Friday, August 25, 2023

Heritage Scholar Leaves Think Tank Over Ukraine Stance

Here is more from Politico:

Thomas Spoehr tendered his resignation last week as director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, people familiar with the decision tell NatSec Daily, citing the think tank’s increasingly skeptical stance on supporting Ukraine as one reason for his departure.

Spoehr's last day at Heritage will be Sept. 1.

As the National Review (NR) noted, Heritage has recently pivoted away from its historically hawkish position on Russia.  It also notes that the think tank has rolled out a public messaging campaign that attacks continued US assistance to Ukraine for allegedly holding up disaster relief funding that could be distributed to Americans.

NR adds that over the past year and a half, the think tank "has executed a pivot toward what its top executives bill as a third-way foreign policy that is neither interventionist nor isolationist, roiling the conservative policy world."  It adds that dozens of former Heritage staffers left the think tank in 2022, with many citing a more nationalist stance as the reason for departure.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Think Tank Quickies (#484)

  • US spy agencies to share more intelligence with think tanks to battle new threats?
  • Group of think tanks have a new cost-effective way to speed up the closure of the world's coal-fired power plants?
  • Brookings: A government shutdown is likely this fall.
  • Nonprofits are lobbying a lot less
  • Think tanks file suit to block Biden Administration's plan to cancel $39 billion in student loans.
  • Dan Ikenson, formerly of the Cato Institute, lands at the Asia Society Policy Institute. 
  • Which think tanks publish the most on the topic of US foreign policy?
  • Who has been more relevant in our understanding of the war in Ukraine: universities or think tanks?
  • Wall Street billionaire ends funding for think tank behind Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan.
  • Pic: 125 high school students visit Brookings and play

Friday, August 18, 2023

Heritage Foundation Holding Near-Daily Talks with DeSantis Officials

Here is more from Reuters:

In mid-March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis described the Ukraine war as a "territorial dispute" that was not of vital strategic interest to the United States, in a written reply to a questionnaire from Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

His comment dismayed allies and drew fierce rebukes from many Republicans who favor a more active role for the U.S. in Ukraine, including some who are challenging him for the 2024 presidential nomination.

Playing a quiet but important role in shaping the governor's remarks was the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, America's top conservative think tank, according to two people with knowledge of their interactions.

Senior Heritage officials had advocated for months in conversations with DeSantis' team that he oppose policies that could move the U.S. toward direct confrontation with Russia, the people said.

While officials at Heritage have been in contact with almost every 2024 Republican presidential campaign, including that of former President Donald Trump, the think tank's proximity to DeSantis is unique, eight people involved in the discussions said.

Heritage personnel have held near-daily conversations with DeSantis officials in recent months about key issues, including downsizing federal agencies, reorienting U.S. foreign policy to better prepare for confrontation with China, and lowering hurdles to domestic energy production, the eight people said.

Although the news agency was unable to pinpoint every policy DeSantis has adopted due to his campaign's relationship with Heritage, many of his preferences mirror the think tank's deep skepticism of the federal government, corporate elites and foreign entanglements.


The article goes on to note that DeSantis' policy chief, Dustin Carmack, was a Heritage research fellow before joining the campaign, and he talks to Heritage officials almost daily.  It also notes that in addition to Carmack, at least seven other Heritage officials have taken positions in the DeSantis campaign.

Here is a New York Times piece about Carmack reuniting with DeSantis.

DeSantis has also dispatched a senior adviser, David Dewhirst, to work on Heritage's Project 2025.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Lawmakers Want DOJ to Investigate Think Tank Over FARA

Here is more from Politico:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) are requesting that the Department of Justice review whether a number of environmental rights groups are violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

— The two claim that some environmental groups are likely acting as foreign agents, although they are not registered with the DOJ. It’s part of a yearslong effort by the GOP to tie environmental groups to foreign adversaries.

— In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland dated Thursday, the two lawmakers are requesting documents related to the financial relationships between various environmental groups and those associated with Chinese interests.

— In a statement, one of the groups cited in the letter, Rocky Mountain Institute, said it has worked alongside governments for four decades on a clean energy transition.

— “We share our research and analysis routinely with governments, policymakers of both parties, fellow non-profit organizations, and corporations — including those in the fossil fuel business,” the statement read. “RMI works in China because reducing emissions in China is critical to preventing the worst consequences of climate change.”


The letter from Cruz and Comer can be found here.

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) was founded in 1982 and currently has 600+ staffer working on four continents.

Monday, August 14, 2023

UAE Engages New PR Firm to Leverage Think Tanks

Here is more from Politico:

The United Arab Emirates’ state-owned renewable energy company has brought on a new PR firm specializing in crisis management to push back on critics and boost the wealthy oil state’s environmental creds ahead of a UAE-hosted round of United Nations climate talks in November.

— The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, or Masdar, inked a new contract within the past few weeks with First International Resources to spin negative press and criticism of Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the chief executive of the Emirati state-owned oil company and president of the upcoming COP28 talks, according to a copy of the contract filed with the Justice Department.

— The six-month contract comes with a $100,000-per-month retainer, plus another $132,000 for the U.S. portion of the polling project, DOJ filings show. 

— The firm offers a variety of different avenues for accomplishing that goal, which include leveraging think tanks and international groups such as the World Economic Forum, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Brookings Institutions and the Heritage Foundation to “spread favorable perceptions” of the summit and arranging meetings with members of Congress and the Biden administration. “If appropriate,” the contract adds, the firm will work to “activate or mobilize our connections inside the ‘US Jewish Establishment’ to help support the campaign’s overall objectives.”


As noted by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, the Emirati lobby has contacted think tanks scores of times, and a number of US think tanks - including the Atlantic Council, CSIS, and Middle East Institute (MEI) - have received millions of dollars from the UAE. 

Update: The Heritage Foundation is not happy that First International Resources (FIR) is trying to leverage the think tank, and sought to distance itself from FIR's efforts.

“I don’t know who these grifters are pretending to be able to ‘leverage’ The Heritage Foundation, but they’re selling a bill of goods,” Heritage President Kevin Roberts said, adding that “Conservatives aren’t for sale, they won’t be influenced by globalists, and they’ll never buy into the Green scam.”

Friday, August 11, 2023

Think Tank Quickies (#483)

  • PIIE president: The Chinese economy is in worse long-term shape than is widely understood.
  • Politico: "Three decades after the Cold War ended, RAND Corp. and the broader network of government agencies, national laboratories, research universities and think tanks are struggling to meet the demands of a new - and many contend, far more dangerous - chapter in the global nuclear standoff." 
  • Overton looks at which think tanks are cited most in the US.
  • The Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, a private-sector think tank in Tokyo, conducted a tabletop simulation premised on the Chinese military invading Taiwan in 2027.
  • A confidential invite list from an Aspen Institute dinner in 2017 reveals how wealthy business donors and lawyers got privileged access to Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and then-DC Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh at a mansion dubbed "Billionaire Mountain."
  • Cato Institute launches - an interactive online platforms to allow Americans to experience the difficulties of obtaining legal permanent residence in the US from an immigrant's perspective.
  • Jonathan Breckon: How can researchers increase their chances of affecting change through policy?
  • Japan Center for Economic Research: "A Nikkei-affiliated think tank."
  • UK think tanks urged to be transparent about funding a $1 million in US donations revealed.
  • Unlock Democracy: Think tanks must be more transparent.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Sen. Rubio Calls for Probe of Think Tanks

Here is more from Politico:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) urged the Justice Department to open an inquiry into potential FARA violations by more than half a dozen left-wing nonprofit groups tied to tech mogul Neville Roy Singham over the organizations’ ties to the Chinese government and its propaganda apparatus.

— “Combatting Beijing’s malign influence must be a key objective for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Unfortunately, it appears the DOJ is either unaware or ambivalent to this growing Threat,” Rubio wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

— The missive follows a New York Times investigation over the weekend that shed light on a dark money network tied to Singham, who founded the software consultancy Thoughtworks and now lives in Shanghai.

— That network has pulled in hundreds of millions of dollars and produced content parroting Beijing’s talking points across the globe on issues from the democracy movement in Hong Kong to China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims, according to the Times, and even working at times alongside entities receiving financing from Chinese propaganda departments.

— None of the organizations mentioned in the story, which include the anti-war group Code Pink and the think tank Tricontinental, are currently registered as foreign agents, and Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, demanded Garland “immediately investigate” the organizations — as well as any other related groups linked to Singham — for FARA violations.


Rubio's letter describes Tricontinental as "a Massachusetts-based think tank that advocates for socialist revolution."

InfluenceWatch describes Tricontinental as a "Marxist think tank created by Marxist historian, author, and journalist Vijay Prashad."

At least one source notes that Prashad is affiliated with Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, a think tank affiliated with Beijing's Renmin University.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Techdirt Founder Runs a Think Tank

Here is more from the New York Times:

Mike Masnick, who founded Techdirt in 1998, writes for an influential audience of lawmakers, C.E.O.s and activists. 

He runs the Copia Institute, a think tank that organizes events about internet policy and produces geeky research reports; it accepts sponsorships from foundations and companies, including ones that Mr. Masnick writes about, such as Google and Yelp. The financial entanglement might get him in trouble at a traditional journalism organization, but not at a blog where he is the boss. Sponsors never have editorial control, he said.

In the last few years, he has taken to game design. He co-created a role-playing exercise for the United Nations to help forecast the future in countries with political upheaval and a game about what it’s like to be an online content moderator, sponsored by a start-up advocacy group. Few people would describe them as fun, but Mr. Masnick said they helped people wrap their heads around complicated technology issues like nothing else he had done.


Copia Institute describes itself as "a new, digital-native take on a think tank."  The think tank has received grants from the MacArthur Foundation and sponsors include Andreessen Horowitz, Google, and Yelp.

Monday, August 7, 2023

New Heritage Official Wants to See China Angle with "Everything"

Here is more from Politico:

When Victoria Coates takes over the Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy on Tuesday, she will push her team to consider the China angle to, well, “everything.”

“My charge to the rest of Davis is that everything has to be filtered through the lens of what we’re dealing with, with the People’s Republic of China, and it’s going to be generational,” she told NatSec Daily in an interview.

For Coates, a former Trump administration official and adviser to Sen. TED CRUZ (R-Texas), nearly every issue has a China component. Whether it’s technology investments, military improvements or border enforcement, there’s a vulnerability she fears Beijing can and will exploit.

Coates is particularly interested in how to get the Department of Energy to play a more active role in the competition with China. “Given what’s in it –– the high technology, the national labs –– getting it onto a much more aggressive, forward-leaning posture, will require changes to its governing statute. That’s some very worthy work we can get done over the next year,” she said.


Here is Coates' biography on the Heritage Foundation website.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Think Tank Quickies (#482)

  • In every iteration of war games between the US and China run by CSIS, China's first strike on US soil has been to bomb Guam. 
  • Former Hudson Institute president and CEO Kenneth Weinstein will be the next Japan Chair at the think tank.  Previous Japan Chair H.R. McMaster will now chair the initiative's newly established advisory board.
  • Jenna Ben-Yehuda will be EVP of the Atlantic Council.  She previously was president and CEO of the Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project.
  • The American Prospect: A climate denialist think tank may produce the next FTC commissioner.
  • Tod Sedgwick, former US ambassador to Slovakia, is joining Foreign Policy for America as chair of its board of directors.
  • Survey of Chinese espionage in the US since 2000, via CSIS.
  • One of Neal Patel's clients at his new firm, Patel Partners, is the think tank Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy.
  • Conservative Israeli think tank uses "sock puppets" to skew Wikipedia.
  • North Korean defector Yeonmi Park was hired by Freedom Factory, a libertarian think tank in Seoul, South Korean; she has also been connected to Atlas Network.
  • Harvard Undergraduate Japan Policy Network (HUJPN): A student-led think tank founded at Harvard specialized in Japan's policy issues and promoting an accurate picture of Japan through multilateral dialogues.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Think Tanker Becomes UFO Lobbyist

Here is more from Politico:

A NEW UFO LOBBYIST HITS THE SCENE: As calls in Congress for continued UFO research and disclosures from the federal government grow louder, a new group aims to harness and legitimize grassroots pressure from outside the halls of power to do the same. The effort is being led by Nick Gold, a Baltimore-based media and tech consultant who has worked with the Galileo Project, a Harvard-affiliated project searching for evidence of aliens, and the think tank Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies.

— Gold registered to lobby last week on behalf of Declassify UAP, which Gold said in an interview he hopes will bring the issue of UFO advocacy into the mainstream by tapping into traditional political grassroots strategies.


The Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies (SCU), where Gold is a contributing member, describes itself as a "think tank of scientists, researchers, and professionals stretching across organizations, governments, and industries to scientifically and publicly explore anomalous phenomena known around the world as UAPs, UFOs, USOs, and OVNIs."

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

New Economic Think Tank Launched by Trump Alum

Here is more from Politico:

Former Trump budget aide Paul Winfree is launching his own economic think tank, just as Republicans gear up for a government funding fight this fall.

— The right-leaning organization, called the Economic Policy Innovation Center, or EPIC, will focus on the country’s long-term fiscal picture, advising GOP presidential candidates and educating members of Congress about basic fiscal issues and Republican priorities, with an emphasis on the federal budget and annual spending bills.

— Winfree, who has overseen economic policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said GOP presidential campaigns and newish Republican members have so far been eager to learn about curbing federal spending and major upcoming fiscal fights, like the expiration of Trump tax cuts and another debt ceiling deadline in 2025.


Winfree was a Distinguished Fellow in Economic Policy and Public Leadership at Heritage, and his past think tank writing can be found here

EPIC's new website can be found here.  It currently lists Winfree as President and CEO and Brittany Madni as Executive Vice President.