Most Think Tanks Not Transparent About Funding, Report Finds

Fewer than a quarter of the world's major research institutions are fully transparent about their sources of funding, a report from Transparify finds.

Based on a study of a hundred and sixty-nine think tanks in forty-seven countries, the report, How Transparent Are Think Tanks About Who Funds Them? (22 pages, PDF), found that only twenty-one think tanks were considered highly transparent — that is, disclose in detail who funds them, to what degree, and for which projects — while fourteen were considered transparent but disclosed less detailed data. While institutions in North America were on average the most transparent, with an average score of 2.5 out of a possible 5, followed by those in Europe (2.3), Africa (1.8), South America (1.8), and South Asia and Oceania (1.5), Montenegro, with three highly transparent think tanks, topped the country list, compared to the United States, which had only two.

In the U.S., the Center for Global Development and the World Resources Institute were rated highly transparent, while Brookings, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Freedom House, the Heritage Foundation, the New America Foundation, RAND Corporation, the Urban Institute, and the Woodrow Wilson Center were rated broadly transparent.

The report also notes that during the first four months of 2014 the number of highly transparent think tanks rose from twenty-five to thirty-five, suggesting a movement  toward greater transparency in the sector. Several think tanks, including the Stimson Center, have taken steps in recent months to avoid a poor ranking by disclosing more information about its donors. "The Transparify project has been useful in prompting some reflection about how Stimson can best provide this information in a way that honors consumers of Stimson's analysis and the donors who support our work," Cheryl L. Ramp, the center's CEO, told the New York Times.

"Think tanks can play a positive role producing independent, in-depth policy research to inform politicians, media, and the public," said Hans Gutbrod, executive director of Transparify, which is based in Tbilisi, Georgia, and funded by the Open Society Foundations. "As key players in democratic politics, they have a responsibility to be transparent about their operations. Encouragingly, our survey shows that think tanks themselves are increasingly sharing this view."

"How Transparent Are Think Tanks About Who Funds Them." Transparify Report 05/07/2014. Eric Lipton. "Major Research Groups Are Given Low Marks on Disclosing Donors." New York Times 05/06/2014.