious competition in this town for money. The foreign segment is relatively new and important. Before most of that money was Israeli but now it’s much more diverse and you begin to see more and more donors pushing for very distinct and specific causes.
The competition is getting tougher and tougher and so think tanks are becoming more and more reckless. Things are done now that would’ve been impossible in the past. The boundaries are being eliminated.
The means of payment are sophisticated. There is no straightforward bribery. Maybe you work at a think tank but you also have a position at another unrelated company or maybe you have a girlfriend who has a business that’s totally unrelated to the think tank. Maybe you have a company that holds events around town and that company gets hired and is overpaid for some unrelated work by 25%. The money doesn’t go directly to the think tank, it goes to one of these other projects and the money moves from some offshore Singapore account to that unrelated company account.
Think tanks are now weapons of personal and mass destruction. They have become part of the lobbying community; that was always the case to some extent but now they’ve become very specific lobbying weapons.
Governments and gangsters are the two biggest clients for these think tanks — not corporations but governments, and not European Union governments but Third World governments.

Wow.  That is some pretty strong language.

Mr. Silverstein said that more is coming soon from this person (will he go on record?), so we are definitely looking out for that...

In the meantime, here (and here and here and here and here and here and here) is some more from Mr. Silverstein on pay-for-play at think tanks.

Pay-for-play at think tanks has gotten a significant amount of renewed attention after a damning New York Times exposé in August unveiled fresh examples of just how rampant the problem has become.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Heritage Demanding Supreme Court Blockade Under Clinton

Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the think tank Heritage Foundation, has weighed in on the Supreme Court a number of times this year and continues to do so as Election Day nears.

Here is more from The Hill:
The conservative group Heritage Action is pushing Republican senators to keep the Supreme Court at eight justices if Democrat Hillary Clinton is elected president.
In a Thursday morning briefing at the Heritage Foundation’s Washington headquarters on Capitol Hill, the group said Republicans should embrace the idea of leaving the Supreme Court without its ninth justice, perhaps for as long as five years.
Dan Holler, Heritage Action’s vice president of communications and government relations, signaled that this year’s Republican blockade of President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, is just the beginning of a fight that could last the entire first term of a Clinton presidency.

A number of people from the Heritage Foundation are advisors to Trump and some work on his transition team.  Scholars from the think tank also helped shape Mr. Trump's Supreme Court nominee list.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Top Think Tanker May Have Violated Multiple Election Rules

More think tankers seem to be getting into trouble these days for a whole host of reasons.

Here is the latest example from The Daily Caller:
A top official at the Atlantic Council violated the think tank’s “ethos and policies” by not disclosing email exchanges with the Hillary Clinton campaign in which he offered himself up as a campaign surrogate and also proposed hosting an event that would be critical of Donald Trump.
The emails, sent by Peter Schechter, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, raise questions about whether the think tank violated IRS regulations prohibiting tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in political activity in support of or opposition to political candidates.
The emails were released earlier this month by the website DC Leaks. They were hacked from the Gmail account of Capricia Marshall, a Clinton campaign fundraiser and ambassador-in-residence with the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.
In a March 17 email, Schechter offered his services as a campaign surrogate to Clinton campaign foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan and his deputy, Laura Rosenberger.

He also proposed hosting a forum at the Atlantic Council which would focus on “US-Latin American relations in a Trump era.”
The event was held on June 27 at the Washington D.C.-based think tank. It was not an overt attack on Trump. Instead, Schechter and his panelists, which included four former George W. Bush administration officials, chipped away at Trump’s policy positions on immigration and trade with Mexico.

The article goes on to quote Atlantic Council spokeswoman Nicole Hobbs who said that Mr. Schechter's email exchanges with the Clinton campaign violated the think tank's "ethos and policies" but not the federal tax code.  More details can be found at the link above.

Think Tank Quickies (#241)

  • Will there be any good think tank news or gossip in CIA's CREST database?
  • October surprise: The nerdiest group house in Washington is not affiliated with a think tank (although they have think tank clients).
  • Do think tanks contribute to the fact that breakfast sucks in DC? 
  • Tax Policy Center analyzes Clinton and Trump's tax plans.
  • Third Way has reception at Baby Wale.
  • Brookings event: Economic disruption, political upheaval, and social strife in the 21st century.
  • CNAS redesigns website (October 2016). 
  • 1,800 (!) people at AEI's annual dinner, including Dick Cheney, Eric Cantor, Sens. Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer, and Rep. Mark Sanford.
  • Scott DePasquale (Atlantic Council) and Michael Daly (Raytheon) pen joint piece in Politico on cyber domain.
  • Is AEI poaching Alan Greenspan and others from new neighbor Brookings?

Republican Think Tanks Mourning Their Party

The Republican establishment, many of whom are housed within think tanks across the United States, is feeling a bit uneasy about Donald Trump with less than a week to go before Election Day.

Here is an excerpt from Politico Magazine:
As the country geared up for the third and final presidential debate last week, the fellows of the storied conservative Hoover Institution gathered in Palo Alto to present their research to the think tank's wealthy patrons. Elsewhere in America, in the homestretch of perhaps the weirdest election the nation has ever experienced, things were getting tense, excited, even feverish. But the rooms at the Hoover retreat at Stanford University could have doubled as a funeral parlor, and the lectures as eulogies for a bygone era. Larry Diamond, a prominent political sociologist known to fellow scholars as “Mr. Democracy,” talked about the breakdown of the party system. Kori Schake, a National Security Council official in the George W. Bush administration and adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign, spoke about how the U.S. was endangering the international order it had itself created. Peter Berkowitz, a conservative political scientist and commentator, gave a talk about “the unraveling of civil society” in America.

Of course, not all think tanks and think tankers are sad.  After all, many of the 100-plus people on Donald Trump's transition team come from conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation.

Ed Feulner, former President of the Heritage Foundation (and a policy adviser on Trump's transition team), is reportedly trying to raise $100,000 at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's request, for the Trump transition to cover costs that aren't covered by federal funding.  This week, Feulner is hosting a $5,000-a-person breakfast with Christie at the swanky Metropolitan Club.

Among the key players on Trump's transition team are Myron Ebell, Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), Paul Winfree, Director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, and Ed Meese, a Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Emeritus at Heritage.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Scholar Distancing Himself From "Partisan" CAP

Think Tank Watch just found this on WikiLeaks.  It is an email message from Korin Davis, the Academic Programs Manager at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth (WCEG; a think tank originally housed within the Center for American Progress) to Heather Boushey, the Executive Director and Chief Economist at WCEG:

You asked me to send you an email summarizing our support of Danny Yagan and his decisions regarding that funding. In brief, Danny Yagan was awarded a $15,000 grant as one of our 2014 young scholars. The grant was announced in June and the check was mailed in early September, at which point Danny had joined the faculty of UC Berkeley. We recently learned that he had not cashed the check because he was surprised to find that it came from CAP and was reticent to personally accept money from a partisan organization. He asked if we could route the funding through UC Berkeley, so as to alter the optics. He is more comfortable if "CAP" is supporting UC Berkeley, rather than him directly. Processing payment this way means that UC Berkeley will take a portion of the funding, as is the case with all institutional grant arrangements. Danny was willing to relinquish a sizeable portion of his funding (I don't know the exact percentage) in order to distance himself from CAP.

Here is a response from Elisabeth Jacobs, Senior Director of Policy at WCEG:

Thanks for this, Korin. I think the only other point worth (re)emphasizing here is the fact that Danny is (as best as I can tell, at least) "on our side." In other words, my sense is that he's not someone who takes issue with what CAP does or the positions they take. He's just very wary of the implications of the affiliation for his professional career, given that he is an early-career academic, with a great deal of potential in elite academic economic circles. In other words, he's got a lot to lose, and sees CAP as a risk. The upside: He doesn't see Equitable Growth as the same risk. We need to preserve that! 

Danny Yagan was one of 16 scholars who received a WCEG grant in 2014 "to accelerate cutting-edge analysis in whether and how structural changes in the US economy affect economic growth."

At that time, WCEG, which was founded by John Podesta, was housed within the Center for American Progress.  Now it is independent of CAP.  However, that does not mean it is an independent think tank.  It is absolutely a liberal think tank and still has extremely close ties to Democrats (and CAP).

After all, Mr. Podesta is Chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and Heather Boushey is the Chief Economist for Clinton's transition team.

UAE Embassy Paid CAP 700K for Favorable Think Tank Report?

Another day and another pay-for-play scheme at a Washington think tank.  The most recent example comes from LobeLog, a blog named after longtime journalist Jim Lobe.  Here are some excerpts:

...Now it turns out that the foreign ministry of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may well have helped draft the latest Middle East report by the “liberal” Center for American Progress (CAP). (The hyper-interventionist and highly confusing Washington Post has since endorsed the report in its lead editorial Sunday.)
Eli [Clifton] made a startling discovery in plain view within the report itself. One of its co-authors, Muath Al Wari, currently a “Senior Policy Analyst with the National Security and International Policy Team” at CAP, served in the UAE Embassy in Washington from 2009 and 2011 and, more recently, at “the Supreme National Security Council of the United Arab Emirates, where he focused on regional security in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings.”
Al Wari, who incidentally authored two reports about the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) since joining CAP, helped develop the Emirates’ strategy on the Arab Spring, a movement that CAP and Katulis generally welcomed as offering an unprecedented opportunity for democratization, liberalization, and accountability throughout the region.
Tom Caiazza, associate director of media relations at CAP, told LobeLog that “The Embassy of the UAE in DC contributed $699,000 to CAP in 2016 with no contributions coming in 2015.” That contribution wasn’t disclosed in the report as posing a potential conflict of interest.

The piece, which was co-written by reporter Eli Clifton, goes on to say that the revelations raise serious questions about how much financial and other contributions by certain countries are influencing think tanks.

Needless to say, the UAE and numerous other countries have collectively donated millions of dollars to Washington's most powerful think tanks over the years and have strong relations with top think tank chiefs.

The above-mentioned CAP report was released just as think tanks have begun to ramp up production of policy papers meant to influence the new administration.

One thing is clear: The media needs to do a better job in citing and referencing think tanks and think tank scholars.

More on the CAP report can be found from The Intercept's Zaid Jilani in a piece entitled "At Hillary Clinton's Favorite Think Tank, a Doubling Down on Anti-Iran, Pro-Saudi Policy."  Jim Lobe also wrote a previous piece entitled "For the Middle East, It's the Center for American Regress."

More on the funding of think tanks by Gulf countries can be found here (via Quorum Centre).  More on the rampant pay-for-play culture at think tanks can be found here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Clinton's New Economic Brain Center Issues 14 Essays for Transition

An under-the-radar yet increasingly influential Washington think tank has just released a series of essays (14 to be exact) meant to help the next Administration transition its policies for the next several years.

The Washington Center for Equitable Growth (WCEG) released essays on:
  • Minimum wage
  • Income volatility
  • Early childhood development
  • Social security
  • Unemployment insurance reform
  • Labor market mobility
  • Trade and worker welfare
  • Supply chains
  • Consumer credit
  • Wealth transfer taxation
  • Monetary policy
  • Home mortgages
  • Geography of economic inequality
  • Neighborhood segregation.

The full, 124-page report can be found here.  And here is how Bloomberg describes the essays:
While some of the pieces reinforce proposals from the campaign trail -- including universal pre-kindergarten and a boost to the minimum wage -- the authors, almost all professors, offer more-detailed approaches to tackling some of the economy’s most vexing issues.

The Boston Globe notes that the essays were written by 16 academics.

Think Tank Watch wrote about the founding of WCEG back in 2013.  The think tank was founded by John Podesta, a longtime advisor to Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and the Chairman of the Clinton campaign.  Podesta was also the founder of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank with close connections to the Clintons and the Obama White House.

Actually, WCEG was originally launched within CAP (basically as a think tank within a think tank) but now operates independently at 1500 K Street, NW, just a stones throw from the White House (more on its independence here).

WCEG is currently directed by Heather Boushey, who became the chief economist for the Clinton campaign in August.  This mean that Ms. Boushey will play an outsized roll in a Clinton presidency, and could very well be tapped for a key economic position.

Initial funding of WCEG came from Herb and Marion Sandler, who have also given more than $37 million to CAP.  In return, Podesta asked his think tank team how to push back on scrutiny of the Sandlers related to the 2008 housing collapse, reports Politico.

Notable people on WCEG's steering committee include Melody Barnes (a former top Obama aide) as well as Alan Blinder and Laura Tyson, two former top officials in the Bill Clinton Administration.

We should note that other think tanks have also been competing for Clinton's attention, including the Brookings Institution and Atlantic Council.