A quick and dirty “Transparify-like” assessment of US think tanks

16 February 2015

[Editor’s note: The rating for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has been updated to a 4]

Following a series of posts on think tanks’ transparency, On Think Tanks has reviewed a number of popular US think tanks to assess their own financial openness. The think tanks reviewed here have not been covered by this year’s Transparify report so this may offer them a useful non-official rating to compare themselves with their peers. The list has been chosen by looking at the list of most popular US think tanks compiled by the UPENN ranking of think tanks. IFPRI has not been included because it is not a US think tank -it is a CGIAR research centre that happens to be based in DC.

Once again, it is worth noting that these ratings have not been independently verified. They should be seen as an invitation to look into think tanks’ transparency. And they are hopefully useful to the think tanks themselves. The pages were viewed on 4-5th February 2015.

Transparify’s rating system is the following:

What does the 5 star rating system tell us about a think tank? Transparify visits think tanks’ websites and awards up to 5 stars. Think tanks that score 5 stars are highly transparent about their funding. Think tanks that score 0 stars provide no up-to-date information on where they get their money from.

5-star: highly transparent — Think tanks that score the maximum possible 5 stars enable fellow researchers, journalists, policy makers and citizens to see clearly and in detail who funds them, how much each donor contributed, and what projects or activities (if any) that money went towards. Only a minority of think tanks we have surveyed so far reach this high standard.

4-star: largely transparent — Think tanks that score 4 stars are largely transparent, but the information they provide is less detailed or comprehensible. Outside stakeholders can infer who their main donors are.

1, 2 and 3-star: incomplete funding data — 1-3 stars mean that a think tank only provides some data. For example, a 3-star think tank may list some donors and disclose the approximate scale of their contributions, but keep contribution levels of other donors obscure.

0-star: no funding information — 0-star think tanks do not provide any up-to-date information on where they get their money from.

In this case, we have followed this approach although it is not the official rating.

Please, if there is information we have missed, just email us and we’ll update the post. 

The think tanks

This table presents a brief summary:

transparency us

0 stars

Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty – 0 stars

We could not find any information about their finances except for a really well designed and thorough page dedicated to donating to the Acton Institute.

Center for the National Interest (CFTNI), FKA Nixon Center – 0 stars

There is no information about funding on the Center’s page.

Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) – 0 stars

The CEI website provides little information about the organisation itself.

Economic Policy Institute (EPI)  – 0 stars

There is a page asking for donation and an indication of how the funds will be used but no %s or a budget.

Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)  – 0 stars

There is no information about ITIF’s sources of funding. And it was not possible to find, through a simple search, an anual report.

Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy (KPIHP)  0 -stars

One could assume that KPIHP is funded by KP but this is not clearly stated. KPIHP uses or publishes work from other think tanks and NGOs but it is also not clear if this work is funded by them or not.

Pacific Research Institute (PRI)  – 0 stars

PRI does not provide information about its funding sources. There is a page to support PRI but no indication of who supports it and how.

Reason Foundation  – 0 stars

There is an indication of how the funds are raised but no more than a general explanation. No annual report; not easily found.

1 star

Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES)  – 1 star

There is information about who the main strategic partners are and a ‘donate’ button but no detail about how much they nor others give the centre.

Center for Transatlantic Relations (CTR) – 1 star

One can infer that the funding for the Center comes from a consortia of universities. But is is not clear how much each provide or where their funds come from.

Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI)  – 1 star

The MI provides information about how it is funded in its Support page but there isn’t any information about who actually funds it.

Mercatus Center – 1 star

Mercatus provides information about its sources of funding but not how much each individual, corporation or foundation provides. Nor does it say who they are.

2 stars

Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC)  – 2 stars

The BPC provides overall/aggregate information about their sources of funding and total spends but no detail related to who funds what and how much.

Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) – 2 stars

CEPR lists some of its funders but does not provide information about the detail of their funding. They provide some estimate of how much comes from grants or foundations.

Demos – 2 stars

Demos’ annual report provides information about its general income and expenses and a list of donors but there is no indication as to how much each one provides. It does offer more detail in their 990 form but this could be more easily presented.

EastWest Institute (EWI)  – 2 stars

There is information about who funds it and ow the funds are spend but no detail. Might be worth mentioning theta they have an excellent ‘fundraising‘ page.

Independent Institute (United States)  – 2 stars

The annual report has an general analysis of how funds are used and a list of funders without information about who much they each give.

Migration Policy Institute (MPI) – 2 stars

MPI lists some of the institutions that fund it but not the amounts or the way these funds are use.

3 stars

Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) – 3 stars

Its financial information was relatively easy to find and one can infer that it received funding from certain trusts and how much. But this could be presented in a better way.

Inter-American Dialogue  – 3 stars

The Dialogue provides information about its main sources of funding (grouped) but it details who they are (although not how much they each provide).  It is not terribly up-to-date, though as the latest report is from 2012.

James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy – 3 stars

The James Baker Institute provides detailed information about the names of each of its funders (including individuals) but not the exact amounts.

4 stars

Atlas Network  – 4 stars

Its Annual report provides information about who funds them and approximate values. It also discloses how much it gets from individuals, corporations and foundations and that it does not receive any government funding. It does not give detail about how this money is used.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)  – 4 stars

The Donate page provides information about how the spend their funds (aggregate). The About us page has a link to 2014 donors and other 2013 information. [NOTE: this is an edit to the original post]

Institute for Policy Studies (IPS)  – 4 stars

IPS presents a very long and detailed list of all its funders -even those providing small amounts. It presents all its financial documents in an easy to find page.

Resources for the Future (RFF)  – 4 stars

There is detail about who funds RFF in the annual report. It shows who the individuals are and who the foundations and corporations are. But detail is not provided for all.

Worldwatch Institute – 4 stars

The annual report provides information about the funders and who much each provided (more or less). There is another list of institutional supporters that is easy to find on the main website.

5 stars

Aspen Institute  – 5 stars

The Institute discloses very detailed information in an easy to find way.

For more information and for an official Transparify rating visit: Transparify.org

Getting a 5 star rating is not hard. All you need to do is:

  • Have a “Who funds us” page with a table like the one that CGD or Grupo FARO have.
  • Mention the funder, the amount, and the type of ‘contract’ (e.g. grant, consultancy, or own funds) in each project or initiative page.
  • Include financial information in your Annual Reports.