Think Tank Bias in Political Donations

Tom VanAntwerp looks at political donations by the staff of the top-ten think tanks. Some findings:

Think tank employees overwhelmingly give to Democratic causes. Nearly 78% of all political contributions from think tank employees went to Democrats. 208 think tank employees gave a total of  $452,589 to Democrats in 2012;

Discussions of bias via donor base don’t match actual employee partisanship.Comparing the most obviously ideological think tanks, employees of both Heritage Foundation and Center for American Progress gave vastly more to political groups than did employees of Cato Institute. While the Wikipedia discussion of Cato’s funders was over three times longer than the same discussion for either Heritage or CAP, only 3.5% of Cato’s employees made partisan donations compared to 8.7% for Heritage and 8.2% for CAP. The total amount Cato employees gave was also dwarfed by Heritage and CAP employees: $10,200 versus $76,653 and $100,747.

In another post, VanAntwerp shows that even though the staff at Cato don’t give very much to politicians and are not especially partisan by other think tank standards, media discussion’s of Cato’s funding and funders are far more common and extensive than that of any other think tank. My guess is that conservatives give Heritage a pass, liberals give Brookings, CAP, and Pew a pass but both liberals and conservatives are suspicious of Cato. Liberals think Cato is in bed with the corporations, conservatives think Cato is in bed with gays and marijuana users. Both sides think Cato is with the opposition and, as a result, Cato generates lots of media discussion about funding “bias.”



How about AEI?

AEI is not a think tank? Probably true. How about Mercatus?

The authors must have a selection bias because their ordering of think tanks excludes those identified in the top 30 worldwide:

The bias issue is also apparent when you see that not only AEI, but also the Peterson Institute was left out, and they are way high up on the list of tanks.

I myself support the AEIOU.

"These data include political contributions from employees of the top ten U.S. think tanks during the 2012 election year. They were scraped from "

That doesn't explain why they scewed their choices. See link below from u penn for list of think tanks by category.

You can really see the selection bias by reading this paper from U Penn which collects and categorizes think tanks by region, etc. based on surveys, etc. Very interesting piece.

Did you know there are 395 think tanks in Washington DC alone?

In addition to leaving out AEI and Peterson, they also left out Hoover Institution and NBER. The paper above categorizes by econ think tanks as well.

That explains the guy with the WILL THINK FOR FOOD sign.

+1 Except it usually works the other way: We will entertain you if you will not think for Fox News and Sports.

How many employees at each of the selected think tank. Please ignore the obvious missing - Board of Trustees

How about Harvard?

The interesting question these days is IQ: Is it a topic that can be discussed by the employed? Heritage forced out Jason Richwine in 2013 for having written his Harvard doctoral dissertation on IQ. In contrast, AEI continues to employ Charles Murray.

you can discuss it if you're tenured I suppose . Murray treads very carefully on the IQ stuff

Murray is not tenured.

Plot twist: IQ isn't the 'interesting question these days'.

Right, IQ. I'm sure that embarrassingly crappy paper about the fiscal cost of immigration had nothing to do with it.

Which is of course why the first author of the immigration paper, Robert Rector, also got fired.

Rector has been at Heritage for over 30 years, so not quite the same.

In addition to sliming Dr. Rector, you're lying. Opponents of Heritage made a point of publicizing his dissertation and panel discussions in which he had participated, as well as his participation some years earlier in an alt-right blog which later went some weird directions after he ceased to be associated with it. The whole controversy was about his past research projects, not any methodological flaws in the Heritage report.

OK, less sarcastically this time: I can't conceive of what model you have of Heritage's behavior that would lead to that conclusion. But frankly, it's much more generous regarding its attention to research quality than it deserves. There's no set of criteria by which that paper was bad that many of their other research products don't also meet. Except, of course, that one of the authors become a huge political liability after being criticized by every major national media outlet and quite a few that weren't for his race/IQ stuff. Heritage was entirely comfortable with the methodology. This very a very high-profile issue: it's not like they didn't know what was in it before they released it. And they haven't withdrawn it in any way. And when they've spoken about the departure of their staff person, they haven't referenced the immigration paper.

Richwine got in trouble for a Harvard Ph.D. dissertation approved by three leading Harvard scholars, including Christopher Jencks, who is arguably the outstanding liberal quantitative social scientist of the last four decades.

How is what happened to Richwine pour encourager les autres not indicative of pervasive anti-science bigotry in the mainstream establishment?

"In addition to sliming Dr. Rector, you’re lying."

So the Heritage Foundation champions dynamic scoring, but for some reason the authors of this particular paper decide to go with static scoring... No, no methodological issues here.

And to say "got in trouble" is to really paper over what happened. Heritage is a research organization, but ultimately it is a political organization. Politically, Heritage is trying to make a case against certain types of immigration reform on an economic basis. When it turns out that one of their researchers making this argument has a history of publications that belie a different sort of opposition to immigration, one rooted in race, you might understand why they don't want to carry that baggage. That's the way politics works.

The fact that Heritage does not wish to be the New Century Foundation is in no way indicative of a "pervasive anti-science bigotry." Claims of the sort, whether coming from the right on issues of IQ and race or from the left on global warming are really just a bunch of bunk. It's a disingenuous way to try to gig the other team for having the temerity to question your own sacred cows. Which is funny coming from you guys who spend so much time pretending to slay other people's sacred cows.

It may have something to do with institutional leadership. AEI in 1994 was run by Christopher Demuth, who had political connections but was not himself a politician; as we speak, the President of AEI is Arthur Brooks, an academic who had priorities other than picking at 15 year old scabs; his most obtrusive initiative was stripping David Frum of his salary for utter failure to produce anything or even collect his mail (at which point Frum, who really never belonged at a policy shop, resigned). The President of Heritage of late has been a lapsed member of Congress; quite possibly much more publicity conscious type.

In the name of diversity, I, for one, support a diverse set of bedfellows.

Politics make queer bedfellows it's been said.

Regarding liberal leanings, I actually heard a white haired old guy from Heritage Foundation--he was on a video soundbite at Russ Roberts' site--who advocated the minimum guaranteed income. But the qualifier was he calculated due to budget constraints the minimum would be only about $3k, "not enough to live on" he said, but he's never been to the Philippines, where you can live OK on this amount (your neighbors will be poor folk, but they keep to themselves). T (interesting, Greece has 30 think tanks and the Philippines has 20. I did not know there were that many intellectuals in either country, let alone think tanks, they're probably leftist PACs and NGOs, respectively, masquerading as think tanks).

But how does it appear when one looks at foundation donations?

Luckily, one does not need to stumble in the dark, as provides IRS 990 information.

For example, this foundation contributed almost 10 million dollars to the Mercatus Center in 2013 -

A total (search for 'SCHOLARSHIPS') of 6 times as much as it provided for GMU scholarships.

Each year is fun, but 2013 is the most recent, and interesting when one sees how almost 5,000 dollars were contributed to FSU by the George Mason University Foundation, Inc.

Almost as if there were some thread binding the GMU Foundation and FSU - maybe somebody should ask someone at the FSU econ dept. about it. Well, it seems like a Washington Post reporter already did - Valerie Strauss, September 12, 2014.

You really had the opportunity there to contribute something germane to the discussion... and then you went off on another anti-Mercatus direction instead. I don't know why this surprises me.

GMU obsessive poster continues to compulsively obsess about GMU.

Thankfully, GMU obsessed director and associates of a center at GMU continues to pretend that the center is actually part of GMU, without letting any facts get in the way.

Such as the fact that this line from a recent job ad from the Mercatus Center would be illegal for any position at GMU funded by the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia - 'Cover letter, which must include your philosophical interest in the mission of the Mercatus Center'

@PA - that was fascinating. Check out this link:

The funding (in assets) for chess relatives activities dwarfs Mercatus: 50+ million vs 13 million, four times more for chess! I particularly like a $2.6M assets grant by the late Frank Samford, Jr. of Birmingham, AL (, not to be confused with financial felon Allan Stanford, which actually is greater than the $2M in assets grant from the famous St. Louis chess club (headed by hedge fund billionaire Rex Sinquefield). Amazing, there are no secrets in the USA. Even the Garry Kasparov Foundation has $3.6M in assets funding to promote chess. Wow. An outfit called "CHESS-IN-THE-SCHOOLS INC" funded by some NY trusts has $14.6M in assets, while "CHESS CHALLENGE IN DC" has $1M in assets. Here in the Philippines, the government gives no support to chess, and some private outfits run tournaments but they are expensive. The #6 player in the world (and rising fast), W. So, had to go to St. Louis and become an American due to lack of funding for chess. Very common and yet another example of 'brain drain' from the Third World to the First.

Okay, *that* was interesting. Thanks.

Some of these think tanks --- CATO, Heritage, and CAP---are pretty devoted to advancing political agendas themselves as opposed to being real research houses.

Rand, Brookings, Hoover, AEI, Heritage, the National Center for Policy Analysis and others are research houses and employ trained professionals. Some of the above employ publicists as well. There are policy shops which are close to pure advocacy and do not have many non-hacks on the staff, but Heritage is not among them. The Century Foundation is one such, the Institute for Policy Studies is another, and, IIRC, so is the Center for American Progress.

I suppose we will take your word for it.

It is perhaps more interesting to know "Who makes donations to think tank" than "think tanls donate to whom?"

The authors list also weights those in foreign policy rather than econ. Go to the paper I listed above and you can see all the ones they left out and you can really see the selection bias in the authors list.

The other problem is that some think tanks are much bigger than others (Brookings, for example) but the chart simply shows total employee contributions, not average contribution per employee.

The disproportionate amount of ink spilled in the media talking about CATO was, I thought, due simply to the fact that CATO is associated w/ the Koch brothers and the Koch brothers are the current conservative bogeymen.

Yeah, I think that's basically what it boils down to: the Koch Brothers are terrifying; the Koch Brothers founded Cato; ergo, Cato is terrifying.

Yeah, Cato never got that kind of publicity before the Koch brothers did, AFAICR

In other news, scientists have demonstrated that water is wet.

"Think tank employees overwhelmingly give to Democratic causes."

I would interpret this as liberal think tank employees being less likely to believe the science on contributions' influence on election outcomes.

Or at least, and perhaps less provocatively, individual giving to political causes for those who do not have massive amounts of wealth is more a part of the liberal culture than the conservative one.

How much money do Republican businessmen give to their college football teams? Nine figures in donations to their alma maters' athletic departments are not unknown.

Certainly less than Democrat supporting Phil Knight gives Oregon. You really should actually compile the numbers rather than just assuming this to be the case because in general Jews, who generally support Democrats, don't seem to give as much money to their schools football programs. You need more data points than T Boone Pickens.

Stephen Ross. That's two.

Also, I'm not sure it's quite the same I think Nike gets at least some value out of Oregon's elevated profile, while I'm not sure T. Boone's energy interests do.

Ok, how much has he given the Ducks? Not the university, the football team.

Because I'm seeing Pickens as having donated substantially more to Oklahoma State's football program than Knight has to Oregon

I think you're right, or at least Pickens has pledged more. Based on my quick look, not only has Knight given/pledged less to athletics than Pickens, he's the outlier in supporting Democrats (Ross and the first couple others I saw were tied to Republicans or apolitical).

reparations in the form of athletic scholarships and fluff courses

Can we control for number of employees?

Of course not. That would make it too easy to challenge.

The second link doesn't show that the media is biased in reporting Cato's funding. It's just a count of characters devoted to funding on wikipedia pages. To the extent that it does reflect something outside of wikipedia, it's because of a paragraph on the lawsuits that broke out after William Niskanen died. Those stories were news that libertarians can use, and the fact that they were reported is hardly a sign of bias against libertarians.

The second sentence highlighted from the first link seems irrelevant. Nobody thinks that the relevant donor bias in think tanks comes from donations by its employees.

To me, the interesting result is that almost all of Cato's donations go to Republicans, suggesting that Tabarrok's picture of the Cato institute as a vibrant third force between Republicans and Democrats is probably wishful thinking.

I think of the Democratic donation skew among employees of institutes that aren't explicitly ideological as mostly explained by that fact that people with advanced degrees tend to vote Democratic, but maybe there's more to it than that.

It's because Republicans are only mildly hostile to libertarians, whereas democrats are openly, vehemently so.
The TP also brought out some Republicans who were pretty close to libertarian. I would expect Cato supported TP libertarian-Republicans when they were contesting against big government republican incumbents.

Everything Koch brothers related went through a lot of revision on wikipedia when the left became Koch obsessed. Thats starting to fade away as the left is on to the new liberal fad cause of the week (income inequality i suppose)

CATO is pretty stingy

Um, isn't it appropriate to look at the leanings of those funding the think tanks, above the leanings of those who work there? If you're forecasting the next song, don't look at the piper's musical taste, look at the guy who pays him. Pipers are very replaceable and very much aware of who is paying their paycheck.

I think you have that backwards. That criticism is an effort to enforce epistemic closure. Lefties don't need to spend a lot of time criticizing Heritage, because whenever a leftie sees "Heritage" the mood affiliation kicks in immediately, and they dismiss it. Similarly, righties don't need to spend a lot of time delegitimizing CAP or Brookings.

CATO, otoh, is problematic.

OTOH this is a pretty ridiculous metric. The length of the Wikipedia discussion? Really?

"My guess is that conservatives give Heritage a pass, liberals give Brookings, CAP, and Pew a pass but both liberals and conservatives are suspicious of Cato. Liberals think Cato is in bed with the corporations, conservatives think Cato is in bed with gays and marijuana users. Both sides think Cato is with the opposition and, as a result, Cato generates lots of media discussion about funding 'bias.'”

A very obtuse guess, especially for this blog. Here are a couple of clues: (1) all of the discussion of founders comes from the left (conservatives and, to a lesser extent, libertarians both consider such discussions a form of ad hominem); (2) the Cato founders include the members of a certain family (last name beginning with "K") which the left has attempted to turn into hate-figures (and often falsely accusing them of being conservatives).

You'd think they'd have been smart enough to notice the name "Koch" mentioned several times a day on PBS in their "donation acknowledgements".

Well, not as much as in the past - 'Amid concerns that Koch Industries could buy several major U.S. newspapers from Tribune Company, industrial billionaire David Koch was forced to step down as trustee of WNET, New York City’s largest public TV station, after the New Yorker revealed how WNET gave Koch inappropriate influence over its programming. Mr. Koch was floating a seven-figure donation over WNET’s leadership as the station aired a movie that portrayed him as a particularly greedy Manhattan resident.

Sure enough, WNET didn’t wind up receiving David Koch’s hefty donation.

Last Thursday, David Koch submitted his resignation at a WNET Board of Trustees meeting, and Brad Johnson at Forecast the Facts* reports that Koch’s name was scrubbed from WNET’s website several days prior to the resignation. Koch Industries’ public relations website, KochFacts, released a preemptive response to the New Yorker article (which it has now urgently elaborated on), attempting to stifle New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer and the details of her newest piece. David Koch’s resignation as a WNET Trustee, coupled with telling quotes from WNET president Neal Shapiro and other sources, makes it clear that Koch had too much influence at the decreasingly-public TV station in New York.

The article is a fascinating culmination of two portions of the ongoing legacy of the Koch brothers: their desire to influence media, which is playing out with their company’s bid for the Tribune Company’s eight national daily newspapers, and their attempts to intimidate journalists and silence reporting they consider unfavorable.'

Oddly enough, just like certain pirate sites are blocked here, until recently, the New Yorker was also blocked, as noted here -

Ah, here is the New Yorker link -

Cato is farther to the right on economic issues that heritage.(Both have adopted PC positions on the national question) Seems like the simplest explanation.

"Liberals think Cato is in bed with the corporations, conservatives think Cato is in bed with gays and marijuana users. Both sides think Cato is with the opposition and, as a result, Cato generates lots of media discussion about funding ‘bias.’”

This just seems wrong to me. I have never heard a liberal say anything nice about the Cato Institute, and rarely hear anyone on the right say anything bad about them. If Cato generates a disproportionate amount of discussion, I'd say it's due several things:

- Their relationship with the Koch Brothers. Liberals are unreasonably, reflexively hateful of anything associated with them.

- Cato is generally more outside the mainstream, and therefore more provocative. Both Republicans and Liberals are more likely to engage and discuss their ideas. AEI and Heritage seem to 'preach to the choir' a little more often in the sense that their ideas line up well with mainstream conservatism, and yet aren't far enough to the right to grab the attention of the left.

Liberals are unreasonably, reflexively hateful of anything associated with them.

“Pick The Target, Freeze It, Personalize It, And Polarize It” sayeth Alinsky.

I'll wager you for the people who started that meme, it's strategy: an attempt to intimidate more publicity-conscious people into staying away from political and educational donations. For the portside rank and file, it's a talking point; no actual thinking going on there.

In terms of overall campaign finance, the total of donations examined here is really to the right of the decimal point.

Well, it is to the right of what the Mercatus Center receives from the GMU Foundation, that is for sure. And doesn't even cover the increase in funding from the GMU Foundation from one year to the next, actually - the forms 990 are public record, after all.

As others here have points out, libertarianism is hardly some noble independent force struggling to survive amid jokers to its right, fools to its left. In practice, its more closely aligned with the right. Jobs postings on "liberty" sites announce stints with the Ayn Rand Institute or the Charles Koch Foundation. Not the ACLU e.g. or Progressive Policy Institute.

Ayn Rand and Charles Koch are well-known (to say the least) libertarians. Not evangelical Christians or something.

Well, only a couple of recent GMU econ grads found work at the Koch Foundation in the last decade, as noted here -

Through whether one should see that as a consolation prize or crowning achievement is a matter of debate.

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