Think Tanks, Advocacy Groups Becoming More Transparent, Study Finds

Think tanks, advocacy groups, and foundations around the world are becoming more transparent about their funding sources, a report from Transparify, a watchdog group based in Tbilisi, Georgia, finds.

Based on an analysis of funding and donor information disclosed online by two hundred advocacy groups, think tanks, and foundations in forty-seven countries, the report, How Transparent Are Think Tanks About Who Funds Them? 2016 (24 pages, PDF), found that sixty-seven of the organizations analyzed were "highly" or "broadly" transparent, up from thirty-five and fifty-one, respectively, in the 2014 and 2015 reports. Of the forty-three U.S.-based organizations included in the report, fourteen, including the Center for Global Development, the Pew Research Center, and World Resources Institute, were rated "highly transparent" (five stars), while fifteen, including the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Urban Institute, were rated "broadly transparent" (four stars). Human Rights Watch and the United States Institute of Peace received only two stars, however, because while they disclosed their donors, they disclosed little or no financial information, while the American Enterprise Institute and the Earth Institute received one star for listing only some donors. Scoring worst among U.S.-based groups with no stars for the third straight year was the Open Society Foundations, which disclosed no relevant up-to-date information online. OSF funded Transparify's rankings research.

"We are aware of the irony," Transparify spokesperson Dustin Gilbreath told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Transparify applies the same criteria to all organizations, including our own donor."

"We don't publish online because many people (particularly older donors) don't want us to," OSF spokesperson Emma Daly told Reuters. "But anyone can contact us and get the annual report."

"These highly transparent institutions set a positive example for the sector as a whole, both nationally and internationally," said Transparify executive director Hans Gutbrod. "Once one think tank discloses exactly how much money it receives from each donor, and for what purposes, it raises the bar for all other players in the country. If one institution can do it, all institutions can do it."