Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Manafort Ally Had Close Ties to Think Tanks

Here is more from The Atlantic:

[Paul Manafort] grew reliant on Konstantin Kilimnik, a Soviet-born native who could render idiomatic English and translate the cultural nuances of the region that might elude outsiders. Manafort would describe him to others in his office as “my Russian brain.” For a decade, Kilimnik was a fixture in Manafort’s meetings with the region’s leading politicians and oligarchs.
After so much time spent in close quarters, the relationship between the two became trusting and deep. By 2011, Kilimnik had taken over Manafort’s office in Kiev. This made Kilimnik the primary interface for Manafort’s lone client, a corrupt clique of former gangsters that ruled Ukraine under the banner of their political organization, the Party of Regions.
With his access and his ability to trade information, he built an impressive network. His rolodex came to include reporters from big international news organizations, including The New York Times, as well as denizens of Washington think tanks and diplomats. They would describe him as “user-friendly”—unusually smart, almost always available, and able to perfectly express complex thoughts in English.

The office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller recently confirmed that Kilimnik is the focus on a grand jury investigation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

AEI Taps Robert Doar as New President

The conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has announced that Robert Doar will be its new president.

Here is more from AEI:
Robert Doar, the Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), has been chosen by the AEI Board of Trustees to be the Institute’s 12th president. He will succeed Arthur C. Brooks on July 1, 2019. Brooks, who has been AEI’s president since January 1, 2009, announced last March his decision to step down from the position.
Before joining AEI in 2014, Doar was commissioner of New York City’s Human Resources Administration, where he administered 12 public assistance programs. Programs included cash welfare, food assistance, public health insurance, home care for the elderly and disabled, energy assistance, child support enforcement services, adult protective services and domestic violence assistance, and help for people living with HIV/AIDS. In New York City, Doar oversaw a 25 percent reduction in the city’s cash welfare caseload. Before that role, Doar was New York State commissioner of social services, where he helped make New York a model for the implementation of welfare reform.

Doar's full biography can be found here.

Here is what the Washington Post has to say about the new appointment:
Doar is a mild-mannered Republican known for his conservative bent on policy, and has worked closely with Brooks and Ryan in recent years. His career has been marked by his stints working for moderates like former New York governor George E. Pataki (R) and then-independent New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
While AEI has been an informal farm team for the Trump administration, Doar said he does not want the think tank to be seen as a booster or critic of the president’s agenda.
Doar noted that he looks forward to working on initiatives with more liberal think tanks such as the Brookings Institution, in the spirit of collaboration and finding solutions to policy matters that have long vexed Congress and presidents, such as poverty.

Here is what The NonProfit Times had to say:
The Washington, D.C.-based think tank reported $75 million in total revenue for the Fiscal Year Ending June 2017, with net assets of $304 million.
AEI’s announcement did not indicate a salary for the incoming president. As president, Brooks earned total compensation of $1.11 million, including base compensation of $874,647, according to AEI’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 990 for the year ending June 2017. As resident fellow, Doar earned total compensation of $216,235, including base compensation of $185,400.

The Washington Examiner says that in choosing Doar, it is putting poverty-fighting at the heart of conservatism.

There had been much speculation that former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) would become the next president of the AEI.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#341)

  • Brett McGurk, the former anti-ISIS special envoy, is joining Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as a non-resident senior fellow in its Middle East Program.
  • A history of think tanks - 12 things you should know.
  • The age of the permanent think tank intern.
  • Foundation for Law & International Affairs (FLIA), an "educational, academic, and consultative think tank."
  • RAND: An interactive look at the US-China military scorecard.
  • Suspected North Korean cyber-espionage group using Chrome to spy on think tanks?
  • Husband of New York Times' Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller (Steve Weisman), is the Vice President of think tank PIIE.
  • ADB Institute: The four Rs to look for in think tanks. 
  • UAE gave Center for American Progress (CAP) between $500,000 to $999,000 in 2017.
  • Pic: Think tank conference rooms becoming more popular at corporations.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Hudson Official Quits After Learning of Donation from Putin-Linked Billionaire

Here is more from the New York Post:

Chaos has erupted at a conservative think tank after it was revealed that one of its new donors is Len Blavatnik, the Ukrainian-born billionaire who owns the Warner Music record label.
Charles Davidson — the founder of the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative, a group dedicated to exposing threats by authoritarian regimes to US democracy — said he quit as its executive director upon learning that the Hudson Institute had accepted a $50,000 donation from Blavatnik.
Russian kleptocracy has entered the donor pool of Hudson Institute,” Davidson said in an exclusive interview with The Post. “Blavatnik is precisely what the Kleptocracy Initiative is fighting against — the influence of Putin’s oligarchs on America’s political system and society — and the importation of corrupt Russian business practices and values.”

Think tank donations have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, an many influential think tanks have been rocked by pay-for-play schemes involving foreign money.

A piece that recently appeared in the Washington Post has called on think tanks to sign a "democracy pledge" to accept funding only from democracies.

Interestingly, Hudson says that it "does not seek or accept financial contributions from non-democratic foreign governments or groups or individuals acting on their behalf."

Friday, January 18, 2019

Think Tanks Pressured to Take "Democracy Pledge"

This piece appeared in the Washington Post and was penned by Thorsten Benner, co-founder and director of the Global Public Policy Institute of Berlin:

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has put the spotlight on think tanks and universities receiving funding from the Saudi regime. Under pressure by media reports, a few think tanks, such as the Brookings Institution, the Center for International Studies and the Middle East Institute, have decided to return Saudi money. Top universities such as Harvard, MIT and Georgetown have so far gotten away with their ties to the Saudi regime without confronting much public scrutiny. This makes it clear that most will act only when a questionable source of funding blows up in their faces.
Saudi funding is just the tip of the iceberg. Money from authoritarian governments is flowing into scholarship, not only from the Persian Gulf but also from the likes of China and Turkey. If leading think tanks and universities want to regain their credibility, they need to change course and commit to a “democracy pledge” to accept funding only from democracies.
The work of think tanks and universities is premised on independence, integrity and the search for truth. They are part of the very fabric of liberal democracy and embody the values of open societies. They stand for everything authoritarians despise: open debate, independent judgment, freedom of thought and freedom of speech. If think tanks and universities sell their brands to authoritarians, that has a corrosive effect not just on their own credibility. It also erodes their role as trustworthy pillars of liberal democracy.
It is high time for top universities and think tanks to change course and sign a democracy pledge to accept funding only from fellow democracies (i.e., countries classified as “free” in the Freedom House index). Some think tanks, such as the Hudson Institute and the German Marshall Fund of the United States, already subscribe to such a policy.

Since many of the US's top think tanks continue to heavily rely on foreign money, it is fairly unlikely that any of them will commit to the pledge.  That said, there will likely be more pressure and more internal debate within think tanks to do so in the years ahead as think tanks continue to lose credibility due to funding sources.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Think Tank CAP Fires Two Staffers Amid Leak Investigation

Here is more from The Intercept:

The Center for American Progress fired two staffers suspected of being involved in leaking an email exchange that staffers thought reflected improper influence by the United Arab Emirates within the think tank, according to three sources with knowledge of the shake-up. Both staffers were investigated for leaking the contents of an internal email exchange to The Intercept, but neither of the former employees was The Intercept’s source.
One of those fired, Ken Gude, was a senior national security staffer. He worked at CAP since 2003 and previously served as the progressive think tank’s chief of staff.
A CAP spokesperson acknowledged two employees were fired as a result of the leak investigation, but said that the leak was not the reason they were fired: “We are not going to discuss internal personnel matters, but no one was fired at CAP for leaking or whistleblowing.” Internally, however, multiple members of CAP leadership have used the leak as the leading rationale for the firings in multiple settings, sources said.
At issue was an internal debate over how to frame CAP’s response to the murder of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered by Saudi Arabian officials inside the nation’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
The initial draft of the CAP’s statement condemned the killing and Saudi Arabia’s role in it, calling for specific consequences. Brian Katulis, a Gulf expert at CAP, objected to the specific consequences proposed in an email exchange with other national security staffers, according to sources who described the contents of the thread to The Intercept. 
The UAE, Saudi Arabia’s closest ally, is one of the top donors to the think tank. Katulis is close with the UAE’s ambassador in Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba.
 Katulis is CAP’s link to Otaiba. As The Intercept has previously reported, Katulis worked with the diplomat to help organize UAE-sponsored trips to the wealthy Gulf country for American think tank experts, according to emails purloined from Otaiba’s Hotmail inbox.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) has experienced lots of drama the past couple years.  In April, the think tank was bashed for its response to sexual harassment claims. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#340)

  • Pic: Ireland's Minister of Finance in Brookings bookstore.
  • Caroline Baxter on a "think tank Christmas."
  • Two think tanks, two very different interpretations of data on harm reduction.
  • Liberal think tank CAP donated $200,000 to conservative think tank AEI. 
  • Eli Lee: DC, a land populated by ornery semi-humanoid creatures called "wonks" who live in giant tanks.
  • US pistachios, think tanks, and sanctions against Iran.
  • Nikki Haley receives Hudson Institute's 2018 Global Leadership Award.
  • Pic: Banksy's Think Tank.
  • Government's leading space think tank (Center for Space Policy and Strategy) had a very busy year.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Think Tank: Trump's Team Had 100+ Contacts With Russia-linked Operatives

An updated report from the liberal Center for American Progress's (CAP) Moscow Project shows that the Trump campaign and transition team had more than 100 contacts with Russian-linked officials.

The Moscow Project has put together a comprehensive chronological list of contacts that have been discovered to date and the "lies Trump's campaign, transition, and White House told to hide them."

Here is more about the Moscow Project:
The Moscow Project is an initiative of the Center for American Progress Action Fund dedicated to analyzing the facts behind Trump’s collusion with Russia and communicating the findings to the public. The Moscow Project’s team employs a multi-disciplinary approach towards its work, leveraging a unique combination of experience and expertise gained on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, and in private industry to examine this complex and sprawling series of events stretching back decades.

The co-founder and director of the Moscow Project is Max Bergmann, who is a senior fellow at CAP, where he focuses on European security and US-Russia policy.  Bergmann served in the State Department of the Obama Administration.

Here is USA Today's story on the updated Moscow Project report.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

AEI Is the Noma of Think Tank Dining Experiences

The conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) tends to have better meals than most think tanks in and around Washington, DC.

In fact, it just made the New York Times food section:

At the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, employees are treated daily to an elaborate buffet with appropriately white-shoe fare like prime rib, crab cakes and housemade beignets.
The prime rib and beignets at the American Enterprise Institute may seem inevitable for a research group that extols the rewards of a free market, but there also less fancy choices like deli meats and eggs. “I wouldn’t call it elaborate,” a company spokeswoman said. “I would call it everyday food.”
Rosemary Newsome, 22, a development intern, is thrilled with the spread. “I do kind of joke that now that I have this, I can’t go back to anything less,” she said.

Back in 2016, the Washingtonian said that AEI has one of the best lunches in Washington.

Scoring free food at think tanks has become so popular that it has even spawned the so-called "Panel Crasher," who years ago was documenting his hunt for free food at think tanks.

Know of any think tanks with better food than AEI?  Please send your tips and opinions to Think Tank Watch.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Jamal Khashoggi Wanted to Start a Washington Think Tank

Here is more from the Washington Post:

Even in exile, [Jamal] Khashoggi remained loyal to Saudi Arabia and reluctant to sever ties to the royal court. In September 2017, at the same time he was embarking on a new role as opinion columnist for The Washington Post, he was pursuing up to $2 million in funding from the Saudi government for a think tank that he proposed to run in Washington, according to documents reviewed by the paper that appear to be part of a proposal he submitted to the Saudi ministry of information.

Here is reaction from the think tank community about taking Saudi money.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Hackers Tried to Infiltrate German Think Tanks

Here is more from Bloomberg:

Hackers have released private data linked to Chancellor Angela Merkel and hundreds of other German politicians in the biggest data dump of its kind in the country.
Hackers tried to infiltrate computers of think tanks associated with the governing CDU and SPD parties in 2017. A year earlier, scammers set up a fake server in Latvia to flood German lawmakers with phishing emails.

Germany has 225 think tanks.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#339)

  • Pic: China beefing up its think tank game (half-page ad in Wall Street Journal).
  • Only-in-DC: Think tanker approached on Metro by someone who says "I loved your working paper on how to build a think tank."
  • CFR holds Council of Councils 11th Regional Conference.
  • Adam Smith Institute has removed passages from its website which promise donors meetings with politicians and government officials.
  • Jonathan Schanzer: "I'm a wonk at a think tank.  Turkish media say I'm an international man of mystery."
  • FT: Think tanks are having an existential crisis.
  • Stacey Abrams joins board of Center for American Progress.
  • Atlantic Council: NATO must prepare to counter a rapid Russia invasion in Europe.
  • RUSI: China is driving use of armed drones in Mideast.
  • Niskanen Center draws up plan for a new Republican Party.

Friday, January 4, 2019

DC Think Tanks Face New Rules for Serving Food & Drinks

Those who attend think tank events in Washington, DC may notice something a little different with drink stations this year.

As of Jan. 1, 2019, think tanks in DC will need to follow new rules which require the use of compostable and/or reusable straws and stirrers when serving food or beverages.

Fines for violations of the ban on single-use plastic straws and stirrers will begin on July 1, 2019.

A foam ban took effect on Jan. 1, 2016, and a compostable and recyclable food service ware requirement began on Jan. 1, 2017.

Hopefully the new requirements won't cause any fights at think tanks (see video here).

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Think Tank Funded Through Online Platform Patreon

Here is more from The Economist:

Matt Bruenig funded the People’s Policy Project, a left-wing think-tank, through Patreon in 2017. Mr Bruenig already had a large audience before Patreon, with 130,000 followers on Twitter, garnered largely from arguing about the left-wing American politician Bernie Sanders. But now his ideas—expressed through radical papers, such as one on a wealth fund—have a larger audience. And his army of patrons suggests that there is an appetite, at least among younger types, for more radical left-wing proposals in America: with 1,700 patrons Mr Bruenig raises around $9,200 each month.

Here is a link to the People's Policy Project (3P) website, which notes that the think tank is supported by over 1,800 small donors pledging between $5 to $15 per month.  It uses Patreon as well as the ActBlue platform to raise funds.

Matt Bruenig, 3P's president, previously worked as a lawyer at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

He was also a policy analyst at the think tank Demos, where he was fired after sparring with Neera Tanden, the head of the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Vox has noted that Demos is smaller and more left-wing than CAP.