Friday, February 26, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#401)

  • CNAS CEO promotes T-12 to fend off China while Chinese think tank circulates new paper on possible US-China cybersecurity agenda.
  • Weapons biz bankrolls experts (including think tankers) pushing to extend Afghan War.
  • Jessica Matthews, former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes that "a return to the pre-Trump status quo isn't possible."
  • The Cato Institute has a brand new design; ice cream giants Ben & Jerry do a Cato podcast.
  • New Chatham House toolkit launches outlining recommendations to help think tanks seriously include gender in their work.
  • Hot rumor: Zoom Cat joins Atlantic Council as a Senior Fellow.
  • What think tanks nerds need to Google for Valentine's Day.
  • New Kent Calder book chronicling growing influence of think tanks.
  • What think tanks (if any) do you admire and why?
  • New America's Molly Martin has a new way to explain a think tank: "wonder tub."

Thursday, February 25, 2021

New Report Details South Korea's Outreach to Think Tanks

A new report from the Center for International Policy's (CIP) Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative (FITI) on South Korean lobbying efforts in the US describes various outreach activities that South Korea does related to think tanks.  Here is more:

The Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI) reported 650 political activities - by far the most of any FARA registrant working for South Korean interests in 2019.  KEI describes itself as, "the premier U.S. think tank and public outreach organization solely dedicated to helping Americans understand the breadth and important of our relations with the Republic of Korea."  KEI is the only FARA registrant working for South Korea that is considered a think tank, and the organization's reported FARA activities reflect this unique status.  Unlike other firms, KEI's activities were primarily directed at other think tanks (229 activities), universities (136 activities), and other non-profits (93 activities).

KEI conducted nearly all (229) of South Korea's outreach to think tanks, contacting dozens of think tanks in D.C., with many of those interactions being with larger think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies (22 contacts), the Bookings Institution (11 contacts), and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (10 contacts).

A previous FITI report, "Foreign Funding of Think Tanks in America," found that South Korea was one of the top donors to think tanks, contributing nearly $2 million from 2014-2018.  Notably, CSIS was one of the top recipients of that funding.


Among other things, the report notes that Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough LLP, which lobbies on behalf of the Korean government, attended various think tank events on behalf of Korea.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Bank's Internal Think Tank Starts Lobbying for First Time Ever

While think tanks often quietly lobby the US executive and legislative branches of government, or do so more overtly via sister lobbying arms, it has been quite rare for corporate think tanks to do so, until now.  Here is more from Axios:

The JPMorgan Chase Institute — the bank's internal think tank of sorts — and its new policy arm are pushing for policy changes for the first time, the company shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: The institute is sending its recommendations to Washington, as Congress hashes out a pandemic stimulus package.

What they're saying: "Even after you account for stimulus payments, unemployment insurance, renters experienced a greater than 10% drop in income, suggesting that they are really struggling," Heather Higginbottom, president of JPMorgan Chase PolicyCenter.

  • "We're trying to use our data and analysis to inform some of those conversations," Higginbottom added.

What they're proposing:

  • Raising the federal minimum wage, though they don't say by how much.
  • Adding wage benefits for working parents — particularly women of color disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
  • Switching off expanded unemployment benefits only when certain economic conditions improve and state unemployment rates fall to a certain level.


The  JPMorgan Chase (JPMC) Institute, launched in 2015, describes itself a "global think tank releasing groundbreaking work using proprietary data, expertise, and market access."  Co-presidents of JPMC Institute are Chris Wheat and Fiona GriegHere is a previous Think Tank Watch post about the think tank.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about the JPMorgan Chase Policy Center which launched in 2019 and is run by Heather Higginbottom, a former Obama Administration official.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Former Think Tank President Running for Governor in Virginia

Here is more from the Washington Post:

Peter Doran, a former Washington think tank executive and author, joined the crowded race for Virginia governor this week with a promise to phase out the state income tax.

Doran is the former president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, where he used to help former Soviet bloc countries rebuild after “the ravages of socialism,” according to his biography. An Arizona native, he has lived in Virginia since graduating from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 2006.

Here is a link the the homepage of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), whose current President and CEO is Dr. Alina Polyakova.  Amb. Kurt Volker, who served as US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, is a Distinguished Fellow at the think tank.

Mr. Doran, who is an expert on Russia, Ukraine, and transatlantic relations, also served as a George C. Marshall Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#400)

  • Former Secretary of State George Schultz, who died at 100, remained active into his 90s through a position at Stanford University's Hoover Institution think tank and various boards. 
  • New Authoritarian Influence Tracker, a project of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at GMF, catalogues the Russian and Chinese governments' activities to undermine democracy in more than 40 transatlantic countries since 2000.
  • "Sharp power," a term coined in a Dec. 2017 report by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), is being used by the Biden Administration.
  • Is there too much geographical favoritism in think tank papers?
  • Klon Kitchen, previously director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Technology Policy, has joined AEI as a resident fellow.
  • "Foreign policy as domestic policy" went from a "buzzy think tank concept to the heart of Biden's remarks in record time."
  • CNAS adjunct Jordan Schneider interviews CNAS CEO Richard Fontaine.
  • Spotted at a Wilson Center event where former Rep. Jane Harman announced her retirement as president: Justice Stephen Breyer, Ash Carter, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Roger Wicker, Reps. Karen Bass and Debbie Dingell, and Jeh Johnson.
  • The death of CAP President Neera Tanden's Twitter feed?  Is Tanden's nomination doomed?
  • 2018 flashback: The 10 names that matter on China policy.
  • Predators and Principles: Think Tank Influence, Media Visibility, and Political Partnership (dissertation by Timothy Beryl Bland of VCU.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Biden Nominee Proposed Agency Overseeing Think Tanks

 Here is more from Washington Examiner:

President Biden's nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Rohit Chopra, has raised concerns among Republicans for a 2018 report in which he argued for the creation of a regulatory "superagency" that critics say could target conservative advocacy groups.

The proposed Public Integrity Protection Agency (PIPA), like the CFPB, would not receive its funding from congressional appropriation and would have the power "to bring civil and criminal enforcement actions in federal court, along with issuing civil money penalties," in addition to having the authority "to inspect and investigate individuals and companies seeking to influence federal officials."

"The new PIPA wouldn’t just be responsible for policing the bureaucracy. It would also have jurisdiction over think tanks, advocacy groups and other organizations that seek to influence the political process," the report reads. "The PIPA could propose and enforce new rules on funding disclosure, making clear to lawmakers, regulators and the public when organizations are speaking on behalf of particular donors."


There is currently no federal or state agency that oversees think tanks in the United States, although they must follow certain tax and reporting requirements under the law.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Why Your Think Tank Paper Never Gets Read

Think Tank Watch reads through thousands of think tank papers each year so you don't have to, but what about everybody else?

Axios reminds us why so few think tank papers are read:

  • Only 5% of readers make it to the end of a typical 800-word piece.
  • Over 80% stop reading before they finish the first page.
  • 60% to 80% of those who stay will scan - but not read - the information in front of them.

For the record, an 800-word piece is roughly 1.6 pages single-spaced or 3.2 pages double-spaced.

Conclusion: Nobody reads long pieces so keep in short.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Lobby Shop Behind DC's Newest Middle East Think Tank

 Here is more from Foreign Lobby Report:

Late last month the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited his fellow lawmakers to discover a new think tank dedicated to Tunisia, a tiny North African country with an outsize influence in Washington due to its status as the Arab Spring’s sole success story.

In his Jan. 14 Dear Colleague letter, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) described the Center for Strategic Studies on Tunisia (CSST) as a US-based initiative “established to strengthen ties between the United States and Tunisia and position Tunisia as a model for other nations that seek to build their own democratic institutions.” He invited members of Congress to a Feb. 4 webinar hosted by the CSST to discuss the “challenges and opportunities” for US-Tunisia relations and the “lessons learned” since a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire a decade ago, sparking anti-government protests across the Middle East.

Unmentioned in the letter was the ambitious Tunisian woman behind the think tank — or the Washington lobbying firm that helped her get it off the ground.

Olfa Hamdi, a Tunisian-born, US-educated, 32-year-old engineer, is the think tank’s president and founder as well as its public face. Corporate records show she registered the CSST in Washington last July and another group called the American Tunisian Partnership Project a month later.

While its website says it was founded by Hamdi to “help strengthen the American-Tunisian relationship and ensure a bright future for her native Tunisia,” the think tank is housed in the offices of Cornerstone Government Affairs, a lobbying firm with a strong presence in Texas.


The piece goes on to note that four of the five US experts listed as providing the think tank with support on communications and policy are Cornerstone employees. 

Here is a press release announcing the think tank's launch, and here is a link to the think tank itself.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#399)

  • Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows joins the Conservative Partnership Institute, a group run by former Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint. 
  • French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at Atlantic Council event.
  • Rocky Mountain Institute announced it will now go by RMI, as part of a major brand relaunch.
  • 31-year-old think tank researcher Shai Akabas achieved something that hordes of well-funded lobbyists and power players in Washington often fail to do: He got Congress to take action.
  • In 2019, US Ambassador to Denmark barred an American NATO expert critical of Donald Trump (Atlantic Council's Stanley Sloan) from speaking at an international conference hosted by the US embassy and a Danish think tank (Danish Atlantic Council).
  • Embassy of Qatar has been hosting Democrats close to Joe Biden who work at think tanks.
  • The Palm Center: "A think tank that advocates for LGBTQ policies in the military."
  • New think tank seeks to influence thinking on disability at work.
  • Foundations focusing their attention of saving democracy.
  • Think tanks and policymaking, via Hartwig Pautz.

Friday, February 12, 2021

CFR President Leaves Republican Party

Richard Haass, President of the foreign policy think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), announced via Twitter that he has left the Republican Party, saying that he changed his registration to "no party affiliation."


Hasss, who has worked in several different US administrations, was a critic of former President Donald Trump.  He recently praised President Joe Biden's choice of Antony Blinken as Secretary of State.

A number of people affiliated with CFR, including members and staffers, have gone into the Biden Administration.

Here is what The Hill had to say about Haass's announcement.  Here is a Feb. 8 piece from Haass entitled "Whither US Foreign Policy?"  In it, he argues that Biden's foreign policy signals a return to tradition but it will be a long time before the US can lead by the power of its example.

Haass recently said that the post-America era started on Jan. 6, 2021, referring to the storming of the US Capitol.

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that dozens of former Bush Administration officials have left the Republican Party, calling it a "Trump cult."

Thursday, February 11, 2021

New Report Examines Conflicts of Interest at CNAS

The Revolving Door Project (RDP), a project of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), has published a new report examining the conflicts of interest at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a national security-focused think tank that is expected to have outsized influence in the Biden Administration.  Here is more from a press release:

A new report from the Revolving Door Project (RDP) examines conflicts of interest at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington, DC think tank from which more than a dozen former staffers or affiliates have been selected to join the Biden administration. The report finds that, despite various public statements to the contrary, CNAS has made multiple policy recommendations that would directly benefit some of the think tank’s donors, including military contractors and foreign governments.

The RDP report notes that while CNAS leaders see no problem with taking defense industry money while writing broadly about defense issues, they admit that conflicts arise when the organization talks about specific products produced by organizational donors. Nevertheless, CNAS has violated their own standard by making specific recommendations that benefit its funders on multiple occasions.

In 2018, CNAS released a report suggesting that the US Air Force purchase “another 50 to 75” B-21 bomber jets.” The report did not disclose that the maker of the B-21, Northrop Grumman, was one of CNAS’s largest donors and would stand to gain $33–$49 billion dollars in sales from this recommendation. Yet in the almost four months since this conflict of interest has been identified, CNAS has not added a disclaimer.

In another case, first exposed by The Intercept in 2017, the UAE paid CNAS $250,000 to produce a private “UAE Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Study,” advocating for changes to the legal regime for the export of military-grade drones in the midst of the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen. After receiving approval from the Emirati embassy, CNAS published some of that study’s findings in a public report, urging the Trump administration to “loosen restrictions on drone exports,” and “consider targeted exports of uninhabited aircraft, including armed uninhabited aircraft, to close partners and allies provided that they agree to the principles for proper use.” No disclosure was made of their financial arrangement with the UAE.


Here is the full report.  Here is a recent Axios piece about how a small number of think tanks and consulting firms housed Biden's foreign policy "brain trust."

Here is a recent interview of CNAS CEO Richard Fontaine by CNAS adjunct Jordan Schneider.  In that interview, Fontaine notes that CNAS currently has an annual budget of around $11 million and around 35 full-time employees.

Here is Think Tank Watch's list of all the think tankers that have gone into the Biden Administration.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Biden's CIA Pick Runs a Think Tank With Lots of China Ties

A new piece from the Washington Examiner highlights the multitude of ties that the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has with China.  President Joe Biden recently nominated Bill Burns, President of Carnegie, to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  Here are some excerpts:

President Biden’s nominee to run the CIA, William Burns, is the head of a think tank that has routinely received large donations from groups linked to the Chinese Communist Party.

Burns serves as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and he has invited close to a dozen congressional staffers on a trip to China to meet with communist party operatives and leaders of Chinese front groups.

Burns, who has served in his position at Carnegie for six years, also welcomed Chinese businessman Zhang Yichen, CEO of CITIC Consulting, to join the think tank’s board of trustees.

Zhang is linked to two organizations with Chinese Communist Party ties, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the Center for China and Globalization.

Zhang’s firm gave Carnegie a donation of between $500,000 and $999,000 between 2017 and 2018. In the 2020 fiscal year, the firm made donations to the think tank between $250,000 and $549,999.

Carnegie also received donations between $100,000 and $249,999 from China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF), an organization the Washington, D.C.,-based think tank Jamestown Foundation called “a major player in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s organizational apparatus for conducting united front work in the United States.”

Zhang’s donations helped Carnegie fund the Beijing-based Carnegie-Tsinghua Center, which partners with one of China’s top technological universities, Tsinghua University.


Here are even more details from Daily Caller, which points out that back in 2018, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) raised concerns that Wang Huiyao, the President of the Center for China and Globalization, was set to speak at an event hosted by the Wilson Center think tank.

Among other things, the piece notes that Carnegie is "largely supportive" of closer diplomatic ties between China and the US, and in 2019, the think tank hosted a "1.5 track dialogue" in Beijing aimed at "reducing misperceptions and keeping channels of communication open."

It also notes that Burns at Cui Tiankai, the Chinese Ambassador to the US, appeared together at a Carnegie event in 2018.  The think tank has also provided China Global Television Network (CGTN), a state-controlled news organization, access to its various foreign policy experts.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about China's funding of US think tanks.

It should be noted that nearly every major US foreign policy think tank has numerous ties to China.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

How Much Does CFR's Foreign Affairs Pay for Articles?

Foreign Affairs, the magazine on international relations that is published by the think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), pays people to write its articles from outside sources such as other think tanks.  Here is more from Politico:

Here’s another revelation from the financial disclosures: They tell us which Biden nominees have enjoyed the most lucrative freelance journalism careers. Foreign Affairs paid Bill Burns — whose day job is leading the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace — $1,000 to write this piece with LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Burns made another $7,200 as a contributing editor to The Atlantic.

Power, meanwhile, got Foreign Affairs to cough up $3,000 for her recent piece. The New York Times also paid her $1,800 for this op-ed and $1,200 to review PETER BAKER and SUSAN GLASSER’s book, but she only pulled in $750 for two book reviews published in The Washington Post. (She has a day job teaching at Harvard, too.)


Here is a link to Foreign Affairs, which was founded in 1922.  It is considered one of the US's most influential foreign policy magazines.  It is currently offering one year of its print magazine and unlimited digital access for $49.95.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Biden Team's Most Beloved Think Tanks

A new analysis shows which think tanks 150 of Joe Biden's top transition officials pay attention to and follow.  Here is a look at the top think tanks and the percent of those 150 officials who follow them:

  1. New America (Anne-Marie Slaughter): 19.4%
  2. Center for American Progress (CAP): 19.4%
  3. Brookings Institution: 18.1%
  4. Urban Institute: 15.3%
  5. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR): 13.9%

For the #1 slot, the officials are actually following New America CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter rather than the think tank itself.

It should be noted that many other think tanks will have influence in the Biden Administration, and think tanks that didn't make the top 5, such as Center for a New American Security (CNAS), are arguably more influential than any of the above-mentioned ones.

Here is a list of think tankers that have gone into the Biden Administration.

Friday, February 5, 2021

New Tool: Think Tank Name, Logo & Mission Statement Generator

Are you a former Trump Administration official in need of ideas for the name of your new think tank?  An already-established think tank not happy with your name or logo?  Or perhaps a newly-minted lottery winner looking to start a new think tank?  Well you're in luck.

The folks at UK-based Cast From Clay have created a new site called "Name My Think Tank," a tool where one can have a think tank name, logo, and mission statement automatically generated.  

Here is a post from them entitled "Think tanks: What's in a name?"  They analyzed the 225 US think tanks and 153 UK think tanks currently listed on Wikipedia in order to see what types of names are most common, dividing them into groups such as "descriptive," "conceptual," "eponymous," "location-based," and "hybrid."

In a test of the tool, the generator spit out Think Tank Watch's new think tank name in mere seconds: Council for Macroeconomic Improvement, "an independently funded, bipartisan think tank working across the political spectrum...dedicated to advancing research that leads to better policy decisions."

It is not Think Tank Watch's dream think tank (that would probably be the Center for the Study of the Proliferation of Useless Think Tanks), but it shall do for now.

Another person who has tried the new tool said it could only be improved by including a random generator of donors from a Fortune list of the world's richest billionaires.

Of course, for a seat on the board and a steady supply of cookies, Think Tank Watch will also help you choose a name for your think tank.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Former Vice President Mike Pence Joins Heritage Foundation

Think tanks continue to be popular for former Trump Administration officials.  Just a day after Trump's Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson launched his own think tank, former Vice President Mike Pence announced he is joining the Heritage FoundationHere is more from Politico:

Former Vice President Mike Pence is joining the Heritage Foundation as a distinguished visiting fellow, the conservative think tank announced on Thursday.

He will advise the organization's experts on issues as well as give a number of policy addresses at Heritage, according to the announcement. He will also write a regular column for the think tank's news outlet, the Daily Signal.

The conservative think tank seeded numerous former staffers into the Trump administration, and they’ve picked up other Trump aides on the way out too, including the executive director of Heritage Action for America, Jessica Anderson, who worked at the Office of Management and Budget.

Here is the statement from the Heritage Foundation. 

It was recently announced that three of Trump's Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, Chad Wolf, Ken Cuccinelli, and Mark Morgan, have joined the Heritage Foundation as fellows.

Meanwhile, Elaine Chao, who was the Transportation Secretary in the Trump Administration, is returning to the Hudson Institute as a Distinguished Fellow.  And Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also joining Hudson as a Distinguished Fellow.

Here is a Think Tank Watch list of all the think tankers that have gone into the Biden Administration so far.

Trump's HUD Secretary Ben Carson Starts His Own Think Tank

Former Trump Administration officials continue to embrace think tanks.  Here is the latest announcement from The Hill:

Former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson announced Wednesday that he’s launching a conservative think tank. 

Carson, a former neurosurgeon who served as the Trump administration's only HUD chief, said his think tank, the American Cornerstone Institute (ACI), will provide “common-sense solutions to some of our nation’s biggest problems” and be centered around the “cornerstones” of faith, liberty, community and life.


Here is what Ben Carson has to say about his new think tank.  Here is a link to ACI's new site, which is slim on details right now.  You can sign up for their newsletter and donate money, but that's about it.  No brilliant policy papers yet.

Here is a Think Tank Watch piece from last month noting that Trump's OMB chief Russ Vought is launching his own think tank and sister lobbying arm. 

While those two high-level officials have started their own think tanks, others have been joining the so-called "H" think tanks. 

Elaine Chao, who was the Transportation Secretary in the Trump Administration, is returning to the Hudson Institute as a Distinguished Fellow.  And Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also joining Hudson as a Distinguished Fellow.

Three of Trump's Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Chad Wolf, Ken Cuccinelli, and Mark Morgan, have joined the Heritage Foundation as fellows.

Here is a list of think tankers that have gone into the Biden Administration.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#398)

  • Brookings warning: With China's wealth paired to Russia's resources, and the political trajectories and climate-related interests of the two countries more or less aligned, there is nothing short of a new world order at stake.
  • "There's going to be a global think tank whose sole mission will be to catalog, explain, and prevent the 1000s of ethics trips, tricks and abuses" by the Trump Administration.
  • California is emerging as the de facto policy think tank of the Harris-Biden Administration.
  • Biden's think tanks won't disclose their donors; think tanks with Biden ties pose ethics quandary for his administration.
  • Stacey Abrams is on the Board of Directors at Center for American Progress (CAP).
  • London startup BenevolentAI has spent several years building technology that could help find information buried in vast troves of academic papers.
  • The Milken Institute occupies three buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue...including one opening in 2023, the Center for Advancing the American Dream, which will focus on education, public health, and other issues.
  • The intellectual future of conservatism will be wrestled over at a series of forums at the Center for Social, Cultural and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute that are being organized by Yuval Levin, a scholar there.
  • Restaurant Buffalo & Bergen's rent was waived by Massachusetts Avenue Properties, an affiliate of the Heritage Foundation.
  • AEI's Norm Ornstein, whose foundation aids the mentally ill, fund a new documentary.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Think Tank Quote of the Month: Feb. 2021

This is from Politico:

Revolving door: The new administration has such a familiar ring to it, it’s a wonder there’s anyone left to clean the coffee machine at Albright Stonebridge Group, WestExec, Center for New American Security and other parts of the D.C. progressive talent pipeline. With their big names sucked into the administration, watch now for foreign government partnerships or commercial relationships with that elite category of organizations, as a way to tap into the new administration’s thinking and networks.


A number of think tankers from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) have already been named to top-level Biden Administration posts, and many more are likely to  leave for the new administration. 

In fact, CNAS co-founder Kurt Campbell was recently named as the top Asia official in President Joe Biden's National Security Council (NSC).  Another CNAS co-founder, Michele Flournoy, was on the short-list to become Biden's defense secretary.

Here is a list of think tankers that have gone into the Biden Administration.