Pay for Play: Are Think Tanks Pandering To Donor Interests?

Image Credit: Salvatore Vuono

The Center for American Progress reports on how Big Oil donations are influencing the conversation on a proposal to increase the number of vehicles fueled by natural gas instead of oil. Oilman T. Boone Pickens spearheaded the natural gas cause with his “Pickens Plan” and a bipartisan coalition in Congress proposed the NAT GAS Act which would provide tax incentives to spur development of the industry. Most oil interests are opposed to the plan, for obvious reasons.

Some major conservative think tanks – the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute – have come out against subsidies for natural gas vehicles. And in doing so they neglect to mention the large donations their organizations have received from oil interests like Exxon Mobil and the Koch Brothers. The CAP report has a chart that helpfully outlines these conflicts of interest.

Look, all think tanks have to get their funding somewhere and all funders have some kind of viewpoint and agenda, though at least in the case of NGOs and government the drive isn’t personal profit. What troubles me is that these think tanks are not following the basic journalistic/academic rule of disclosing conflicts of interest.

In my experience, few think tanks from any side of the political spectrum consistently disclose these types of conflicts of interest. On CAP’s own website and in their annual report, I couldn’t find a list of their major donors. I think all policy research organizations should clearly outline, in a dedicated page on their websites, not just who their top funders are but what interests these funders represent.

Conservatives Power Big Oil, Stall Cleaner Natural Gas Vehicles
Center for American Progress // Daniel J. Weiss, Stewart Boss // June 6, 2011