Foreign Governments Using US Think Tanks to Lobby for Them
While foreign governments and businesses are prevented from giving money directly to members of the US government, they are allowed to lobby under certain conditions. Usually this means hiring a firm to do be their official lobbyist. The lobbyist is forced to register and log contacts under the Foreign Agents Registration Act which has created its own series of scandals in DC.
According to The New York Times, foreign interests have found a new way to influence the policies of the US government – think tanks. Think tanks such as the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Atlantic Council have been identified as having possibly illegal arrangements with foreign governments to promote their positions under the guise of disinterested scholarship.
The list of countries paying for influence and what they want is less than surprising.
Most of the money comes from countries in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, particularly the oil-producing nations of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Norway, and takes many forms. The United Arab Emirates, a major supporter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, quietly provided a donation of more than $1 million to help build the center’s gleaming new glass and steel headquarters not far from the White House. Qatar, the small but wealthy Middle East nation, agreed last year to make a $14.8 million, four-year donation to Brookings, which has helped fund a Brookings affiliate in Qatar and a project on United States relations with the Islamic world.
Some scholars say the donations have led to implicit agreements that the research groups would refrain from criticizing the donor governments.
When questioned by the Times the think tank representatives said that the overlap between the position of the governments and the papers produced was “coincidence” and had nothing to do with the money being given. Documents from the governments who were doing the paying tell another story with the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry claiming “Funding powerful think tanks is one way to gain such access, and some think tanks in Washington are openly conveying that they can service only those foreign governments that provide funding.”
Policymakers in Congress and elsewhere often rely on scholarship from think tanks like Brookings to formulate policy. If that scholarship is being commissioned for and by foreign governments in secret then those governments have found a way to bypass registration and accountability.