Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Patrick Gaspard Named as New Chief of Center for American Progress

Mr. Patrick Gaspard has been named as the new President and CEO of the think tank Center for American Progress (CAP), replacing Neera Tanden who has gone into the Biden Administration.  Gaspard will also be the CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF), the sister lobbying arm of CAP.

Here are some details from his biography:

Patrick Gaspard was a key figure in President Barack Obama’s administration and held a number of prominent positions during Obama’s two terms in office, including serving as U.S. ambassador to the Republic of South Africa in the second term.

From the fall 2011 until the spring 2013, Gaspard served as executive director of the Democratic National Committee, where he steered the national party’s role in reelecting the president and oversaw a $300 million budget and 500 staff.

From 2009 until 2011, he was assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Political Affairs. He also served as the associate director of personnel for the Obama transition and the national political director for the historic 2008 campaign.

Gaspard most recently served as the president of the Open Society Foundations (OSF), one of the largest private philanthropies in the world.

Gaspard was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, to Haitian parents. He grew up in New York City and had a long career there and nationally in organized labor, electoral politics, and public service. He started as a union organizer and rose to become executive vice president for politics and legislation of the Local 1199 branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest unions in the United States.


According to the latest tax records, Tanden had been making close to $400,000 annually working at the think tank.  She is now making around $180,000 working for the US government.

Here is a story on the announcement from Politico, which calls CAP "the most influential think tank" of the Biden era.  It cites some of CAP's "wins," including "shifting the tide of opinion against the Iraq War, helping lay the foundations for health care reform in the leadup to Obamacare's passage, innovating in the world of advocacy media, and feeding personnel to institutions throughout DC."

It notes that CAP along with CAPAF currently have a staff of 287 and an operating budget of $64 million for 2021.

According to Politico, CAP founder and board member John Podesta will remain at the think tank to help with the transition to a new leader, but he may leave in "a year or so."

Daughters of Biden Aides Connected to Think Tanks

The Biden Administration has scores of former think tankers on its team, and that includes the families of some of Biden's top aides.  Here is more from the Washington Post:

Steve Ricchetti’s daughter, Shannon Ricchetti, who graduated from college in 2016, is deputy associate director of the office of the White House social secretary, a job she secured after working at the Aspen Institute and on the Biden transition team. Bruce Reed, a deputy White House chief of staff and longtime Biden confidant, has a daughter, Julia Reed, who graduated college in 2015 and works as Biden’s day scheduler.

Cathy Russell, director of presidential personnel in the White House, has a daughter, Sarah Donilon, who graduated from college in 2019 and works on the White House National Security Council. Sarah Donilon’s uncle, Mike Donilon, is a senior adviser to Biden in the White House.

Sarah Donilon...worked as a McCain Institute fellow with Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council coordinator for the Indo Pacific, with whom she now works in the White House, the White House official said. 


Think Tank Watch has documented well over 100 think tankers who have gone into the Biden Administration.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

H.R. McMaster Quits Atlantic Council Board Over Koch Funding

Here is more from The Washington Free Beacon:

H.R. McMaster, the retired general and former national security adviser, resigned in protest from the board of a Washington, D.C., think tank last month after expressing concern internally that funding from the billionaire Charles Koch was tainting the institution's scholarship.

McMaster, according to two sources familiar with the situation, was alarmed by the publication in March of an Atlantic Council report arguing that the promotion of human rights undercuts America's strategic interest. The report, authored by Emma Ashford and Matthew Burrows, was a product of an Atlantic Council project, the New American Engagement Initiative, funded by a $4.5 million grant from the Charles Koch foundation, according to a press release issued when the grant was announced.

The Atlantic Council has an enormous board of directors that includes retired public servants like George W. Bush national security adviser Stephen Hadley and Gen. David Petraeus; lobbyists like Sally Painter of Blue Star Strategies, who is now under federal investigation for her work for the corrupt Ukrainian gas giant Burisma; and Amir Handjani, a onetime foreign agent for Saudi Arabia's government-controlled investment fund.


The article notes that on June 22, Stephen Wertheim, a scholar at the Quincy Institute, announced his departure from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's American Statecraft Program, funded earlier this year by a new Koch grant.

Here is more from Think Tank Watch about the Atlantic Council kerfuffle back in March.

While McMaster left Atlantic Council, he is still the holder of the Hudson Institute's Japan Chair and is also the Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#417)

  • Centre for Long-Term Resilience issued a report called "Future Proof" making the case that "we are currently living with an unsustainably high level of extreme risk."
  • Bush China Foundation received $5 million grant from China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF).
  • Ben Schreer appointed as Executive Director of IISS's new Berlin office.
  • Foreign influence and think tanks at the witness table, via POGO.
  • Is a nonprofit think tank job right for you? (via Harvard Business Review).
  • 2020 flashback: CNAS CEO Richard Fontaine proposed a New Atlantic Charter for the post-COVID era.
  • Hudson Institute's Rebeccah Heinrichs received hate mail after publishing piece on Chinese drones.
  • EUISS: How the US does foresight; how China does foresight; how Russia does foresight.
  • Launch of the Pulaski Institute, a "think tank focused on building a better global future that leaves fewer places behind."
  • TNR: "Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank, released a report accusing colleges of indoctrinating students in 'social justice ideology' and training them to 'identify, shame, and destroy oppressors,' who are, the report underscored, typically Christian, white, and male."

Friday, June 18, 2021

Think Tanks Snag Part of MacKenzie Scott's Billions

MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has just donated nearly $2.8 billion to 286 different organizations, the latest round of her massive donations which have left a handful of think tanks with piles of surprise cash.

The two most recent beneficiaries: Roosevelt Institute and Urban Institute.

Here is a clip from a Roosevelt Institute press release:

Today, the Roosevelt Institute’s efforts to move our nation toward a more equitable, democratic, and green future received a major boost from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who announced Roosevelt as one of 286 recipients of new funding—directed to nonprofits identified as centering equity, social progress, and community engagement.

“By creating more democratic institutions and empowering disadvantaged communities to make decisions about their priorities and futures, we can seed civic engagement and rectify racial, gender, and economic inequalities,” said Felicia Wong, president and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute.


As of this writing, the Urban Institute has not released a statement on the donation.

Last year, Jeff Bezos gave the World Resources Institute (WRI) $100 million, the largest single donation a think tank has every received. 

David Callahan, founder of the website Inside Philanthropy, said that Scott has so far shown little interest in think tanks and research institutions that often shape policy in Washington and statehouses around the US.  "She just doesn't seem to be tuned in to that kind of stuff at all," he said.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#416)

  • Atlantic Council EVP Damon Wilson named President & CEO of National Endowment for Democracy (NED). 
  • China Daily: Chinese think tanks need to distinguish themselves from universities.
  • Elliott Abrams joins 75 other national scholars and practitioners to launch the Vandenberg Coalition, a new network "committed to advancing a strong and proud American foreign policy."
  • Tesla vice president Grace Tao, along with executives at Baidu Inc. and Alibaba, attended a policy discussion held by a Chinese think tank on data security.
  • The Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute of Money in Politics are merging to form OpenSecrets.
  • Story of Patrick Syring, a US State Department employee who threatened staff at the Arab American Institute, a think tank James Zogby founded in 1995.
  • Employ America: "A think tank focused on creating tighter labor markets." 
  • UN turns to artificial intelligence (AI) in its peace efforts.  Will think tanks?
  • Think tank policy and the 67th Montana legislature.
  • Lose election, gain think tank (via Tevi Troy).

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Biden Prepped by Think Tankers Before Putin Summit

Here is more from Axios:

President Biden assembled a group of outside Russia experts — including former Trump officials — to brief him for his summit with President Vladimir Putin, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Among the group of Biden briefers was Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official who once said she considered feigning a medical emergency to cut short that news conference with Putin.

There were roughly a dozen participants, including two of President Obama’s former Russian ambassadors: Michael McFaul and John Tefft.

Rose Gottemoeller, an arms control expert now at Stanford University who served as deputy secretary general of NATO under Obama, and Eric Green, a career foreign service officer who is the NSC’s senior director for Russia, also participated.


Fiona Hill is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Michael McFaul is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.  Rose Gottemoeller is a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Monday, June 14, 2021

CAP Founder Pushed Gore to Warn Biden on Climate Change

Here is more from the Washington Post:

A number of Democrats are growing increasingly nervous that the White House could agree to a bipartisan infrastructure deal that scales back key climate-change initiatives, prompting a lobbying push that has included former vice president Al Gore making his case directly to President Biden.

The private warning last month from the climate hawk and Democratic grandee comes as Biden faces growing unease among liberals — including many administration officials — about his pursuit of Republican support for his next major spending package.

Gore called Biden to insist on the inclusion of climate policies after the encouragement of John Podesta, former chair of the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, said people briefed on the call, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss it.


John Podesta is the founder and a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for American Progress (CAP).  Podesta served as counselor to former President Barack Obama, where he was responsible for coordinating the administration's climate policies and initiatives.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Think Tanks Receiving Money From Nuclear Weapons-Producing Companies

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has just published a new report on global nuclear weapons spending in 2020.

The report says that in 2020, nine nuclear-armed states spent $72.6 billion on their nuclear weapons, more than $137,000 per minute.

Here is more from the report:

The $72.6 billion spent on nuclear weapons was split between governmental departments and private companies. Companies in France, the United Kingdom and the United States received $27.7 billion from nuclear-weapon-related contracts in 2020, of which $14.8 billion was new.

Those companies then funded think tanks that research and write about nuclear weapons policies. At least twelve major think tanks that research and write about nuclear weapons in India, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States received collectively between $5 million and $10 million from companies that produce nuclear weapons. The CEOs of companies that produce nuclear weapons sit on their advisory boards and are listed as “partners” on their websites.

 Here are the think tanks that reported income from nuclear weapons producers:

  • Atlantic Council: $835,000 - $1,724,998
  • Brookings Institution: $175,000 - $549,998
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: $50,000 - $199,998
  • Center for a New American Security (CNAS): $1,085,000 - $1,874,991
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): $1,530,000 - $2794,997
  • Fondation pour la recherche strategique (FRS): amount not specified
  • French Institute of International Relations: amount not specified
  • Hudson Institute: $170,000 - $350,000
  • International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS): $800,640 - $1,146,744
  • Observer Research Foundation: $71,539
  • Royal United Services Institute (RUSI): $610,210 - $1,445,581
  • Stimson Center: $50,500


The report notes that many of those think tanks which received nuclear weapons-related money then turned around and wrote reports favorable to the industry.  One example, according to the report, is Atlantic Council, which received "upwards of $1.7 million in 2019 [and later] published an issue brief which recommended the United States proceed to develop 'low-yield' nuclear capabilities to deter Russia." 

ICAN says these think tanks "must stop" accepting money from companies with vested interests in maintaining and building more weapons of mass destruction, adding that "in the meantime, readers of these think tank reports should question if their policy recommendations or research topics are influenced by their funders.

A recent report from the Center for International Policy's (CIP) Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative (FITI) found that more than $1 billion in defense contractor and US government funds flowed to the top 50 most influential think tanks from 2014-2019.

Update: Here is a piece published on July 28 entitled "How the Nuclear Weapons Industry is Dominating Think Tank Research."

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#415)

  • The troubling business connections of Biden's Asia advisor Kurt Campbell, the co-founder of CNAS (via POGO). 
  • Chinese "spies" at UK universities where academics are suspected of passing technology face arrest.
  • Think tanks warn about China's global infrastructure build-up. 
  • Foreign Affairs: What should universities, publishers, think tanks, and private sector firms be doing to fend off authoritarian influence and intimidation?
  • Reimagining the modern think tank, via Emma Vadehra.
  • Ramanan Laxminarayan, an Indian-American epidemiologist and director of the DC-based think tank Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, began an international fundraising campaign - raising more than $9 million to import oxygen cylinders and concentrators to India.
  • Next100: "A startup think tank for and by a new generation of policy leaders."
  • Scientific publishing is a joke.
  • Blairite think tanks join forces in bid to broaden appeal.
  • Media, think tanks set to boost RCEP exchanges.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Lawmakers Warned About Think Tanks Funded by Big Tech

The conservative advocacy group American Principles Project, founded by Princeton's Robert George, is warning Republican lawmakers and staffers to be wary of Big Tech attempts to "influence public policy on the Right" through think tank funding, according to Axios.  Here is an exerpt from a letter being sent to lawmakers:

I write to you today because the American conservative movement is deeply concerned about the effort of Big Tech and its allies to influence public policy on the Right.

The Daily Caller first documented this effort in 2019, pointing out that Google had contributed to “groups like R-Street, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), TechFreedom, the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), to name a few.

Here is a copy of the letter being sent to to Capitol Hill.

The Heritage Foundation has recently turned down large donations from Facebook and Google.

Heritage is among more than 40 right-leaning research groups that have stopped accepting donations from tech giants.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Think Tank War Games Continue to Show US Losing to China

 Here is more from a recent Yahoo News piece:

Last fall, the U.S. Air Force simulated a conflict set more than a decade in the future that began with a Chinese biological-weapon attack that swept through U.S. bases and warships in the Indo-Pacific region. Then a major Chinese military exercise was used as cover for the deployment of a massive invasion force. The simulation culminated with Chinese missile strikes raining down on U.S. bases and warships in the region, and a lightning air and amphibious assault on the island of Taiwan.

The highly classified war game, which has not been previously made public, took place less than a year after the coronavirus, reportedly originating in a Chinese market, spread to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, taking one of the U.S. Navy’s most significant assets out of commission.

In the early 2000s, China experts and military analysts at the RAND Corporation were given a trove of classified U.S. intelligence on Beijing’s military plans and weapons programs, and were asked to war-game a confrontation 10 years into the future.

What many Americans don’t realize is that years of classified Pentagon war games strongly suggest that the U.S. military would lose that war.

“Whenever we war-gamed a Taiwan scenario over the years, our Blue Team routinely got its ass handed to it, because in that scenario time is a precious commodity and it plays to China’s strength in terms of proximity and capabilities,” said David Ochmanek, a senior RAND Corporation analyst and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for force development.


RAND has compiled The US-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power examining US and Chinese military capabilities in 10 operational areas, and presents a "scorecard" for each.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on US-China war games at RAND as well as details about wargaming at other think tanks.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Think Tankers Propose S&P-Like Ratings Agency for Think Tanks

Citing an increasing lack of trust of think tanks due to their waning intellectual independence as think tanks scurry to please donors through advocacy and de facto lobbying, two think tankers scholars are proposing the creation of a think tank ratings agency akin to Standard and Poor's or Moody's.

In a Foreign Policy piece entitled "Why Everyone Hates Think Tanks," Matthew Rojansky of the Wilson Center and Jeremy Shapiro of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), say that the new entity would be distinct from rankings like the deeply flawed and increasingly error-filled University of Pennsylvania's "Global Go To Think Tank Index," which is more akin to US News & World Report's rankings of colleges and universities.

Here is more about what they want to see in the "ratings" agency:

The point is not to rank think tanks relative to one another but to provide a good housekeeping seal of approval that would assess their capacity and willingness to follow good research practice and to provide truly independent policy recommendations. A condition of receiving ratings, at least for U.S.-based institutions, should be strict disclosure requirements, FARA registration when legally appropriate, and audited compliance with other best practices for tax-exempt public charities. Just as investors are discouraged from investing in low-rated bonds, potential think tank donors would find the ratings to be a useful shorthand for steering clear of funding organizations that don’t embrace best practices.


Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about the widely-cited UPenn think tank rankings.

Update: Dr. Dan Drezner, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings and a professor at Tufts University, has a new piece entitled "Does Everyone Hate Think Tanks?" which says that even the best think tank reforms are unlikely to change public perceptions.

Politico has also chimed in, saying that not everyone hates think tanks and saying there is a problem with the authors quasi-regulatory solution to the alleged problem.  Here are some additional reactions that Politico has documented.

PR firm Edelman has launched a new Trust Institute that will be a "global center for the study and cultivation of trust across business, government, media, and civil society."  Would they develop a ratings agency?