With their expertise and authority, think tank scholars offer themselves as independent arbiters, playing a vital role in Washington’s political economy. Their imprimatur helps shape government decisions that can be lucrative to corporations.
But the examination identified dozens of examples of scholars conducting research at think tanks while corporations were paying them to help shape government policy. Many think tanks also readily confer “nonresident scholar” status on lobbyists, former government officials and others who earn their primary living working for private clients, with few restrictions on such outside work.
Largely free from disclosure requirements, the researchers’ work is often woven into elaborate corporate lobbying campaigns.
“A report authored by an academic is going to have more credibility in the eyes of the regulator who is reading it,” said Michael J. Copps, a former F.C.C. commissioner who is a special adviser for the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative at Common Cause, a liberal group. “They are seeking to build credibility where none exists.