Think Tanks in Transition

September 29, 2017 • Volume 27, Issue 34
Do their donors exert too much influence?
By Marcia Clemmitt


Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institutes Center for Energy and Environment (Cover: Getty Images/The Washington Post/Bill O'Leary)
Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Energy and Environment, heads a coalition of think tanks, advocacy groups and others that lobbies aggressively against government efforts to limit climate change. Critics say the lobbying effort is an example of how the lines between think tank work and advocacy can blur — a charge that Ebell denies. (Cover: Getty Images/The Washington Post/Bill O'Leary)

Once viewed as independent producers of innovative policy solutions, think tanks are facing new questions about donor influence over their work. Critics argue that wealthy benefactors or corporate interests are unduly influencing some think tanks’ policy positions. Think tanks deny the charge and say their relationships with donors are appropriate and help them advance their mission. Meanwhile, the marketplace for new ideas is growing, with consultants, advocacy groups, charities and bloggers all turning out policy positions. The increasing competition is forcing think tanks to move beyond their traditional role as cloistered hives of intellectual activity into functions more akin to public relations and advocacy. They also are adopting digital-age tools such as podcasts and interactive maps to improve the chances that busy policymakers with shrinking attention spans will notice their work. Through all the challenges, the sector is growing: Think tanks, until recently rare outside of North America and Western Europe, now number more than 6,800 worldwide and operate in almost every country.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Lobbying and Special Interests
Apr. 15, 2022  Corporate Advocacy
Sep. 29, 2017  Think Tanks in Transition
Jun. 06, 2014  Regulating Lobbying
Jul. 22, 2005  Lobbying Boom
Dec. 26, 1997  Regulating Nonprofits
Dec. 15, 1989  Getting a Grip on Influence Peddling
Jun. 20, 1986  Think Tanks
Sep. 26, 1980  Special-Interest Politics
Jun. 30, 1978  Corporate Assertiveness
Dec. 13, 1950  Revision of the Lobby Act
May 08, 1946  Congressional Lobbying
Mar. 07, 1928  Regulation of Congressional Lobbies
Jun. 06, 1925  Trade Associations and the Law
Conservatism and Liberalism
Economic Analyses, Forecasts, and Statistics
Lobbying and Special Interests
Party Politics