Here’s an encouraging development for anyone hoping to curb the role of big money and special interests in American politics: The Mainstream Media is starting to shine the spotlight on the too-long-overlooked influence-peddling role played by leading think tanks that continue portraying themselves to policymakers, the media, and the general public as disinterested seekers of the truth.
As I wrote in September, the current wave of interest in these institutions was kicked off by a ground-breaking New York Times expose of foreign government contributions to major tanks like the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Atlantic Council. The findings were so stunning (even to me) that Virginia Republican Congressman Frank Wolf has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether these contributions are efforts to circumvent federal laws monitoring foreign government lobbying activities.
Just as important, California Democratic House member Jackie Speier has proposed requiring any witness before a Congressional committee, including think tank staff, to disclose the sources of financial support for their work – which would include the domestic interests that have long used think tanks for “idea laundering” purposes. These corporations, trade associations, and other contributors benefit greatly when proposals from which they would benefit are disseminated by organizations generally assumed to be motivated by the broader national interest.
Two days after the Times piece appeared, moreover, the Washington Post broke the story that, thanks to contributions to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the ambassadors from Britain and the United Arab Emirates were able to buy their way into a classified meeting at the Pentagon. The ambassadors were invited by CSIS President John Hamre, who troublingly remains chair of a key Defense Department advisory group called the Defense Science Board even though his think tank duties obviously involve rattling a tin cup in front of prospective foreign government supporters. As previously reported in the Times article, one of these governments is China.
This morning, media scrutiny resumed with a long article in the Post detailing the growing tendency of projects at Brookings to dovetail with the interests of particular domestic and foreign donors, including foreign governments. Especially welcome about this article was its description of technology industry funding for Brookings research on the H-1B program that admits immigrants with special talents – many of which work in information technology.
The program has been extensively used to help depress wages in the U.S. technology sector, and expanding quotas has long been a key goal of American technology companies. But this nexus is only the tip of the iceberg of corporate funding for think tank globalization-related activities, as I’ve detailed in Congressional testimony linked in my previous post.
The Times and Post coverage, however, raises a tough question for these and other Mainstream Media pillars themselves. Now that they’re starting to understand how compromised so much think tank research is, will they report such apparent (at least) conflicts of interest when they use the work of think tank specialists, as Rep. Speiers has suggested when it comes to Congress? Or will they continue to perpetuate the myth, even if unintentionally, that think tank analyses and perspectives originate on the mountaintop?
By the way, in researching this post, I came across two useful-looking sources of information about think tanks: Think Tank Watch and Transparify. I’ll be keeping track of them regularly now, and you may want to visit their sites, too. And if you find other sources in this field, please let me know!
Transparify (@transparify) said:
For more useful sources on think tanks see here:
Click to access Key%20Players%20in%20Think%20Tank%20Transparency%20v2%20(October%202014).pdf
Alan Tonelson said:
Thanks so much for sending this excellent resource, which I will post! It’s especially interesting that the Council on Foreign Relations has its own resources on think tank transparency!
Bill Kennedy said:
Economists are the high priests of globalism, including immigration. Their science is based on the principle that people pursue their own economic self interest, and it would be odd and confusing if they themselves were to act otherwise. They are richly rewarded for pushing globalism; corporate boards are filled with them, along with out of work politicians.
The social sciences are not objective, and practitioners often find things that correspond to their own views and economic interests.
Typical ‘name brand’ economists make far more from corporations than from their day jobs. The less known economists aspire to join them and would meet with hostility if they didn’t go along.
The modern corrupt network of government, academics, and rent-seeking corporations which has come close to destroying the world financial system  is well explained in ‘Predator Nation.’ 2012 by Charles H. Ferguson.
Case in point:
‘Laura D’Andrea Tyson (born June 28, 1947) is an American economist and former Chair of the US President’s Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton Administration. She also served as Director of the National Economic Council. She is currently a professor at the Haas School of Business of the University of California, Berkeley.’ [Wikipedia]
Not especially known for corruption, in 2011 she had four corporate directorships that paid her $784K a year. Other income not required to be stated by Berkeley.
I remember she wrote an editorial for increasing H1-B quotas in the last attempt to do so, probably 2007, that was pure industry talking points.
Could her opinions possibly be affected by her outside income?
[I like Ferguson, who is an MIT PhD in political science, and knows the academic ‘game,’ and has been a senior fellow at Brookings. He created the film ‘Inside Job’ about the banking crisis of 2008, which won the 2010 Academy Award for documentaries.
From ‘Predator Nation’: ‘I spoke with senior officials in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division about possible antitrust action against AT&T and Verizon. They told me that one significant barrier to any such action was that few if any prominent telecommunication economists would be willing to testify for the government, because nearly all of them worked for the incumbents, at pay rates typically ten to fifty times higher than government consulting rates.’
He attributes the fact that the U.S. ‘ranks about twentieth in the world in broadband deployment’ to the power of these oligopolies in maximizing profits.]