Friday, January 29, 2021

Dark-Money Think Tanks Dominate Congressional Witness Table

 Here is more from Eli Clifton of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft:


When expert witnesses appear before congressional committees, they must disclose certain details about their funding, including federal grants or contracts or money they’ve received from foreign governments. That applies to the expert and the institution they’re representing. These Truth in Testimony rules are intended to ensure that committee members and the general public are given a full picture of the financial interests behind witness testimonies. It is a federal crime to withhold information from the committees.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives Committee on Rules strengthened the Truth in Testimony rule requiring witnesses offering testimony to disclose whether they are the fiduciary of any entity with a financial interest in the subject matter of the hearing, a level of disclosure of potential financial conflicts of interests that was not previously required. Witnesses will also need to disclose if entities they represent received grants or contracts from foreign sources. The new changes will offer greater accountability and insight into the financial interests behind expert witnesses at congressional hearings.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that transparency will win the day. Take, for example, the House Foreign Affairs Committee. An ideologically narrow group of think tanks, many of which refuse to reveal their funding sources, have dominated the witness table, raising uncertainty about how much transparency the new rules will bring about.


The piece notes that of the 622 nongovernmental witnesses appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee over the past two congressional sessions, think tanks were one of the most common sources of expert testimony, accounting for over one-third, or 237, of the witnesses.  Of those 237, under 30% appeared on behalf of institutions that fully disclose their donors.