Monday, April 29, 2019

Heritage Foundation Influences Trump Admin. on Health Policy

Here is more from Roll Call:

Close ties between the administration and a prominent conservative think tank correlate with several Trump administration health policy decisions, according to new information from a liberal government watchdog group shared exclusively with CQ Roll Call.
The 35-page Equity Forward report says that The Heritage Foundation’s influence plays a large role in decisions related to abortion, fetal tissue research, contraception and protections for same-sex couples.
Think tanks that support an administration are known to yield influence over policy decisions, but Equity Forward calls the ties with The Heritage Foundation “alarming” because the organization says Heritage is succeeding in securing policy decisions that contradict HHS’ intended mission.
A separate 2018 report by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania found that The Heritage Foundation ranked as the think tank with the most significant impact on public policy and the top U.S. think tank to watch in 2019.

Here is a link to Equity Forward's new report and here is a press release about it.

Here is an Equity Forward link that takes you directly to Heritage Foundation's ties to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Think Tank CNI Taking Financial Hit From Mueller Probe

The Washington, DC-based think tank Center for the National Interest (CNI) and those connected to it have faced a significant financial blow stemming from the Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.  Here is more from Bloomberg:

Dimitri Simes’s name appears 134 times in the redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Born and educated in Moscow, Simes has been a fixture in Washington since the 1970s, brokering advice and authority for contacts in both capitals. Those relationships proved helpful to the nascent presidential campaign of Donald Trump, later drawing the scrutiny of Mueller’s team.
Mueller’s investigation resulted in a total of 34 indictments covering everyone from Russian hackers to Trump campaign officials, but not Simes or anyone else at his Washington think tank, the Center for the National Interest. And yet, as the probe unfolded, Simes and his staff incurred punishing legal bills during the hours they sat for interviews with the special counsel’s team. The think tank’s largest donor drastically cut his financial support earlier this year, according to four people familiar with the organization’s finances, and Simes himself dealt with unwanted public exposure. With no finding of wrongdoing to show for their travails, Simes and the center are nevertheless an object lesson in the unexpected costs of influence-peddling.
Simes has spent his career mostly behind the scenes, moving to the U.S. in 1973 and serving as an informal foreign policy adviser to President Richard Nixon. Nixon personally installed him at the helm of the Center for the National Interest when he founded it in 1994 as the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom. 
The Center for the National Interest organized the event where Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner first met Henry Kissinger, and it also hosted Trump’s first foreign policy speech at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel. Furthermore, as the Mueller report says, Simes met Jared Kushner in August 2016 to offer dirt on the Clinton family’s relationship with Russia.
The last two years have been a drain on Simes’s think tank, which is down to about $1.2 million in assets, a person familiar with its finances says, from $5.3 million at the end of 2016, according to a tax filing. The Center for the National Interest ran up huge legal bills with its longtime attorneys David Rivkin and Lee Casey of BakerHostetler, say three people familiar with the costs; one of them says some monthly bills ran in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Simes’s think tank has found itself in a precarious financial position in part because its largest donor, a foundation overseen by Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the former American International Group chief executive officer and former Center for the National Interest board chairman, has pulled much of its support. Last August the Daily Beast published a story connecting Greenberg to Maria Butina, once the darling of the pro-gun right, who has since pleaded guilty to federal charges of acting as an agent of the Russian government, in matters unrelated to the Mueller probe.
Charles Boyd, the think tank’s current chairman and a retired four-star general in the U.S. Air Force, expects that new interest from donors and increased revenue from its magazine, the National Interest, will help the organization bounce back. Jacob Heilbrunn, the magazine’s editor, says an investment in “the six figures” into the National Interest’s website and magazine has boosted traffic and advertising; monthly revenue is in excess of $250,000, while monthly page views hit 16.6 million in March, Heilbrunn says.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about CNI hosting Donald Trump for a foreign policy speech.  After that event, CNI fired one of its employees for questioning the think tank's ties to Trump.

Here is a link to an interview that Simes just had with Christiane Amanpour on the Russia probe and the think tank's ties to Russia.

Update: Here is a new Politico piece on Simes and his ties to Jared Kushner. And here is a piece by Washington Post's Josh Rogin entitled "Dimitri Simes Flew Too Close to Trump, and His Think Tank Got Burned."

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Think Tanks Helping Shape China's Belt and Road Initiative

China continues to ramp up its support for and creation of think tanks.  Here is more from Xinhua:

Preparation is complete for a thematic-forum on think tank exchanges to be held during the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, the organizers said Tuesday.
The think tank forum will be held at the China National Convention Center in Beijing on Thursday.
The event, hosted by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, is organized by the China Center for International Economic Exchanges and the Xinhua Institute.
About 300 people will attend the thematic-forum, including former foreign politicians, representatives of international organizations, enterprises and financial institutions.
The forum will begin with an opening meeting and then be followed by two parallel sessions on think tanks and media, respectively.
The sessions will focus on four sub-topics: aligning development strategies and plans, building a fair, open and transparent system of international rules, promoting an inclusive world economy and building a community with a shared future for humanity.

Here is more about think tanks and the BRI.

In related news, the Chinese government has chided some think tanks, such as the US's Center for Global Development (CGD), for spreading what it says are "false accusations" about BRI.

Indeed, skepticism about BRI abounds in many Western think tanks.  For example, Amsterdam-based think tank European Foundation for South Asian Studies recently said that that BRI is not likely to work for Nepal.

The Beijing-based Pangoal Institution has just published a book on node countries' views of BRI.

South Korean lawyer Choi Jae Cheon has established his own think tank on BRI.

Update: The Belt and Road Studies Network, co-initiated by Xinhua Institute and 15 other think tanks, was inaugurated in Beijing.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Microsoft Helping to Secure Think Tanks, 2020 Elections

Microsoft has a new security service called Microsoft AccountGuard designed to help targeted customers, including think tanks, protect themselves from cybersecurity threats.

Here is more from Microsoft:
While Microsoft AccountGuard is new, it’s grounded in work we’ve done for years to protect democratic processes. This includes support for the Iowa caucuses in 2016, our role as a technology supplier to conventions for both major U.S. parties, and the work of our Washington, D.C.-based team to serve both political campaigns and U.S. government institutions. Based on these foundational experiences, we constructed Microsoft AccountGuard to account for the threats these organizations face, their unique resource constraints and the mix of technologies they often use.
Microsoft AccountGuard is open to all current candidates for federal, state and local office in the United States and their campaigns; the campaign organizations of all sitting members of Congress; national and state party committees; technology vendors who primarily serve campaigns and committees; and certain nonprofit organizations and nongovernmental organizations. Microsoft AccountGuard is offered free of charge. Organizations must be using Office 365 to register.
Microsoft AccountGuard will provide notification about cyberthreats, including attacks by known nation-state actors, in a unified way across both email systems run by organizations and the personal accounts of these organizations’ leaders and staff who opt in. Eligible organizations can invite staff and other associates to enroll in Microsoft AccountGuard, and notification will only occur with the consent of the account owner.

Microsoft is also expanding AccountGuard in Europe, citing similar threats to democracy:
We all saw hacking and disinformation attacks on the French presidential election in 2017, and European leaders have recently warned that attacks will continue across Europe in 2019. At Microsoft, we’ve seen recent activity targeting democratic institutions in Europe as part of the work our Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) and Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) carry out every day to protect all of our customers.
These attacks are not limited to campaigns themselves but often extend to think tanks and non-profit organizations working on topics related to democracy, electoral integrity, and public policy and that are often in contact with government officials. For example, Microsoft has recently detected attacks targeting employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations, The Aspen Institutes in Europe and The German Marshall Fund.

The service launched in August 2018, in preparation for the 2018 US midterm elections.  AccountGuard is now helping secure "the 2020 US general elections and broader political and think tank community," says Microsoft.

Over the past several years, Think Tank Watch has documented cyber attacks and cyber intrusions on scores of think tanks in the US, Europe, and elsewhere.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#346)

  • Missing in action: The absence of women scholars on foreign policy panels (via Federiga Bindi and Mimosa Giamanco).
  • Asia Pacific Initiative: What is a think tank? (written by Yoichi Funabashi)
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to lash out at Wikileaks at think tank event.
  • The Onion: Father-in-law think tank issues comprehensive one-sentence solution to immigration, unemployment, crime problems.
  • Chinese think tank warning: US, China "at greater risk of military incidents" in South China Sea.
  • Hudson Institute to staff a committee in charge of implementing a key provision of First Step Act.
  • Good advice for think tank events from Harvard: Just because you can speak up at an event, doesn't mean you should.
  • John Holbein: Has anyone written about the replicability/reproducibility of research done by think tanks?
  • Montenegro officials meet with DC think tanks, including CSIS and Atlantic Council.
  • Should Congress get its own think tank to get smart?

Friday, April 19, 2019

Think Tanks Quietly Help Write Thousands of Laws Across US

Here is more from USA Today:

Each year, state lawmakers across the U.S. introduce thousands of bills dreamed up and written by corporations, industry groups and think tanks.
Disguised as the work of lawmakers, these so-called “model” bills get copied in one state Capitol after another, quietly advancing the agenda of the people who write them
A two-year investigation by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic  and the Center for Public Integrity reveals for the first time the extent to which special interests have infiltrated state legislatures using model legislation.
USA TODAY and the Republic found at least 10,000 bills almost entirely copied from model legislation were introduced nationwide in the past eight years, and more than 2,100 of those bills were signed into law.

Think tanks also play a very significant role in helping write, analyze, and pass (or defeat) legislation at the federal level.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

US Think Tank Scholars Blocked From Entering China

Almost everyone has heard of the ongoing US-China trade war but few have noticed a much quieter war taking place: a US-China think tank war.  Here is the latest from the New York Times:

An American scholar who has advised President Trump on China said late Wednesday that he was not given a visa he sought to attend a recent conference in Beijing, in what he called apparent retaliation for American restrictions on visas for visiting Chinese scholars.
The scholar, Michael Pillsbury, director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, said he applied for a visa with the Chinese Embassy in Washington on March 22 but failed to get approval to attend the conference last Sunday, which was organized by a research institute in Beijing.
The host of the conference in Beijing was the Center for China and Globalization. Mr. Pillsbury, citing Chinese associates, said that the conference had also invited Wendy Cutler, a former United States trade official, but that she had also failed to get a visa. Ms. Cutler could not be reached for comment late Wednesday night.
Mr. Pillsbury said that when he raised the issue with a Chinese Communist Party official he knows, the official pointed to a recent New York Times article that said counterintelligence officials at the F.B.I. had been canceling the long-term visas of some Chinese scholars.
Mr. Pillsbury said he took that to imply that his visa application had been stymied in reprisal for the new restrictions.

The New York Times recently reported that the FBI has barred around 30 Chinese scholars from entering the US.

Here is a link to other people, including scholars from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Asia Foundation, Heritage Foundation, and Cato Institute, who were supposed to attend the event in China.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about Michael Pillsbury, President Trump's "go-to" China scholar.

Calls are now being made for a ceasefire in the "visa war."

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#345)

  • China cultivating a network of EU think tanks to promote Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 
  • Andrew Marshall, RAND researcher who founded DoD's "internal think tank," dies.
  • The world's think tank dilemma, by Yoichi Funabashi.
  • MEI event: The role of think tanks in shaping Middle East policy.
  • The detrimental effects of experts (including think tankers) on politics in autocratic regimes in the Middle East.
  • Public policy think tank SynergyNet to close after 17 years from lack of funds and unfavorable environment in Hong Kong.
  • Think tank CEI calls on NBC to stop blacking out climate skeptics.
  • US think tank leaders urge China to release Canadian researcher, citing threat to ties.
  • Women, gender, and think tanks. 
  • Will the secretive 45 Club be a conduit for Trump alumni to get think tank jobs?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Scholars Try to Block Kirstjen Nielsen from Think Tank Post

Here is more from Vox:

Kirstjen Nielsen is out of a job. Now some scholars want to make sure she doesn’t get a new one — at least, not anywhere near them.
A handful of scholars and media figures have signed a petition, written on Monday by George Washington University political scientist Henry Farrell, vowing not to “associate myself in any way” with any think tank or university department that employs the homeland security secretary, who resigned on Sunday.
It’s pretty typical for former administration officials to take jobs in the American intelligentsia: Two former Trump allies have landed at Harvard alone. But Farrell and his allies think Nielsen shouldn’t get this kind of soft landing in the intellectual class. The harsh immigration policies she instituted — most infamously the “zero tolerance” policy that led to thousands of family separations at the border — are, in their view, morally intolerable.

Here is a link to the petition, which has around 200 signatories so far.  Dr. Henry Farrell, who started the petition, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Here is a recent piece by Charles Pierce of Esquire entitled "Kirstjen Nielsen Will Have a Book Deal and a Think Tank Job Before You Can Say 'Kids in Cages.'"

Monday, April 15, 2019

FBI Blocking Chinese Think Tankers From Entering US?

Here is more from the New York Times:

In the four decades since China and the United States normalized relations, Washington has generally welcomed Chinese scholars and researchers to America, even when Beijing has been less open to reciprocal visits. Republican and Democratic administrations have operated on the assumption that the national interest was well served by exposing Chinese academics to American values.
Now, that door appears to be closing, with the two nations ramping up their strategic rivalry and each regarding academic visitors from the other with greater suspicion — of espionage, commercial theft and political meddling.
The F.B.I. has mounted a counterintelligence operation that aims to bar Chinese academics from the United States if they are suspected of having links to Chinese intelligence agencies. As many as 30 Chinese professors in the social sciences, heads of academic institutes, and experts who help explain government policies have had their visas to the United States canceled in the past year, or put on administrative review, according to Chinese academics and their American counterparts.

According to the latest think tank count from the University of Pennsylvania, the United States has 1,871 think tanks, India has 509, and China has 507.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Bernie Sanders Gets Angry at Liberal Think Tank CAP

Here is more from the New York Times:

Senator Bernie Sanders, in a rare and forceful rebuke by a presidential candidate of an influential party ally, has accused a liberal think tank of undermining Democrats’ chances of taking back the White House in 2020 by “using its resources to smear” him and other contenders pushing progressive policies.
Mr. Sanders’s criticism of the Center for American Progress, delivered on Saturday in a letter obtained by The New York Times, reflects a simmering ideological battle within the Democratic Party and threatens to reopen wounds from the 2016 primary between him and Hillary Clinton’s allies. The letter airs criticisms shared among his supporters: That the think tank, which has close ties to Mrs. Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment, is beholden to corporate donors and has worked to quash a leftward shift in the party led partly by Mr. Sanders.
Mr. Sanders sent the letter days after a website run by the action fund, ThinkProgress, suggested that his attacks on income inequality were hypocritical in light of his growing personal wealth.

The Sanders-CAP feud seems to be escalating.  And here is more from The Hill.

Here is a link to Sanders speaking at CAP's Ideas Conference in 2018 where he thanked CAP for the "important work" it has done over the years.

In 2017, Sanders was not invited to CAP's Ideas Conference.

Update: The New York Times has a major piece on Neera Tanden and CAP, which among other things, quotes her mother, Maya Tanden.  [The Washington Post has a new piece on how her mom became "collateral damage."]  NYT notes that CAP and its sister political arm have a $60 million combined annual budget and 320 staff members.

It says that money to the think tank from the personal foundation of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg surged to $665,000 in 2018 from $15,000 in 2017.  And from 2016 through 2018, CAP accepted nearly $2.5 million from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to fund its National Security and International Policy Initiative.

Among other things, Tanden, whose salary was $397,000 in 2018, reportedly punched Faiz Shakir, the former editor of the think tank's ThinkProgress website.  He is now managing Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.

Can a think tank president be "too online."

Here is a piece about Benjamin Edwards, professional artist and husband of Neera Tanden.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#344)

  • Next100: A pop-up think tank for the next generation of policy leaders.
  • Stability in think tank rankings, but are they an elitist bunch?
  • Microsoft says it has found another Russian operation targeting prominent think tanks. 
  • Richard Fontaine named CEO of CNAS after Victoria Nuland returns to Albright Stonebridge Group as senior counselor.
  • Antiquities Coalition: A think tank fighting stolen art and antiquities.
  • AEI holds secretive Republican gathering at Sea Island Resort in Georgia with VP Pence, Mike Pompeo, and Jared Kushner. 
  • Little-known think tank (Niskanen Center) becomes brain trust of "Never Trumpism."
  • Ben Freeman: DC think tanks receive millions from authoritarian governments to shape foreign policy in their favor.
  • The Onion: Brookings report says fax machines still pretty impressive.
  • New French think tank: L'Observatoire de l'Ethique Publique.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Google Employees Demanded Removal of Heritage President From New AI Council

Here is more from CNN:

Google has shuttered its new artificial intelligence ethics council, a little more than a week after announcing it and days after a swarm of employees demanded the removal of the president of a conservative think tank from the group.
In a statement Thursday, Google told CNN Business that it has "become clear that in the current environment" the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council "can't function" as the company wanted.
"So we're ending the council and going back to the drawing board. We'll continue to be responsible in our work on the important issues that AI raises, and will find different ways of getting outside opinions on these topics," Google said.
The decision, which was first reported by Vox Media, came in the wake of nearly 2,400 Google employees signing a post on the website Medium demanding the company remove Kay Coles James — president of conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation — from the council. Published Monday by a group of employees calling itself Googlers Against Transphobia, the post said that by adding James to the group, Google was "making clear that its version of 'ethics' values proximity to power over the wellbeing of trans people, other LGBTQ people, and immigrants."
Heritage has openly opposed LGBT rights. And the group of Google employees pointed out several recent Twitter posts in which James criticized proposed federal legislation such as the Equality Act, which aims to halt discrimination based on gender identity, sex and sexual orientation. On Twitter, James called the bill "anything but equality" and said it would "open every female bathroom and sports team to biological males."

In response, Kay Coles James penned an opinion piece saying that she had been treated with "hostility."

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Japanese Government Funding More Japan Chairs at Think Tanks

Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is making an intense push to fund more Japan Chairs at think tanks in the US and Europe as is seeks to influence Western allies.

In March, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) announced the establishment of a new full-time Senior Fellow for Japanese Studies who will be based at the think tank's London headquarters.  The position, which has not yet been filled (job ad here), was created through a multi-million dollar donation from the government of Japan.

In the United States, the Hudson Institute is also launching a Japan Chair, with President Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to be the new chair.

Some of the people spotted in attendance at a launch event for Hudson's Japan Chair, according to Politico, include:
H.R. McMaster, Ken Weinstein, Matt Pottinger, Patrick Cronin, Mike Pillsbury, Scooter Libby, Jim Carafano, Leslie Schweitzer, Francesca Craig, Dave Lawler, Zeke Miller, Josh Rogin, Halley Toosi and Steve Herman.

In 2018, after being pushed out of the Trump Administration, McMaster returned to Stanford's Hoover Institution.  McMaster had his first stint at Hoover in 2002 as a national security affairs fellow and then served as a visiting fellow from 2003 to 2017.

He has also been a Consulting Senior Fellow at IISS.  Conservatives launched numerous attacks (see here, here, and here) for his affiliation with the UK-based think tank.  Dr. Patrick Cronin, who holds Hudson's Asia-Pacific Security Chair, formerly served as Director of Studies at IISS.  Cronin recently left the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) to join Hudson.

The largest and most influential Japan Chair is at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  It is run by Dr. Michael Green, former Senior Director for Asia at the National Security Council (NSC).

In 2018, Hudson hosted more than 115 events in Washington, DC, including a major China speech by Vice President Mike Pence.  Hudson also says its experts penned 446 op-eds in major newspapers in 2018.

Last year, Hudson had total revenues of $17.5 million.  Of that, 40% came from individuals, 30% from foundations, 12% from corporations, 11% from endowment distributions, and 7% from governments.

Besides the government of Japan, other Japanese donors to Hudson include: All Nippon Airways (ANA), The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), Mitsui Corporation, and Hitachi.

Non-Japanese donors to the think tank include the Government of Denmark, MacArthur Foundation, Microsoft, Rupert Murdoch, Northrop Grumman, Oracle, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), Boeing, and Ford Motor.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

White House Working on Secret Health Care Plan With 3 Think Tanks

Here is more from the Washington Examiner:

The White House is quietly working on a healthcare policy proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the matter.
While it is not clear how far along the process is, work on a proposal has been going on for months. The effort appears to belie criticism that Trump's decision to restart the debate on healthcare, an issue Democrats used to their advantage in the 2018 midterms, was an error committed without forethought.
The analyst said the administration has been “having conversations” on healthcare policy and has reached out to numerous think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Mercatus Center, and the Hoover Institute.

And in related healthcare news, Scott Gottlieb, the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recently announced that he would be returning to his old think tank, American Enterprise Institute (AEI).  He reportedly plans to focus on drug prices and will commute to Washington, DC around six days per month.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Sanctioned Russian Oligarch's Think Tank Might Come to US

Here is more from ThinkProgress:

A Berlin-based think tank founded and chaired by sanctioned Russian oligarch Vladimir Yakunin is exploring the possibility of opening an office in the United States, a spokesperson for the group told ThinkProgress.
Jean-Christophe Bas, the current CEO of Yakunin’s Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC) think tank, said that he’s considering opening a “liaison office” in New York. The office “would be liaising with the United Nations,” as well as with international groups like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bas said.
Yakunin has been on the U.S. sanctions list since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, identified as a key player in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. The oligarch has long been a member of Putin’s inner circle, and was closely involved in the early networks used to cement Putin’s power.
Yakunin helped found the DOC, and is currently chairman of its supervisory board.
The DOC claims to be independently funded, but German media reported that Yakunin planned to give tens of millions of dollars to the DOC to help fund its operations. [Olga] Shorina wrote that “Yakunin reportedly has invested $28 million of his personal wealth in the think tank over five years, but the organization has no official record of its income and expenses.”

Here is a link to the think tank's website, and here is a link to its 2017 annual report.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Dems Seek Answers on Heritage Foundation Law Clerk Training

Here is more from Bloomberg Law:

Six Democratic senators want to know if law clerks participating in a conservative organization’s training program violated the judicial codes of conduct.
The Heritage Foundation, which held the training program in February, has advocated for “repealing reproductive rights; dismantling affirmative action policies; limiting voting rights; and restrictive immigration policies,” the Judiciary Committee members said in a letter to James Duff, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
The organization has touted its role in helping President Donald Trump select nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The anonymously-funded program originally made participants pledge their secrecy and promise not to use their training for purposes contrary to the interests of the Heritage Foundation, the senators said.
It also held a session about immigration law on the same day that the foundation released a report concerning its immigration agenda, the letter said.
The senators asked whether any current or future judge or judicial employee asked the office for advice about attending that program, and what conclusion the office reached if they did. 
The letter cited guidance that the office issued after the program, which listed situations in which attending certain events could violate judicial codes of conduct.
Concerns are raised when the event sponsor engages in contentious debates over public policy and the program is funded by unknown sources, according to that guidance.

In response to the letter from the US senators, Heritage Foundation's John Malcolm issued this response, which denies any wrong-doing.

Here is more about the think tank's Federal Clerkship Training Academy.  And here is what the New York Times had to say about it.