The Economic Policy Institute is a small policy shop in Washington, established 25 years ago. They have a blog. They do pretty good work. Their funding is transparent, and it mostly comes from foundation grants, with another healthy slice from labor unions. Their reach – and their budget – is nothing close to that of the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, or any of a dozen conservative think tanks.

These conservative think tanks have contributed such scandals to the American scene as the Jack Abramoff slush fund run out of the National Center for Public Policy Research, the Heritage Foundation changing their opinion on Malaysia after their President started representing businesses in the country through his consulting firm, and the American Conservative Union (the founders of CPAC) offering their opinions to FedEx for $3 million.

So there’s a voluminous amount of evidence showing how conservative think tanks are run to the benefit of their usually conservative contributors, and how the notion of independent research has been completely corrupted by them. So naturally, James O’Keefe wanted to “prove” the same thing about liberal think tanks through entrapping organizations like the Economic Policy Institute. Sadly for him, it didn’t work.

Last week, both (EPI’s Lawrence) Mishel and Amy Hanauer, the founding executive director of the group Policy Matters Ohio, received cryptic phone calls from a person identifying himself as Luke Fowler. Fowler explained that he worked as a researcher for a hedge fund manager named Peter Harman who was interested in funding a study showing that cuts to education and collective bargaining rights would hurt students. Harman, Fowler added, was associated with the Ohio Education Association, a union that represents some 130,000 teachers and faculty members.

The implication was clear. If Mishel could produce the data, he would get the money. “He wanted me to do something to show that spending cuts were going to hurt children in schools,” Mishel said. “I told him, you know, you can’t buy results.”

Hanauer’s call came later and was nearly identical. “They were fishing for us to say we would release it if it had a pro-union point of view or kill it if it didn’t,” she recalled. “He asked me some fishy questions. I think he was simply trying to make me feel tempted to tell me what he wanted.”

James O’Keefe’s brilliant plan, then, was to call two think tanks with the same pitch, assuming that they don’t speak to one another. And then he gave his email address to one of the think tankers, and a quick search revealed that the domain was registered to the Acting Executive Director of Project Veritas, O’Keefe’s “investigative” organization. This is his most brilliant plan since trying to get the CNN reporter on the boat.

Mishel, for his part, was pretty happy to even get on O’Keefe’s radar screen. Welcome to the vast left-wing conspiracy, EPI.

More from Laura Clawson.

Also, a good piece from EPI’s Josh Bivens.

David Dayen

David Dayen