Just how willing are you to call out your paymaster? Perhaps that is the question that should be asked to the venerable Brookings Institution.
A new study has revealed that the public policy research think tank, has received close to $20 million in contracts and grants from the federal government. It isn’t necessarily illegal for a think tank to be given taxpayer dollars, but many are beginning to question the organization’s credibility as an entity to hold the U.S. government accountable when the state serves as a major contributor.
Since its inception in 1916, the Brookings Institution has been described as the “nation’s pre-eminent liberal think tank” and has been a favorite source for Republicans and Democrats in Washington.
The group has played a major role in developing U.S. policy, both foreign and domestic. Brookings has contributed to the development of the United Nations, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Marshall Plan. Brookings was even named “Think Tank of the Year” in the University of Pennsylvania’s “2015 Global Go To Think Tanks Report.”
Suffice to say, Brookings is a celebrated think tank for both the left and the right. But perhaps it is a go-to source because politicians can get the information they want if they shift a few (or in this case a lot) of dollars their way.
An OpenTheBooks.com audit discovered that Brookings has been given $19.5 million in taxpayer funding from fifty federal government agencies since 2008. This includes $10.8 million in grants, $5.1 million in contracts, $1.8 million in sub-grants and $1.7 million in sub-contracts. The sources consist of the Department of Energy, former President Barack Obama’s Office of the President and the Treasury.
Despite marketed as independent, a public charity and government watchdog, Brookings has been tapping the taxpayers for eight years.
In 2015, the study found, Brookings was paid $23,000 for employee training at the Office of the President. For years, Brookings has collected as much as $6,135 from federal agencies to have their employees placed into fellowships. Health and Human Services (HHS) coughed up $1.7 million so the department could have training seminars from Brookings. The organization also charged federal agencies up to $3,440 per day for so-called custom training solutions.
In a Forbes editorial, Adam Andrzejewski, founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.com, likened Brookings to a progressive jukebox that plays tunes only one side may find attractive:
Rather than focusing on “open-minded” inquiry, Brookings seems swayed by “open-wallet” inquiry. In many cases, Brookings doesn’t resemble a think tank, but a jukebox – add a little coin and Brookings will play your tune, if the price is right.
In America, any organization has a right to seek funding to advance the causes it supports. But when an organization seeks $20 million in public funding, taxpayers have a right to ask whether that organization is advancing the public’s interest or the narrow partisan interests of its donors and friends in power.
Like the Clinton Foundation, the Brookings Institution has been plagued with pay-to-play allegations.
Surprisingly, since 2014, The New York Times has been reporting about how the U.S. government, foreign powers and corporations acquire influence at think tanks like Brookings.
As part of efforts to gain access to U.S. officials, the Norwegian government provided the think tank with multiple grants. Brookings followed up by holding meetings and events where State Department and Norwegian officials could get to know each other. Borge Brende, Norway’s foreign minister, was appreciative of Brookings’s efforts and contributed an extra $4 million to the group.
In July 2010, Lennar Corporation, one of the country’s biggest home builders, proposed an $8 billion revitalization plan in one area of San Francisco. Amid widespread opposition, Lennar sought out a respected think tank known as the Brookings Institution. Several of Lennar’s divisions proceeded to contribute $400,000 to Brookings, and the body then heavily promoted its planned revitalization.
Saleem Ali, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, told the newspaper that members of Congress need to be suspicious of utilizing Brookings reports and studies to advance an agenda:
If a member of Congress is using the Brookings reports, they should be aware – they are not getting the full story. The may not be getting a false story, but they are not getting the full story.
Ali was told that he would not be permitted to hold critical positions of the Qatari government in public.
When these reports began to surface, the reaction to the think tank community was fierce. Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, slammed Brookings in a tweet:
As I suggested months ago, Brookings has sold its name, and not only to corporations but to foreign governments. https://t.co/8wZf52mr1L
— Jeffrey D. Sachs (@JeffDSachs) August 7, 2016
For decades, Washington think tanks have succeeded in legitimizing governments’ graft-like agendas, odious behaviors and coercive legislation with intellectualism. From the days of civics classes, we have always been taught that ideas and debate dictate public policy. However, civics classes should modify their curriculum by teaching students that, with a little bit of veiled bribery, the Leviathan can receive blessings from the anointed elite to invade Americans’ lives even further.