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October 31, 2014

At Brookings Institution, Donors Can Influence Research Agenda

Private donors may be influencing the research agenda at Brookings Institution, a respected, influential Washington think tank, the Washington Post reports.

During the last decade, a new business model has taken root. Scholars are playing a bigger role in securing funding for their work, thus giving private donors more sway in what studies are conducted. Previously, the organization was funded with no-strings-attached grants from large foundations and philanthropists. Now lobbyists are encouraging clients to donate to Brookings and other think tanks as a way to get their issues into the public dialogue.

Ed Kutler, a senior partner at public-affairs and lobbying firm Mercury, points out that while donors can now "amplify or raise an issue," they cannot  influence  "a point of view or an outcome." Brooking officials concur and are vehement in protecting their scholars' independence, saying that donors do not influence research findings.

The approach has proven to be effective at raising money. Annual revenue at Brookings grew to $100-million in 2013, up from $32-million in 2003.