Last Updated on October 14, 2020
The US State Department is requesting that the many think tanks in Washington, DC, and across the nation that seek to engage with the department disclose any and all funding they receive from foreign governments.
Think tanks provide analysis and data sets, in-depth and in summary, for a wide rage of government agencies and departments including the State Department.
The State Department says it has made this move because many of the foundations and institutions considered think tanks, through their reception of financial contributions from foreign nation-states and entities, may be influencing their positions based on their benefactors; China and Russia to be specific.
“The unique role of think tanks in the conduct of foreign affairs makes transparency regarding foreign funding more important than ever,” the State Department said in an October 13, 2020 statement.
“To protect the integrity of civil society institutions,” the statement continued, “the Department requests henceforth that think tanks and other foreign policy organizations that wish to engage with the Department disclose prominently on their websites funding they receive from foreign governments, including state-owned or state-operated subsidiary entities.”
The @StateDept will henceforth request think tanks that accept money from foreign governments disclose this information to the public. The purpose is simple: to promote free and open dialogue, untainted by the machinations of authoritarian regimes.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) October 13, 2020
Research has shown that some of the most influential and significant think tanks in the United States have noteworthy ties to China.
The Brookings Institution, for example, set up a center in Beijing in 2006. The Brookings Institution is seen as a center-left think tank in political and governmental circles.
A substantial number of think tanks have operations associated with many of the country’s elite universities; universities that have accepting millions of dollars in donations, gifts and contracts from China.
The host university for the Center for Ethics & the Rule of Law, the University of Pennsylvania, accepted more than $77 million from China, filings with the Department of Education revealed.
One of the top university-affiliated think tanks, operated from Columbia University, the Earth Institute, accepted more than $40 million in gifts, donations, and contracts from China.
While the State Department has stated that the request isn’t binding, it instructed department heads to weigh heavily on whether the think tanks they are considering engagement with are freely disclosing foreign funding.
The department has recognized the vulnerability presented by Chinese and Russian efforts to “seek to exert influence over US foreign policy through lobbyists, external experts, and think tanks.”