Think Tanks – Lobbying Partners for Corporate Sponsors, And The Establishment
By TruePublica: Definition: A think tank, is an organisation that performs research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture. The truth is that some think tanks are effectively adjusting political outcomes desired by an entrenched super-elite, that would not normally be acquired through democratic means. Many are now increasingly behaving like lobbying partners for corporate sponsors with deep pockets. They are the embodiment of corporate meddling in civic society or the actions of the deep state defending the status quo of the establishment.
The term “think tank” is modern, but it can be traced to the humanist academies and scholarly networks of the 16th and 17th centuries. In Europe, the origins of think tanks go back to the 800s, when emperors and kings began arguing with the Catholic Church about taxes. A tradition of hiring teams of independent lawyers to advise monarchs about their financial and political prerogatives against the church spans from Charlemagne all the way to the 17th century, when the kings of France were still arguing about whether they had the right to appoint bishops and receive a cut of their income.
Several major current think tanks date to the 19th century. For instance, the Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) was founded in 1831 in London, and the Fabian Society in Britain dates from 1884.
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In Britain, we have 18 major think tanks. They comprise of some well known names such as:
Adam Smith Institute: Much favoured by Margaret Thatcher, the ASI’s main focus is the introduction of free market policies.
Bow Group: A conservative think tank founded in 1951 to counter socialism.
Centre for Social Justice: The Centre for Social Justice is an independent thinktank established, Iain Duncan Smith MP in 2004.
Chatham House: Chatham House is a centre for policy research on international affairs.
In Britain, think tanks play a similar role to the United States, attempting to shape policy, and indeed there is some cooperation between British and American think tanks. For example, the London-based think tank Chatham House and the Council on Foreign Relations were both conceived at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 and have remained sister organisations.
The Bow Group, founded in 1951, is the oldest centre-right think tank and many of its members have gone on to serve as Members of Parliament or Members of the European Parliament. Past chairmen have included Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, Margaret Thatcher’s longest-serving Cabinet Minister Geoffrey Howe, Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont and former British Telecom chairman Christopher Bland.
Like the mainstream media in Britain, think tank’s tend to be centre-right or right-wing and very well funded.
For the purposes of this article let’s take a look at arguably the most influential of them all – Chatham House. It’s opening line on the website reads: Chatham House – an independent policy institute based in London. Our mission is to help build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world. In addition it clearly states that “Chatham House is independent and owes no allegiance to any government or to any political body.”
It boasts that as a think tank it is the “No1 think-tank outside the US for nine consecutive years, No2 worldwide for the past six years and was ranked Think Tank of the Year in 2017.”
In the year 2016-2017 it raised well over £15 million, the largest chunk (27%) arriving via ‘private foundations’.
Importantly, the institute says it receives no subsidy from the UK government. And officially it doesn’t. But does it do so by the back door?
The UK’s Department for International Development (DfiD) is a government ministerial department which has donated somewhere up to £500,000 to Chatham House, so has the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The Cabinet Office has donated up to £250,000. The cash starved British Army has spent tens of thousands as has the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, along with Britain’s Ministry of Defence. It’s difficult to understand what the difference between a subsidy is and a donation is, when they all come from the same taxpayer, overseen by the same government.
The scandals that some of these ‘donors’ have been involved with have been truly breathtaking. Britain’s DfiD is probably the most high profile currently.
The DfiD gives money to the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) that funnels taxpayers money in the form of aid. However, the CDC is mired in controversy.
The Guardian reported that: “Critics also took aim at the CDC’s record of pouring funding into gated communities, shopping centres and luxury property in poor countries.
Nick Dearden, the director of campaign group Global Justice Now, said: “From a luxury housing and shopping complex in Kenya, to gated communities in El Salvador, the CDC has an appalling record of funding developments in the global south that make a mockery of any notion of aid money going to help vulnerable communities that lack access to basic resources. This is evidence that DfID is increasingly committed to a highly financialised, highly unequal, highly ideological form of ‘development’ which helps big business and not ordinary people.”
“The CDC has a history of funding companies via tax havens and through private equity funds, where it can never be sure where the money will end up,” said Tim Jones, policy officer at the Jubilee Debt Campaign.
(From here we see how Think Tanks emerged in the first place in Britain. At the time of the British Empire, Britain structured its economy not around manufacturing and productive sectors, but around finance. City of London banks provided the financing for the Empire and the colonies would pay interest to the City.
As Britain’s Empire declined, City of London institutions (described in “The City of London – Capital of an Invisible Empire“) were increasingly confronted by circumstances that limited their ability to function and make a profit. It was out of this need that various financial interests sought to fashion for themselves spaces in which they could continue to operate and profit. In order to create these spaces they used the expertise developed during empire and the territorial remnants of the Empire, such as Britain’s dependent territories, financial expertise and networks established during Empire and the knowledge of how to establish, run and benefit from an international financial system. Think Tanks added to those established networks.)
Then there is concern that British aid money via DfiD is also funding programmes for police who are using rape as a tool of state-sanctioned torture against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. GlobalWitness reports that “While the vast majority of Congo’s population suffers from a lack of basic services, the state has sold off valuable mining assets at suspiciously low prices, losing the Congolese treasury hundreds of millions of dollars (later found to be in the $billions) in crucial revenue in the process. This money has instead gone to a handful of anonymous companies, whose real owners are hidden under layers of paper companies, located in an offshore tax haven in British Overseas Territories.” There are at least two London listed mining companies operating in the DRC, themselves mired in the scandal of acquiring mining licences at fire sale prices and using slavery as its labour force. The police are effectively the security guards for these mining corporations.
The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund is another contributor to Chatham House. It boasts about £1 billion in taxpayers money for tackling conflict and instability overseas. However, it is part of the government’s official development assistance (ODA), which is itself overseen by the National Security Council, which and is then overseen again the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
One of its main listed goals is supporting Syria’s ‘White Helmets’ to carry out search and rescue and fire fighting in Syria. Numerous news outlets have reported this scandal – TruePublica included. Vanessa Beeley has reported widely through 21st Century Wire and UK Column News amongst others. She wrote: “They (The White Helmets) claim they are not “tied to any political group in Syria, or anywhere else”, yet they are embedded with Al Nusra Front, ISIS and affiliated with the majority of US allied terrorist brigades infesting Syria. In fact during my recent trip to Syria, I was once again struck by the response from the majority of Syrians when asked if they knew who the White Helmets were. The majority had never heard of them, others who follow western media noted that they are a “NATO construct being used to infiltrate Syria as a major player in the terrorist support network.”
The second largest largest spend from the £1.1 billion fund went towards Syria where the department’s end of year financial analysis report boasts that it help train 3,000 of the White Helmets. The report does not break down the costs but UK Column News reported it to be somewhere in the region of £40million. In the meantime, the same department spends millions in Jordan supporting tens of thousands of refugees from Syria. Is this irony, hypocrisy or something else?
Chatham House actively promotes the White Helmets as a force for good. Its report – “Syria: Destruction of Civil Society Means Dictatorship, Extremism and Displacement” is typical narrative for a Conservative government whose aspirations to control oil and gas flows throughout the Middle Eastern have caused the destruction of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen with Iran in its sights.
Chatham House has many other donors such as weapons and defence manufacturers Thales, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems – all of whom are allied to the government as part of the NATO/US/UK military industrial complex. As soon as David Cameron got the green light to bomb Syria, these defence manufacturers share prices soared.
From Chatham House “Western powers – specifically the US, the EU, the UK and France – must make the most of their limited leverage to extract concessions from the Assad regime and its international backers. The greatest leverage that the West possesses is economic: through sanctions, trade and reconstruction. This may prove significant in determining Syria’s post-settlement future. The regime’s external sponsors, Russia and Iran, have neither the capital to fund large-scale reconstruction efforts nor the interest in doing so.” You can read between the lines what that means.
The truth is that think tanks such as these are effectively adjusting the political outcomes desired by an entrenched super-elite, that they would not normally acquire through democratic means. They are increasingly behaving like lobbying partners for corporate sponsors and governments with aggressive strategies that require credible support.
The lure of huge sponsorships is no doubt hard for think tanks to resist. But their credibility is increasingly on the line. For instance, the Adam Smith Institute is one of the most influential right-wing think tanks in Britain. It is a pro-deregulation and privatisation, low tax, private for profit healthcare focused group. Yet, think tank Transparify, ranked the Adam Smith Institute as one of the four least transparent think tanks in the UK in relation to funding. Its report How Transparent are Think Tanks about Who Funds Them rated them as ‘highly opaque,’ one of ‘a handful of think tanks that refuse to reveal even the identities of their donors. There’s a reason of course. Many of their donors require public credibility (such as the tobacco industry – a known donor to ASI) and thank tanks like the ASI provides it – for a fee.
The Thatcher era saw the think tank movement come of age and achieve real political influence, and with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), the ASI was one of three relied upon by the Thatcher government for policy.
Privatising British Rail, Bank of England independence, huge economic liberalisation and marketisation policies, income tax reductions, lowering of tax credits and housing benefit have been adopted by government as a direct result of the ASI think tank.
As the ASI itself says “Regular Power Lunches offer Adam Smith Institute supporters the chance to meet with leading players in Wesminster. Prompted by the inimical impact of overregulation, 2010 saw the heads of all the major regulators pass through the Institute’s doors.”
By nature, some think tanks distort the truth, lack transparency and integrity and aim to push against the best interests of civil society both at home and abroad. Concealed funding is of course just one measure of their dishonesty.
Think Tanks are being used to push policy all over the world. For instance, the NY Times article “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks” typifies the scale of political deception. “The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying. As a result, policy makers who rely on think tanks are often unaware of the role of foreign governments in funding the research.”
Think Tank Watch reports the shady dealings of big pharma and the use of think tanks along with various scandals including academics producing covert policy reports on behalf of unnamed foreign governments’. In addition, it reports funding from climate-change denial organisations influencing the Environment Protection Authority in the USA to support Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.
Not all think tanks lack morality, funding transparency or ethical ideals of course, the problem is working out who funds them and why.
For future reference, the least transparent think tanks in terms of donors and sponsors – according to WhoFundsYou are: Adam Smith Institute, The Taxpayers Alliance, Centre for Policy Studies, Chatham House, Centre for Social Justice, Institute of Economic Affairs andPolicy Exchange.
As a footnote to this article, it should be noted that Transparify, the website set up to “help make financial transparency the norm for all think tanks” is funded by the Open Society Foundation – funded by George Soros. It ranks Chatham House as ‘broadly transparent’, when clearly it is not. It also ranks Civitas the least transparent of all think tanks, which is itself sponsored by Transparency International, ranked as the most transparent of think tanks in the same report!