Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Kleptocracies Using Think Tanks for Reputation Laundering

A new paper by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) says that kleptocracies are using universities and think tanks for reputation laundering.

Here is an excerpt:

Universities and think tanks in open settings are prime targets for reputation laundering. The rapid internationalization of the higher education sector, as well as the swelling demand worldwide for Western education makes academic institutions particularly vulnerable to this form of transnational kleptocratic activity. Indeed, over recent years, there has been a major surge of foreign funding to U.S. and U.K. universities. The composition of fundraising has also changed. Major gifts comprise a growing share of donations, and a relatively small number of wealthy individuals contribute nearly 80 percent of gift-giving to universities.

A recent Foreign Policy article draws upon a new database of philanthropic donations and finds that in recent decades, seven post-Soviet oligarchs have together donated between $372 million and $435 million to U.S.-based not-for-profit institutions, including universities, museums, cultural centers, and think tanks.


NED cites the Foreign Policy article as a forthcoming piece written by Casey Michel and David Szakonyi entitled "Oligarchs and Philanthropy."  The figures, however, have already been published elsewhere, and come from the Anti-Corruption Data Collective (ACDC).  Michel is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute's Kleptocracy Initiative, and Szakonyi is an assistant professor of political science at George Washington University.

Michel recently wrote a piece entitled "Illicit Temptation: "Funding of Universities and Think Tanks During COVID-19," which says that think tanks have been reliant on "questionable funding, including donations from oligarchs and other figures from kleptocratic settings, without any required due diligence mechanisms in place."