For years now I’ve been interested in one of Washington’s lesser known and subtler forms of corruption — one that is in no way illegal and one which can be found in both political parties. In the broadest possible sense it’s the corruption of expertise; specifically, it’s the corruption of think-tanks. Is it okay for think-tanks to get funding for their foreign policy or trade policy programs from foreign governments? Middle East policy paid for by the Saudis or the Israelis? Asia policy paid for by the Chinese? Should all of a think-tanks telecom policy scholars be funded by one cell provider?
There is one think-tank in DC, for instance, that has a region studies program which is paid for out of the foreign ministry of one of the countries in the region in question — somewhat less than entirely independent, you might say.
I would say that it probably is okay so long as there’s disclosure. These aren’t black and white issues, after all. Think-tank presidents have to find funding for their scholars. And fundraisers quickly find that there isn’t that much wholly disinterested money out there. Is it really so bad if such-and-such think-tank gets a grant for its program on peace-keeping from Germany or Japan?
Unfotunately, there are no disclosure rules for where think-tanks get their money. They don’t have to tell the public anything. And in many cases corporate and foreign interests (and union interests too, though they have far less money) have used this loophole, if that’s the best word for it, as a way to use money to affect the political process without having to disclose anything.
In any case, the person who interested me in this topic is Steve Clemons, whose new blog I introduced you to a few days ago.
Today Steve has follow-up post on a topic related to this issue: it is on Jim Woolsey and how Steve says Woolsey has personally profited from the Iraq War that he played a key role in leading the country into.