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August 11, 2016

Opinion: Assessing Think Tanks’ Big-Business Ties

A Tufts University professor and think-tank scholar examines The New York Times’ recent reporting on nonprofit policy institutes’ relationships with corporations in an online Washington Post commentary.

Daniel Drezner, a regular Post contributor who teaches international politics at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, writes that a Times piece this week about think-tank scholars who also serve as corporate lobbyists or consultants and don’t disclose their dual roles raises troubling questions about transparency. But he says another article, on policy groups’ research findings that align with corporate donors’ agendas, “is a complex case to parse out.”

It is often “difficult to discern correlation (firm funds like-minded think tank) from causation (firm pays think tank expressly to get a result it expects),” writes Mr. Drezner, also a nonresident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He adds that some groups, including Brookings, are tightening conflict-of-interest policies. Reports like the Times’s “should make people uneasy. They should not cause one to doubt every think-tank report in existence,” he concludes.

Read a Chronicle of Philanthropy column by Brookings leaders Strobe Talbott and Kimberly Churches on safeguarding nonprofits’ independence from donor influence.