Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Influencers Use Think Tank Titles to Hide Lobbying

Many experts who are affiliated with think tanks often write op-eds, testify before Congress, and produce research while obfuscating the fact that they simultaneously work for or have deep connections to lobbying shops, consulting firms, investment companies, and corporations.

One example was recently outlined in Politico, which notes that former Sen. Phil Gramm, a Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), recently wrote an op-ed bashing the border adjustment tax (BAT), but failed to mention he is employed by a private equity firm that likely opposes the BAT.

Here is more from Politico:
Gramm’s op-ed doesn’t mention his position at [the private equity firm] Lone Star, noting instead his affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Gramm said no one helped him write the article and he didn’t clear it in advance with his firm, but he did discuss it with a colleague at AEI.
The Koch brothers are major supporters of the think tank and leading opponents of the border adjustment tax. A think tank spokeswoman said its donors don’t influence its research. Gramm said he doesn’t take a salary from AEI.

The think tank world is awash in people who work for (or are affiliated with) think tanks but just use the title for legitimacy while quietly lobbying for (or on behalf of) other entities.

Think Tank Watch knows dozens of examples of influential people who use their think tank titles to promote an idea that supports the work of another job they hold.

Last year the New York Times (NYT) published a series that describes this as well as some of the other chicanery that goes on in the think tank world.

NYT said that it has identified dozens of its own examples of scholars conducting research at think tanks while corporations were paying them to help shape government policy.  "Many of those think tanks readily confer 'nonresident scholar' status on lobbyists, former government officials and others who earn their primary living working for private clients, with few restrictions on such outside work."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Heritage Lobbying Arm Opposes GOP Health Bill

The lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank which has extremely ties to the Trump Administration, is opposing the healthcare bill that Republicans have proposed.  Here is more from Politico:

Two influential conservative advocacy organizations — Heritage Action and Club for Growth — remain opposed to the GOP Obamacare repeal bill, offering some measure of cover for wary Republicans who have yet to sign on.
Heritage Action — the advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation, the think tank that had helped shape some of the Trump administration's health policies — again warned Tuesday that the American Health Care Act doesn’t go far enough to repeal Obamacare. That followed a similar warning from Club for Growth, a free-market advocacy organization, on Monday night.
“Barring additional changes, the AHCA keeps the architecture of ObamaCare (Title I regs) in place,” Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham posted on Twitter, minutes after President Donald Trump wrapped up a meeting with the House Republican conference. Heritage wants those insurance regulations eliminated.
“Heritage Action will be keyvoting against,” Needham added, meaning that lawmakers would be scored unfavorably if they vote for the AHCA.

As Politico recently wrote, the Heritage Foundation's cozy relationship with the Trump team will definitely get put to the test in the next few days.  Also, here is Politico Playbook's recent analysis of the Heritage Foundation.

Think Tank Watch is wondering if some on the Trump team would actually try to claw back the White House press credentials given to Heritage if the bill goes down in defeat...

Update: State-level policy think tanks are also issuing strong warnings on the healthcare bill.

Heritage Foundation has White House Press Access

It pays to be a think tank with extremely close ties to the Trump Administration, as it allows access to the inner workings of the White House.  Here is more from The Washington Post:

In an age of partisan media, the lines between “partisan” and “media” can sometimes blur.
Case in point: The pool reporter covering Vice President Pence on Thursday — that is, the reporter who supplied details about Pence’s daily activities as proxy for the rest of the press corps — was an employee of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank.
In other words, the news that reporters received about the vice president came from a journalist employed by an organization with a vested interest in the direction of White House and federal policy.
The development is unusual; the reporter, Fred Lucas, is the first member of his organization to take on pool reporting duties, which are typically handled on a rotating basis by mainstream news organizations. Lucas also covered Pence as the pooler two weeks ago.
Lucas writes for the Daily Signal, a news and commentary site started nearly three years ago by Heritage, one of Washington’s leading policy shops. The Signal covers issues that are a focus of Heritage’s conservative agenda, such as an Obamacare repeal, tax policy and illegal immigration.
The Signal’s editor, Rob Bluey, vigorously defended his organization’s presence in the pool, saying there’s “a hard firewall” between Heritage’s policy and lobbying operations and the Daily Signal’s newsroom.
Heritage’s leadership, including its president, former senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), has “never ordered us to cover any story” in the Daily Signal’s existence, Bluey said. “I wouldn’t work here, and the talented journalists we’ve attracted to work here wouldn’t be here, if we were receiving direct orders from Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation.”

The article goes on to note that the Daily Signal's inclusion in the pool "could set a precedent for other advocacy organizations, such as the Center for American Progress (CAP), that have expanded into newsgathering."

Here is Think Tank Watch's piece on the 2014 launch of the Daily Signal.  Here is a Washington Post piece on the Daily Signal.

Think Tank Quickies (#261)

  • Here's how to get hired by an elite think tank created by Google. 
  • Carmel Martin, an EVP at Center for American Progress (CAP) buys new $2.6 million house in Cleveland Park with lawyer husband Robert Welp.
  • Alyssa Sims of New America publishes piece ("What is a Think Tank?  First, We Should Ask Who Is a Think Tank?") on the lack of diversity at her think tank and others.
  • Stimson Center Senior Associate Johan Bergenas is joinng Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. as a Senior Director for Government Affairs.
  • Heritage Foundation's Alyene Senger has just started as a policy analyst for health care for the Senate's Republican Policy Committee. 
  • Caleb Howe of RedState has invented a new think tank position: "Senior Fellow of Wearing American flag shirts." 
  • More on the Berggruen Institute, an "unusual think tank with an endowment of $1 billion"; it has just given out its first $1 million Berggruen Prize for philosophy and is starting work on a "secular monastery" to house around 50 thinkers on 400 acres of land in LA. 
  • Heritage Foundation has strong presence at CPAC; AEI also at CPAC.
  • Andy Smarick named Morgridge Fellow in Education Studies at AEI.
  • Back in the old days, Ezra Klein's blog bore the slogan, "Momma said wonk you out."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dem Think Tank Organizes Own CPAC for Liberals

The liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) is organizing a major conference in May with the goal of organizing Democrats in order to develop policy goals that will eventually bring Democrats back into power.  Here is more from Politico:

Instead of CPAC, it’ll be the Ideas Conference. Instead of taking place at National Harbor, it’ll be in the main room at the St. Regis Hotel, a few blocks from the White House. Instead of featuring President Donald Trump, it’ll be the first real cattle call of the Democrats nosing around 2020 presidential runs.
And it’ll be the Center for American Progress’ biggest move yet to establish itself as both the nexus of the Democratic Party’s future — and a player trying to shape what that future will be.
They’re modeling the event roughly on the Conservative Political Action Conference, the American Conservative Union’s annual gathering that’s become a prime stop for Republican leaders, and that notably gave Donald Trump his first major political platform as he was entering the fray.
Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are all confirmed to attend, and more are expected to be added to the event, scheduled for May 16.
Speakers have been encouraged to come with substantive proposals on the economy, climate change, national security, civil rights, reproductive rights and immigration rather than just political attacks on Trump. Sprinkled through the day will be panel discussions and conversations that will bring in activists and leaders of new organizations.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on CAP's pivot after Donald Trump won the presidency, and here is another piece on the future of the think tank in the Trump presidency.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Politico's Analysis of the Heritage Foundation

Here is Politico Playbook analysis of the Heritage Foundation's standing in Washington:
Ever since Heritage created its political arm Heritage Action, GOP lawmakers have been frustrated with the once-important conservative think tank. Most Republicans on Capitol Hill have written it off as one of the groups that raises money off of opposing GOP leadership.

Here is a a recent Politico piece on the Heritage Foundation, as well as a Think Tank Watch piece on the think tank's influence on the federal budget.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Huge Layoffs Could be Coming to Wilson Center & USIP

The White House's new budget proposal calls for large cuts across a number of agencies and calls for deep cuts to two think tanks heavily funded by the US government: the Wilson Center and US Institute of Peace (USIP).

To be more specific, the budget actually calls for the complete elimination of federal funding of those two think tanks.  Wilson Center has a large amount of non-federal funding (and should be able to survive any cuts), but USIP gets nearly every dollar from the US government.

The Wilson Center appears to be sitting on a large amount of money, with recent financial statements showing it has close to $100 million in assets.  Financial statements also show that the think tank received $10.7 million from federal appropriations in 2015, an increase from the $10.0 million it received in 2014.

The Wilson Center's federal appropriation represents about one-third of its total annual budget (the other two-thirds is funded through "trust funds"), according to a document outlining what would happen in the event of a federal funding hiatus. 

That document says that about two-thirds of Wilson Center staff is not funded through its federal appropriation.  [Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post says that Trump's budget would strip federal funding for 52 employees of the Wilson Center.]

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on how the Wilson Center is funded, and here is a copy of the Wilson Center's budget justification for fiscal year 2017.

USIP is a completely different story, since by law all of its funding for programs and salaries must come from the federal government.  Here is more on the USIP situation from The Washington Post:

The USIP, created by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan to engage in conflict resolution around the world, is among more than a dozen independent agencies slated for elimination under the budget blueprint unveiled Thursday. Axing the USIP would save taxpayers $35.3 million.
Like other agencies on the chopping block, the USIP has supporters in Congress and the military who can be expected to fight for it, and its death is not a sure thing. But the institute, with its mission of peace building, underscores the budget trade-offs the administration is making as it shifts resources from civilian programs to a military buildup. 
A nonpartisan and independent institution, it trains U.S. diplomats and members of the armed forces heading for unstable parts of the world so they can be prepared to help avert conflicts before they mushroom. It also trains local “facilitators” to mediate local disputes.
Even the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has called for many of the cuts that the Trump administration has adopted, has said the USIP deserves to survive, calling it a “do-tank” as opposed to a think tank. 
The USIP is far better known in Baghdad and Kabul than it is in Washington.
Despite a record of success, this is not the first time the institute has come under financial threat. In 2011, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) teamed up to argue it be defunded. They co-wrote an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal, calling it “a case study in how government waste thrives.” Ultimately, Congress gave the USIP $39.5 million of the $46.5 million it requested.
It raises roughly $1 million a year for building maintenance, largely by selling books, charging its 300 employees parking fees and renting out space in its airy Constitution Avenue NW building, designed by architect Moshe Safdie, for private parties.

Here is an article from 2011 about how House Republicans tried to cut USIP's funding.

More coming soon...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#260)

  • Former VP Joe Biden forgoes think tanks but will lead two academic centers at universities.
  • Are think tanks at risk of self-censoring in the new Trump era?
  • Working to take over the Republican Party and remake it as pro-worker, "perhaps as a BuzzFeed-style think tank that distills policy into memes and makes them go viral."
  • Steven Teles, Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, is joining the Niskanen Center (libertarian think tank), as a Senior Fellow.  (He'll remain at Hopkins, too.)
  • Trump supporter and conservative think tank funder Rebekah Mercer funds Trump campaign data science firm Cambridge Analytica (parent is SCL Group); also funds Breitbart News Network.
  • Trump travel "ban" hurting recruitment at think tanks? 
  • Koch network, a huge funder of conservative/libertarian think tanks, plans to spend $400 million on policy and political campaigns in the next two years.
  • How Bach figures into free enterprise at American Enterprise Institute (AEI).  [Some tidbits: AEI did a $100 million renovation, has 220 employees, and gets brings in nearly $50 million/year - relying on a core of about 1,600 donors who contribute an average of about $35,000/year.]
  • 72-page study by bipartisan group of think tankers (including those from CFR, CAP, Brookings, Wilson Center, and CEIP) urges better ties with China.
  • Atlantic Council president Fred Kempe attends 75th birthday party of think tank donor Adrienne Arsht.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Urban Institute Helping DC Get Rich

Washington, DC is using one of the hundreds of think tanks within its borders to help help grow its economy.  Here is more from The Washington Post:

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Tuesday her five-year economic development plan to make the city more competitive and more inclusive. She wants to grow the city’s private-sector economy by 20 percent to $100 billion and reduce unemployment to below 10 percent in every ward and across racial demographics and educational attainment levels in the next five years.
The mayor’s 105-page plan focuses on supporting the industries that have served the city well so far (hospitality and tourism, real estate, health care, etc.) and on creating new opportunities in areas that would build on existing market strengths (cybersecurity technology, health-care data analysis, autonomous vehicle innovations, etc.).
The Urban Institute helped the city develop the economic growth indicators for the plan.

The Urban Institute, a think tank founded by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to focus on social and economic policy, gets around 43 percent of its funding from the federal government and another 40 percent from foundations.  The remainder comes from a mix of its endowment fund, nonprofits, universities, state and local governments, corporations, individuals, international organizations, and foreign entities.

Specific funders include: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, MacArthur Foundation, Rockefeller Foundations, Citi Foundation, ConAgra Food Foundation, World Bank, H&R Block, MITRE Corporation, E*TRADE Financial, Goldman Sachs, Hudson Institute, Medtronic, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Quicken Loans, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, and the state of Hawaii.

Federal donors include the International Revenue Service (IRS) and the Library of Congress, as well as the US Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, State, Justice, Education, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Politico: Heritage's Cozy Relationship With Trump Put to Test

Is the Heritage Foundation, a think tank which helped transition Donald Trump into the White House, turning into Donald Trump's worst nightmare?

Here  is more from Politico:
The Heritage Foundation has been cozying up to top White House aides and congressional leaders for months, hoping to put its conservative imprint on President Donald Trump’s policy agenda. But the first major bill that Republicans proposed — to repeal and replace Obamacare — runs completely afoul of Heritage’s priorities and threatens to upend a critical relationship between conservative activists and the Trump administration.
Now the 44-year-old think tank must decide whether to stay in the administration’s good graces by compromising some of its core values to get things done or embrace its long-standing reputation as a political bomb-thrower.
What’s happening at The Heritage Foundation is a revealing example of the path the group has taken from conservative rabble-rouser to insider. And it’s a test of how conservatives in the Trump era cope with being part of the establishment.
Heritage Action, the 501(c)(4) associated with the foundation, quickly bashed the bill on Tuesday, calling it “bad politics and, more importantly, bad policy.” Former Sen. Jim DeMint, Heritage Foundation president, is slated to go to the White House later Wednesday to discuss the bill with Trump, according to a Heritage source, part of Trump’s broader push to win over conservative groups.
And health care will not be the last fissure between Heritage and the administration. DeMint has been quietly working behind the scenes for months to kill policy proposals that depart from Heritage’s conservative values.

Even with all the disagreements and likely future disagreements, Politico notes that the Heritage Foundation is "closer to Trump world than any other administration since that of Ronald Reagan."

The article also notes that Heritage President Jim DeMint "strongly encouraged" the think tank's staff to work for Trump's transition, without taking leave from the think tank.  That has led to a number of Heritage staffers being hired by the Trump Administration.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on how the think tank's fingerprints are all over the White House budget.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Heritage Foundation Fingerprints All Over White House Energy Budget

The Heritage Foundation has had a huge impact on many of the White House's early proposals, and dozens of the think tank's scholars have either been involved in the presidential transition, joined the Trump team, or provided advice to the administration.

In fact, more than 30 Heritage staffers were on Trump's transition team, the most from any think tank.

Here is more from E&E News about a Heritage scholar who is influencing the White House's energy budget:

When Nick Loris started sketching out budget proposals for the Department of Energy in 2012, he didn't realize his theories would actually go into practice.
Now the 33-year-old Heritage Foundation policy analyst's work might be the key to the Trump administration's energy strategy.
"It's fun," said Loris, an energy and environmental policy fellow at the conservative Washington-based think tank. "We certainly are writing what we're doing for a purpose, and that's to, in terms of energy, create a more market-oriented energy economy that works more efficiently and protects taxpayer dollars and rewards innovation."
The Heritage Foundation is poised to have a major role in President Trump's federal budget, and its small-government focus means big cuts are in store across federal agencies.
More than 30 Heritage staffers were part of the Trump transition team, and several now work at the White House, including Loris' boss at Heritage, Paul Winfree. Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the president of the Heritage Foundation, met with Trump at the White House this week.
Since his first foray into DOE's budget, he has co-authored several policy papers for Heritage, slicing DOE's close-to-$30-billion budget with his razor-thin view of the role of government.
In the Heritage Foundation's 137-page "Blueprint for Reform" published last year, meant as a comprehensive budget proposal for a new administration, Loris and his co-authors' razor became a chain saw, eliminating DOE's offices of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, Fossil Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and Nuclear Energy.
The White House Office of Management and Budget pushed back on Heritage's role and insisted that staffers are writing a budget from scratch.

The article goes on to note that people at the US Department of Energy are taking Heritage Foundation's "Blueprint" very seriously, and are speaking of it in "hushed tones."  [More on the Blueprint can be found in this previous Think Tank Watch post.]

It also notes that the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), "an innovation think tank that has collaborated with the Heritage Foundation and Center for American Progress (CAP) on a plan to reform national laboratories," has issued a report challenging some aspects of the Blueprint.

Mr. Loris is the Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy with the Center for Free Markets and Regulatory Reform at the Heritage Foundation.  His biography and writings can be found here.

Here is more on how former Heritage scholar Paul Winfree (mentioned above) is helping draft President's Trump first budget.

Update: Here is a piece by Zaid Jilani entitled "Trump the Outsider Outsources His Budget to Insider Think Tank."

Think Tank Quickies (#259)

  • Former Heritage scholar is now drafting President Trump's budget.
  • American Enterprise Institute's (AEI) famous cookies even tastier in new building.
  • On Think Tanks TV highlights the work of think tanks around the world.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT): "Trickle down economics is a fraudulent theory designed by the rich and their think tanks to protect billionaires and large corporations."
  • Should think tanks offer free courses like Harvard and Oxford?
  • CAP alum Eryn Sepp, now with Washington Center for Equitable Growth, married Secret Service agent Stewart Busch (John & Mary Podesta attended wedding).
  • CFR chief Richard Haass holds swanky reception at Renwick Gallery for launch of new book.  Those in attendance include Joe Biden, Brent Scowcroft, Ash Carter, and Wolf Blitzer.
  • Former Clinton policy adviser Corey Ciorciari now helming CAP war room's policy and research efforts.  
  • New America event on March 1, 2017: How people become terrorists. 
  • LSE: Think tanks can transform into the standard-setters and arbiters of quality of 21st century policy analysis.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

AEI Scholar Tapped to run FDA

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a health policy expert at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI), has been selected by President Donald Trump to be the next head of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Gottlieb, a Resident Fellow at AEI, has for the past decade also been a partner at New Enterprise Associates (NEA), a global venture capital firm investing in technology and healthcare.

A number of high-level think tankers have been tapped to join the Trump Administration in recent weeks, including Atlantic Council Chairman Jon Hunstman (to be US envoy to Russia), and Brookings scholar Fiona Hill (to join the National Security Council).

Agri-Pulse notes that Gottlieb's writings at the think tank focused on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and prescription drug policy.

More on the White House-think tank revolving door can be found here.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Atlantic Council Chairman Jon Huntsman to be Envoy to Russia

Atlantic Council Chairman Jon Huntsman has been offered the position of US Ambassador to Russia and has apparently accepted it.

Many Russians seem to like Huntsman, but they don't have as much love for his think tank, Atlantic Council.  Here is more from the New York Times:
Most Russian officials reacted favorably, he [Dimitri Simes, President of the Center for the National Interest] said, though some expressed concern about Mr. Huntsman’s ties to the Atlantic Council, a think tank of which he is chairman of the board, because it is perceived in Moscow as anti-Russian.

Indeed, Russian senator Alexei Pushkov was quoted in Sputnik as saying that Huntman's recent work as head of Atlantic Council, "a think tank critical of Russia," suggested that as ambassador Huntsman would "be no dove."

Vox says there is no evidence that Huntsman has any expertise on Russia, noting that "the closest is a stint from 2014 to present, as chair of the Atlantic Council."

MarketWatch says that Atlantic Council is "deeply critical" of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Politico notes that the think tank supports the expansion of NATO.

Here are all of Atlantic Council's writings on Russia.  A look through them shows recent articles such as one entitled "Here's Why You Should Worry About Russian Propaganda," and "Putin Learns the Hard Way that Crimean Crime Does Not Pay."

Here is Think Tank Watch's recent piece on US think tankers wooing Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.

Think Tankers Wooed Russian Ambassador to US

Many think tankers around Washington, DC seemed to take a liking and consult regularly with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Here is more from The New York Times:
Invited to think tanks to discuss arms control, he would invariably offer an unapologetic defense of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and assail Americans for what he portrayed as their hypocrisy — then afterward approach a debating partner to suggest dinner.
“Not all of us, myself included, initially appreciated his very tough, in-your-face style,” said Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest and an advocate of closer Russian-American relations, who hosted a dinner at his home for Mr. Kislyak after his arrival in Washington and regularly invited him to events at his center. “But we gradually came to develop a grudging respect for him as someone who was really representing the positions of his country.”
Mr. Simes introduced Mr. Kislyak to Mr. Trump in a receiving line last April at a foreign policy speech hosted by his center at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Mr. Kislyak was one of four ambassadors who sat in the front row for Mr. Trump’s speech at the invitation of the center. Mr. Simes noted that Mr. Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, was there, but he did not notice whether he and the ambassador spoke at that time.

Here is a Democratic National Committee (DNC) email obtained by WikiLeaks which paints Simes as pro-Russian.

Think tank expert Matthew Rojansky of the Wilson Center, who speaks regularly with Kislyak, says he thinks it is unlikely that Kislyak is a spy.

Kislyak has spoken at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on several occasions, as well as at other think tanks like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Think Tank Scholar From AEI Causes Riot at Middlebury

Events where think tank scholars speak are usually staid affairs that are known to be more soporific than action-inducing.  But when American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholar Charles Murray recently visited Middlebury College for a talk, chaos was unleashed.

Here is more from The New York Times:
Hundreds of students at Middlebury College in Vermont shouted down a controversial speaker on Thursday night, disrupting a program and confronting the speaker in an encounter that turned violent and left a faculty member injured.
Laurie L. Patton, the president of the college, issued an apology on Friday to all who attended the event and to the speaker, Charles Murray, 74, whose book “The Bell Curve,” published in 1994, was an explosive treatise arguing that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites because of their genetic makeup.
...An open letter to the college from more than 450 alumni objecting to Mr. Murray’s presence on campus said it was not a matter of free speech. The letter, written before Thursday’s event, said that his views were offensive and based on shoddy scholarship and that they should not be legitimized.

Here is The Federalist on how Middlebury "enabled the student riot" during the Murray visit.  Here is how The Wall Street Journal portrayed the events.

A video of the attempted lecture can be found here.  Charles Murray wrote about the Middlebury incident here.  AEI President Arthur Brooks also weighed in.

Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at AEI, and all of his think tank work can be found here.  And don't forget to take his quiz that rates your affiliation with "mainstream American culture."

Think Tank Quickies (#258)

  • Think tank International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC) cuts ties with oppo researcher behind Trump Russia dossier.
  • How to deal with Trump - from a Chinese think tanks. 
  • Michael Pillsbury: Think tanks in Beijing haven't yet been able to figure out Trump's China policy.
  • Nick Pearce on BBC Daily politics on the role of the think tank.
  • How influential are corporations in Spanish think tanks?
  • Founder of French think tank Terra Nova convicted for being a pedophile.
  • Think tank AEI is now on Instagram.
  • David Roth: Betsy DeVos' experience with education policy is mostly writing large checks to think tanks called The Dracula Institute (more on her funding here).
  • Pic: Afghan Embassy in DC hosts think tankers.
  • Most think tanks are PR agencies working for undisclosed clients.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Russian Hackers Seeking Hush Money From Think Tank?

Here is what Bloomberg is reporting:

Russian hackers are targeting U.S. progressive groups in a new wave of attacks, scouring the organizations’ emails for embarrassing details and attempting to extract hush money, according to two people familiar with probes being conducted by the FBI and private security firms.
At least a dozen groups have faced extortion attempts since the U.S. presidential election, said the people, who provided broad outlines of the campaign. The ransom demands are accompanied by samples of sensitive data in the hackers’ possession.
At least some groups have paid the ransoms even though there is little guarantee the documents won’t be made public anyway. Demands have ranged from about $30,000 to $150,000, payable in untraceable bitcoins, according to one of the people familiar with the probe.
The Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank with strong links to both the Clinton and Obama administrations, and Arabella Advisors, which guides liberal donors who want to invest in progressive causes, have been asked to pay ransoms, according to people familiar with the probes.
The Center for American Progress declined a pre-publication request for comment. "CAP has no evidence we have been hacked, no knowledge of it and no reason to believe it to be true. CAP has never been subject to ransom,” Allison Preiss, a spokeswoman for the center, said in a statement Monday morning.

Center for American Progress (CAP) President Neera Tanden is also saying that there is "zero reason to believe" her think tank has been hacked and "certainly hasn't" faced a ransom.  She acknowledged, however, that CAP has faced phishing attempts.

Last year, CAP founder John Podesta had his email hacked and leaked to the public.

A report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) earlier this year said that Russia targeted think tanks, and nearly every major US think tank has been targeted by foreign spies.

Here is Think Tank Watch's latest piece on foreign intelligence services spying on think tanks.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Mission of Russian Spy: Target Think Tanks

Jack Barsky (also known as Albrecht Dittrich), a former Russian spy, has recently gone on record about details of the spying operations he was expected to partake in during his time in the United States.  Here is an excerpt from The Guardian:
Dittrich was given his mission: to establish contacts with foreign policy think tanks, and in particular President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.  He was given little guidance as to how he should do this, or even how best to blend into US society. The people who trained him had little feeling for the real fabric of America, its visceral, unquantifiable essence. “It’s as if they had spent time looking at fish swimming in an aquarium, and now they are training you to be a fish,” Barsky says. “But they don’t actually know what it’s like to be a fish.”

The book Deep Undercover by Mr. Barsky says that he was expected to establish contacts with people connected to "influential think tanks such as the Hudson Institute, the Columbia University Institute of Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission."

Think tanks have been a hotbed a spy recruitment for decades.  Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on which think tanks spies like.  It is no secret that think tanks are filled with former spies.

While human intelligence still goes on at think tanks, these days much of the spying is done through signals intelligence, with nearly every single large think tank facing serious breaches in recent years.

Here is a recent story by Molly Ball on Washington spy paranoia, with several mentions of think tanks.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Pro-Russia Think Tank Paid Donald Trump Jr. $50k?

Here is more from The Wall Street Journal:

President Donald Trump’s eldest son was likely paid at least $50,000 for an appearance late last year before a French think tank whose founder and wife are allies of the Russian government in efforts to end the war in Syria.
Donald Trump Jr. addressed a dinner on Oct. 11 at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, hosted by the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs. Its president, Fabien Baussart, and his Syrian-born wife, Randa Kassis, have cooperated with Russia in its drive to end the Syrian civil war, according to U.S., European and Arab officials. In December, Mr. Baussart formally nominated Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize.
A talent booking agency, called All American Speakers, lists Donald Trump Jr. on its website as a client who commands a minimum of $50,000 per appearance. People who have participated in events at the French think tank say it often pays speakers 20% to 30% above their going rate.

Here is Think Tank Watch's previous post on the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs (CPFA).

Never heard on that think tank?  You're not alone.  "I've been dealing with French think tanks and research institutes for 35 years and I've never heard of it," said Daniel Hamilton, the executive director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Think Tank Quickies (#257)

  • How long before robots replace think tanks?
  • Power, media, and think tanks, via Transnational Institute (TNI).
  • The real source of domestic terrorist threats, via New America.
  • Are think tanks losing their relevance? (via Matthias von Hein)
  • The "narrowing nexus" between think tanks and journalists.
  • CAP: Trump's vilification of Mexico will hurt US.
  • Think tanks stage massive simulation of war with Russia in Warsaw.
  • If your think tank was a restaurant would people want to eat what you serve?
  • How think tanks create change, via Julia Slay.
  • Are liberal/progressive think tanks flip-flopping on TPP?
  • Brookings scholar was sent a thank-you postcard for his blog post.

Brave Brookings Scholar to Join Trump Administration

The Trump Administration has selected dozens of people from conservative think tanks for various White House and Cabinet positions.  In fact, there is not a single person on the Trump team that has been tapped directly from a liberal-leaning think tank - until now.

Fiona Hill, a Senior Fellow at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, has been offered a job at the National Security Council (NSC).  Here is more from Foreign Policy:
The Trump administration has offered a well-respected scholar and sober critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin the position of White House senior director for Europe and Russia, a White House official told Foreign Policy.
Hill, a dual U.S.-UK citizen and former U.S. intelligence officer from 2006 to 2009, has written critically of Putin’s autocratic tendencies and desire of a “weakened U.S. presidency.”  In her 2013 biography of Putin, she warned policymakers not to underestimate the Russian strongman given his strategic cunning and ability to find weaknesses in opponents derived from his experience in the KGB.
Hill was offered the position by National Security Council chief of staff Keith Kellogg prior to the ouster of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. She hasn’t yet filled the position and is still going through procedural steps such as background and security checks, according to the White House official. Hill is “in the process to take over the Europe and Russia position,” said the official.

Here is Hill's official biography from Brookings, along with her past writings.  Besides being a Senior Fellow at Brookings, she also serves as Director of the think tank's Center on the United States and Europe.  Hill is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on the White House-think tank revolving door in the Trump Administration.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Fmr. Secretary of State John Kerry Joins Carnegie Endowment

It was just announced that former Secretary of State John Kerry will be joining the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as the think tank's inaugural Visiting Distinguished Statesman.

At Carnegie, Secretary Kerry will be focusing on conflict resolution and global environmental challenges, according to a press release.

What is the main reason that Kerry is joining Carnegie and not another big-name think tank like Brookings or Atlantic Council?  The answer appears to be Bill Burns, the current President of Carnegie who served as Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama Administration.

It is a fitting position for Kerry, as the Carnegie Endowment is like a mini-State Department.  The think tank, which has research centers in Washington, DC, Beijing, Beirut, Brussels, Moscow, and New Delhi, has over 100 experts living and working in 20 countries.

Here is more on that from the Boston Globe:
Kerry singled out by name the think tank’s president, former ambassador Bill Burns, as a reason he was drawn to the gig. Kerry first got to know Burns, a longtime foreign service official who served as US ambassador to both Russia and Jordan, when Kerry served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was working on opening a secret diplomatic back channel to Iran via Oman. That secret dialogue would bolster Kerry’s ability as Secretary of State to ink an historic nuclear agreement with Iran in 2013.
Burns delayed his retirement as deputy secretary of state several times at the request of Kerry and then-President Obama. He stepped down as the nation’s No. 2 diplomat in October 2014.
In the waning days of the Obama administration, Kerry indicated in interviews with the Globe that he hoped to continue to play a role in world affairs even after he left his formal position as the nation’s top diplomat.

Others connected with Kerry also work at the think tank, including Middle East Program Fellow Perry Cammack, who worked as part of the policy planning staff at the State Department during Kerry's tenure.  Cammack was also a senior professional staff member for then Sen. Kerry on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Just weeks before, it was announced that Kerry will serve as Yale University's first-ever Distinguished Fellow for Global Affairs.

Meanwhile, there are rumors that Jon Huntsman, the Chairman of Atlantic Council, is in the running to be either the next US Ambassador to Russia or the Deputy Secretary of State.

The White House-think tank revolving door has been spinning fast the past few weeks, with a number of think tankers leaving for the Trump Administration and a number of Obama Administration officials finding positions at think tanks.

DC Gets New Think Tank: DC Policy Center

Washington, DC is getting a new state-level think tank called the DC Policy Center, a business-friendly economic policy shop to compete with the left-leaning DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

Here is more on the new think tank from the Washington City Paper:
D.C.'s real estate boom has spurred economic growth and enlivened civic debate on jobs, housing, healthcare, and education.  And that debate is about to get even richer, with the pending launch of the D.C. Policy Center.
Incubated in the offices of the Federal City Council, the prominent “citizens committee” through which the District’s business and professional community advocates for civic improvement, the center will analyze the local economy with a broad demographic focus that is distinct from the issue-based advocacy that ushered in progressive reforms during the last D.C. Council session.
It’s also bound to challenge the work of the liberal D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which conducts research on budget, tax, and economic issues with a particular focus on low- and moderate-income residents.

Yesim Taylor will be the executive director of the new think tank.  Previously, she was Director of Fiscal and Legislative Analysis at the DC Office of the Chief Financial Officer.  She was also a consultant to the World Bank and has been a researcher at the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch story about a former DC mayor fighting with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI), which, among other things, was a defender of the DC yoga tax.

President Trump Ain't No Think Tanker (Part III)

Here are a few more insights from the New York Times into why President Donald Trump will not be cozying up to think tanks (and think tank reports) during his tenure:
He sits in the White House at night, watching television or reading social media, and through Twitter issues instant judgments on what he sees.  He channels fringe ideas and gives them as much weight as carefully researched reports.  He denigrates the conclusions of intelligence professionals and then later denies having done so.  He thrives on conflict and chaos.

Here is Part I of President Trump Ain't No Think Tanker, and here is Part II.