Think tanks provide information and analysis to policy makers and the public, making them increasingly influential institutions in our political process. However, many think tanks—including the Brookings Institute, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, and the RAND Corporation, among others—receive significant financial backing from corporations and/or extremely wealthy individuals. Because the law does not require public disclosure of donors’ identities, these relationships raise the issue of whether think tanks’ analyses and recommendations are “tainted by donor agendas,” according to a July 2013 report by FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting).
For example, the Center for American Progress instructs its analysts to consult the organization’s development staff (who maintain the closest contacts with donors and potential donors) before publishing findings that might upset its contributors.
In its study of the nation’s top 25 think tanks, FAIR finds that all have received money from corporations, foundations, government or major individual donors. In many cases, these donors not only get a tax deduction for their contributions, they also can influence the think tank’s formulation of policy.
FAIR found that almost two-thirds of the top 25 think tanks have taken money from oil companies, with thirteen funded by ExxonMobil, nine by Chevron, and four by Shell. Representatives of Big Energy also serve as members of many think tanks’ boards. Similarly, half of the top 25 think tanks receive money from weapon manufacturers. And, overall, all the think tanks in the FAIR study appear to be influenced by the corporations, foundations and billionaires who fund them and who seek government policies that favor their own private interests.
Source: Rick Carp, “Who Pays for Think Tanks? Corporate and Foundation Money Often Comes with an Agenda,” Extra! (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), July 1, 2013, http://fair.org/home/who-pays-for-think-tanks/.
Student Researcher: Devin Elliott (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Joseph Anderson (Monterey Peninsula College)