Think tanks are hardly quaking in their boots

By Laurie Bennett

December 8, 2013 at 11:48am

A piece published by truthdig Saturday was headlined, “How Elizabeth Warren Is Scaring the Crap Out of Think Tanks and Banks.”

If only.

In calling on the country’s top banks to disclose their donations to think tanks, Warren is not the tough regulator but the kid exclaiming that the emperor has no clothes.

Except in this case, the emperor is dressed in fancy duds and pricey jewels. Fueled by corporate, foundation and individual dollars, think tanks have been in expansion mode in recent decades. They’ve built new headquarters, bulked up their budgets and expanded their staffs.

Neither they nor their funders are running scared. They’re entrenched, part of the Washington firmament.

A few media outlets (Muckety among them) have pointed out the need for transparency in think tank funding. However, the issue has largely been ignored - partly because of larger concerns about dark money in politics, partly because media and journalists rely on think tanks.

That’s not to say political bias is invisible. There is often a clear tilt to think tank research and activism, and leadership is often aligned with a party or philosophy.

We wrote last week about the corporate connections of Third Way, a group that criticized Warren’s economic views.

Today, we point out political leanings of leaders of some of the nation’s biggest think tanks.

The most respected organizations, such as the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, are self-consciously centrist. (That’s not to say that these organizations don’t have partisan benefactors. The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings was underwritten by billionaire Haim Saban, a longtime supporter of the Clintons and other Democrats.)

Leaders of newer organizations are more likely take sides. For instance:

American Enterprise Institute Dick Cheney and Peter Coors are trustees. Lynne Cheney is a fellow. John Yoo, an author of the torture memos during the Bush administration, is a visiting scholar. Kevin B. Rollins, a big contributor to the GOP, is a former chairman. Republican
Center for American Progress Chairman John Podesta was chief of staff to Bill Clinton and co-chair of the Obama transition team in 2008. Madeleine Albright and Tom Daschle are directors. Democratic
Heritage Foundation Always aligned with the right, Heritage has stepped up its political activities since Jim DeMint resigned from the Senate to become organization president. Ellen Chao, wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is a fellow. Republican
Manhattan Institute for Policy Research Board chairman Paul Singer is a big funder of Republican committees and campaigns. Conservative commentator Bill Kristol is a trustee. Republican
Open Society Foundations Billionaire founder George Soros is the bane of the right. Democratic
Third Way Chairman John L. Vogelstein is a donor to Democratic committees. Honorary co-chairs are all Democratic members of the House and Senate. Democratic
just not in the Elizabeth Warren sort of way

In a way, our list states the obvious. Just as Warren did.

Yet it needs to be said, every time think tank findings are cited in news stories or congressional testimony. Every time a so-called “expert” appears on a TV or radio news show.

Many - most? - think tanks in America have political agendas. For too long, their role as “idea factories” has been interpreted as nonpartisan.

It’s anything but.

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  • #1.   Me 11.13.2016

    Good for Warren! I hope she keeps up her stance; I was dismayed she backed HILLARY simply because H was a woman. She (HILLARY) has too many tentacles and way too many trust issues to be in office

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