European Political Party Think Tanks: Dark Money Alert from Spain

21 March 2016

A study released last week by the Observatorio de Think Tanks + reports that think tanks tied to political parties in Spain lack financial transparency, and warns that their opacity may violate national laws that mandate disclosure from publicly funded entities. The findings of the Spanish group are likely to draw lobbying campaigners’ attention to the governance of similar institutions in Germany and other European Union countries where think tanks formally tied to political parties receive significant public funding while also soliciting donations from corporate and private sources.

Visiting the websites of 13 think tanks tied to Spanish parties across the political spectrum, the Observatorio found that not a single one disclosed its funding streams in detail. Nine institutions did not even provide a complete list of all their sponsors, let alone who paid how much. “None of the political party foundations disclosed donations from individuals and enterprises,” wrote the research group, warning that the combination between opaque financial management and weak regulatory oversight creates a situation in which parties’ nonprofit research arms could be used to clandestinely fund political parties through the back door.

On the positive side, the Observatorio reported that several independent think tanks in Spain have recently opened their books. The national leader is Fundació Bofill, which was awarded the maximum 5-star rating and won praise for “publishing its funding sources with clarity and without fear”. Fundació Catalunya Europa, CIDOB and ECODES earned 4 stars each.

Across all 46 think tanks that the group assessed, 15 provide more data than they did last year. The chart below visualizes the sector’s gradual shift away from red and pink (highly opaque) towards green (transparent).

Transparency Rating of Spanish Think Tanks
Transparency Rating of Spanish Think Tanks (Source: Observatorio de Think Tanks)

The average transparency score for Spanish think tanks rose from a rock bottom baseline of 0.7 stars last year to 1.2 stars this year. In comparison, the European Union average in 2015 was 2.8 stars.

Observatorio de Think Tanks is a collaboration between five researchers: Francesc Ponsa, Jaime Gonzalez-Capitel, Francesc Quintana Rubio, Marta Guasp Teschendorff, and Marta Tello. The group has announced that its next plan is to review and analyse Spanish think tanks’ compliance with national transparency legislation.