Comparative Analysis: Brookings and Cato
By ZACHARY SHUSTER | June 14, 2017
The Brookings Institute is one of the foremost left-leaning think tanks of Washington, D.C.
It goes without saying that the Brookings Institute contributes valuable research to the dialogue between Washington think tanks and the media (for example, its research on climbing out of poverty can certainly be used to promote economic empowerment).
Corporate pay to play accusations, however, have dogged the Brookings Institute. Countries like Denmark, Norway, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have established crony relationships with the Institute. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has called this “thinly disguised lobbying.” Although these activities do not legally count as lobbying, the Institute’s quid pro quo habits do raise questions concerning the independence and objectivity of the Brookings Institute—questions that force us to read its research with a heavy grain of salt.
Still, it is one thing if corporations and foreign governments seek to influence the Institute with their contributions. However, according to an investigation by Open the Books, the Brookings Institute has received $19.5 million of taxpayer dollars from the U.S. federal government since 2008. More specifically, they received $10.8 million in grants, $1.8 million in sub-grants, $5.1 million in contracts, and $1.7 million in sub-contracts. These contracts and grants came from over 50 federal agencies, including Obama’s Office of the President, the Department of Energy, and the National Endowment of the Arts. As Open the Books founder and CEO Adam Andrzejewski points out, generous federal endowments to the Brookings Institute were often followed by research that bolstered the federal agencies who fed it money. In 2013, the Brookings Institute boasted potbellied net assets of $443,238,012.
If you take a look at, say, the Cato Institute, a libertarian Washington think tank with $62,454,980 in net assets, you will quickly find that, by principle, “the Cato Institute accepts no government funding.” While arguments can be made for the federal government funding productive research and dialogue, using taxpayer dollars for quid pro quo (or, as Warren calls it, thinly disguised lobbying) is another matter. And we enter dangerous waters when federal officials pick winners and losers—especially through funding with hard-earned taxpayer dollars.