Washington, DC—The New York Times on Sunday, September 7, published an article suggesting that a number of American think tanks receiving donations from foreign governments are functioning as lobbyists and should be required to register as foreign agents. The article has major omissions, distortions, and errors. By disregarding important facts and taking information out of context, the reporters drew inaccurate conclusions that misrepresent the work of Brookings and ignore the institutional safeguards we have in place to ensure complete independence for our scholars’ research and policy recommendations.
The headline on the story reads: “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks.” Brookings is one of nine think tanks subject to the reporters’ premise that we sell influence. Our colleagues in other organizations will speak for themselves. Brookings sells books published by our Press. We do not sell influence to anyone, foreign or domestic. If we were for hire to advance outside interests, we would be in violation of the academic freedom of our scholars’ work and our institutional mission. We summarize our values as quality, independence, and impact—which means our own impact, not anyone else’s. It is because of our commitment to all three principles, notably including independence, that donors support our work.
The reporters, in their references to Brookings, focus on two governments that fund our work, Norway and Qatar. In both cases, we provided The Times, as it was preparing its story, full information about our practices, products and events. In no case did the reporters show us evidence of activity that we believe requires us to register under U.S. law as foreign agents. Brookings has over 200 scholars and more than 700 funders for hundreds of research projects. Our scholars determine our research and policy recommendations, not our contributors. We accept funding from foreign governments with the understanding that they are supporting our independent research.
The Times leaves the impression that some Brookings activities, partially funded by Norway, are based on a quid pro quo by which Brookings advances Norwegian interests in exchange for a donation. There is no truth to that. Brookings, with support from Norway and other donors, is advancing two priorities of its own mission: meeting the public policy challenge of climate change and developing ideas for a more cooperative international system. We have all the more basis for doing so because the United States is taking on the role of chair of the Arctic Council.
The article also misconstrues our role as a convener of public policy discussions by suggesting that Brookings seeks to provide foreign governments access to U.S. officials through its meetings and events. To the contrary, our purpose is to provide informed policy analysis and recommendations to policy makers and the public. We regularly convene policy experts, academics, NGO leaders, government officials from around the world, diplomats, federal and state officials, Members of Congress, and the media to consider important policy issues. Brookings scholars gain insight for their research from these meetings, and these discussions provide our scholars the opportunity to share their findings with others. As part of this effort, we regularly host visiting officials from foreign governments regardless of whether they provide funding to the Institution. It was entirely in that context that Foreign Minister Borge Brende of Norway, who was featured in the photograph accompanying The Times article, spoke at Brookings. Similarly, the article mentions a Brookings event on the Arctic in which a Norwegian official was seated next to a U.S. official. Both governments serve on the Arctic Council, and both officials had a particular expertise on the subject. In fact, no Norwegian funding was used for this event, despite the impression given in the article.
The Times also quotes one individual, who served briefly as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, to bolster its contention that Qatar’s support to Brookings led to implicit agreements that Brookings would refrain from criticizing the Qatari government and its policies. That is also untrue. Our scholars, in Doha and elsewhere, have a long record of objective, independent analysis of regional affairs, including critical analysis of the policies of Qatar and other governments in the region. Examples of such research were provided to The Times and are likewise available to the public on the Brookings Doha Center’s web page. The reporters chose to emphasize the views of a single individual more than this clear public record.
Throughout The Times investigation, Brookings presented evidence and explanations to the reporters, calling their attention to inaccuracies and misinformation. The article fails to paint a fair picture of Brookings and its foreign government relationships.
Also read “Brookings Statement on New York Times Article Examining Foreign Government Funding of U.S. Think Tanks,” published on September 6, 2014.
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For inquiries: David Nassar, 202.255.5074
The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and policy solutions. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations for policymakers and the public.