January 21, 2015


How transparent are Spanish Think Tanks? A DIY rating with Transparify’s framework

[Editor’s note: This post was written by Jaime Gonzalez-Capitel and Francesc Ponsa Herrera.  It follows other posts that take on a DIY approach to Transparify’s Transparency rating efforts.]

This post presents the results of a DIY transparency rating to 48 Spanish think tanks with the use of Transparify’s framework. We believe the DIY approach applied to a single country to be a powerful diagnostic tool that can serve as a starting point to identify leading institutions and patterns in an emerging culture of disclosure.

Enrique Mendizabal has published several similar transparency ratings of groups of think tanks on this blog over the last year, following the release of Transparify’s first report in early May 2014. After evaluating think tanks within the Think Tank Initiative and the Knowledge Sector Initiative also in May, in November he covered a group of Latin American Think Tanks.

For the sake of neutrality, rather than cherry-picking a smaller group of better-known or more homogeneous Spanish organisations, and in the manner of Transparify’s use of McGann’s ranking, we have taken after an authoritative source. Our list is borrowed from the second edition of Marta Tello’s Guía de Think Tanks en España, published last year by Fundación Ciudadanía y Valores. Of the 60 institutions listed, however, 5 were public sector organizations, two corporate think tanks, one a think tank based in Argentina and 4 institutions that have recently been discontinued.

Notoriously, Fundación Ideas (PSOE) and Centre d’Estudis Jordi Pujol (Convergencia) were shut down by scandals of nepotism and corruption.

The remaining group of 48 Think Tanks are very different in size and scope. More than half (26) have their headquarters in Madrid, another 11 in Barcelona, and only 9 are based outside either Catalonia or the Region of Madrid. As for their nature, 12 are partisan foundations (or ‘Party tanks’, in McGann’s terminology) like FAES (PP), Fundación Pablo Iglesias (PSOE), Fundació CatDem (CDC) or Fundación Galiza Sempre (BNG), while at least another two have first-tier politicians in their boards. There are also membership based organizations, heavily research-oriented nonprofits, and a small number of foreign policy think tanks.

The websites of all 48 institutions were visited in search for information on their sources of funding between December 2 2014 and January 15 2015. Unlike Mendizabal’s decision to evaluate not only the amount of information published but also how easy it was to find it, the standard adopted in this case is less demanding, and practically identical to the original meaning first assigned by the Transparify team. The reason for doing this is pragmatic: since 96% of the think tanks obtain ratings between 0 and 2 stars, it doesn’t seem necessary to introduce further requirements for the highest values at this stage. Instead, it’s probably more important to understand why the scores are so low and what actions can be taken to change this.

The diagnostic is that transparency in the sector of public policy research institutions is quite marginal, with an average rating below the single star (0.69).

21 Spanish Think Tanks that received one or more stars in the rating

Spanish transparency

The Ratings

0 stars: 27 institutions (56%)

‘No relevant or up-to date information’

Most of the think tanks rated 0 simply do not disclose any kind of financial information nor explain how do they fund their activities. In most cases yearbooks are published that only include summaries of the activities with no information on revenues and expenses.

  • Civismo: A system of membership brackets is specified, but is used as part of the fundraising strategy.

Recommendations: Disclose the total revenues obtained with memberships, the number of members per bracket and the identity of all donors above 5,000 euros.

1 star: 11 (23%)

‘Some donors listed, but not exhaustive or systematic’

There are two main reasons why a think tank was assigned one star. Firstly, and as the definition goes, it might publish the identity of donors in a non-systematic way. It’s quite common to reference supporting and partnering institutions with the inclusion of logos on the website homepages, but this is surely not enough to understand the nature of that support. In less frequent cases, some contributions are highlighted. This is more likely to happen with public funds, grants and contracts that are already known to the public through the official government gazettes, either at national, regional or local level.

Secondly, a balance sheet including information on revenues and expenses but with no mention of specific sources might be published. What we usually found is that the yearbook includes the summary of the audit report, a document that the Spanish legislation requires to be submitted to the Protectorate of Foundations by the end of each fiscal year. The fact notwithstanding that there is no information about individual donors in this document, and that uploading the summary to the website is far too short from a real form of proactive publicity, this is still better than nothing.

  • CATPE. Three entities, including Banco de Santander, are listed as sponsors and another five as collaborators.

Recommendations: Indicate the amount of funding received from each sponsor, the total funds raised and in which years. Explain the nature of collaborations and partnerships.

  • Cercle d’Economia. Seven entities are listed as ‘collaborators’. There is no indication on the nature of collaborations and whether they can be understood as sponsorships.

Recommendations: Indicate the amount of funding received from each sponsor, the total funds raised and in which years. Explain the nature of collaborations and distinguish sponsorships from partnerships.

  • FAES. Lead by former Prime Minister José María Aznar (conservative, PP), FAES is probably the most famous Spanish partisan Think Tank. Their yearbook reads “FAES receives private donations from individuals and companies. Their transparency is guaranteed with the fulfillment of legal requirements”. This statement shows no intention of disclosing the identity of donors, and in spite of being the recipient of numerous public grants and contracts, FAES does not list those contributions anywhere in their website. They do identify the Ministries of Education, Culture and Sport, and Foreign Affairs as the main sources of public funds, but they also vaguely mention ‘other public administrations’. Finally, the yearbook does include the summary of the auditing report for the corresponding year, showing some desire to be perceived as a transparent institution. In any case, there is much room for improvement, especially considering FAES’ prominence in the Spanish public debate.

Recommendations: List all the public administrations that have granted funds, the amount of funding for each item, and the concept. Disclose the number of individual and corporate donors, and identify at least those who have contributed with more than € 5,000.

  • Fundación AlternativasAgain, the summary of the audit report is included in the yearbook with no mention to specific donors.

Recommendations: Identify public sources of funding, individual and corporate donors, or at least those who contributed more than € 5,000.

  • Fundació Catalunya EuropaThe  website includes a section with yearbooks and summarized budget reports, which include simple, tabular summaries of the yearly expenses and revenues. The revenues summary includes the general concepts of ‘donors’ and ‘donations from financial institutions’ but also specific funding from public funds and from the ‘Pasqual Maragall’ endowment. This is close to deserving 2 stars, but it falls short because it fails to identify any private donors.

Recommendations: Identify donors contributing sums larger than € 5,000. Identify all financial institutions that have contributed funds to the organisation.

  • Fundación Ciudadanía y Valores. The website hosts a section on collaborating entities that consists mainly of universities and foundations, but it doesn’t specify whether the relation implies any sort of financial support. The summary of the audit report isn’t published.

Recommendations: Indicate which of the collaborating entities has provided financial support, and specify, where possible, the amount and the project or projects that it will be used for.

  • Fundación Europea Sociedad y EducaciónThere is an exhaustive list of collaborating entities that specifies those with which framework agreements are in place. However, there are no hints as to which of the entities listed are sponsors.

Recommendations: Indicate which of the collaborating entities has provided financial support, and specify, where possible, the amount and the project or projects that it will be used for.

  • Fundació Irla. Contains a short list of collaborating entities, most of which are public agencies. Budget summaries are also published, but the most recent is from 2012.

Recommendations: Specify the amounts of funding from collaborating entities and distinguish sponsorships and grants from other forms of collaboration. Update budget summaries.

Recommendations:  List all the public administrations that have granted funds, the amount of funding for each item, and the concept. Disclose the number of individual and corporate donors, and identify at least those who have contributed with more than € 5,000.

  • Fundación Progreso y DemocraciaPartisan foundation (centrist, UPyD). One of the highlighted sections in the website is called ‘transparent management’ and contains budget statements for each year. For 2013, only the main grant provided by the Ministry of Culture is highlighted. Over € 40,000 in revenues are merely justified as payments for the provision of services.

Recommendations: Identify private donors. Specify the nature of revenues for the provision of services.

  • Sabino Arana FundazioaPartisan foundation (Basque Nationalist, PNV). Like FAES and others, it publishes an extract of the audit report in the website, but no specific information about donors.

Recommendations: List all the public administrations that have granted funds, the amount of funding for each item, and the concept. Disclose the number of individual and corporate donors, and identify at least those who have contributed with more than € 5,000.

2 stars: 8 (17%)

‘All or many donors listed, but no or little financial information’.

Most of the organizations rated two stars have exhaustive lists of sponsors, but refrain from disclosing how much each sponsor contributes. The fine-line that separates this group from the former is the clarity as to which entities support financially and which have ties of a different type.

A subset of this group is made of foundations that function as business associations. Sponsors are members that usually enter the Board of Trustees for the duration of their financial support. This is the case of Círculo de Empresarios, FEDEA and COTEC.

Unless otherwise indicated, recommendations are common: Include the total number of memberships, the amounts contributed per membership and the total revenues. For the business association subset, this is a synonym of explaining more explicitly the nature of the association, what membership implies in terms of decision power and whether there is a flat membership fee.

  • Fundació l’AlternativaPartisan foundation (Catalan Leftist, EUiA). One of the tabs on the homepage is called ´Transparency´ and links to exhaustive budget summaries for 2012 and 2013. The summaries include a breakdown of public funding depending on whether the source was the local, regional or national administration, the exact amount of funds provided by EUiA and the total funds raised from individuals.

Recommendations: indicate the total number of individual and corporate donors, and identify donors that contributed over € 1,500. Include a breakdown of public support, identifying specific government agencies and calls.

  • Real Instituto ElcanoThe most important foreign policy Spanish Think Tank, Real Instituto Elcano can be considered the analogue of an Atlantist American Think Tank. In spite of the fact that the report for 2013 hasn’t been uploaded, the FAQ section clearly answers the question “Who funds us?”, specifying the percentage of public funds (15% out of € 3 million) and the inclusion of all corporate sponsors in the Board of Trustees.

Recommendation: Disclose the amount contributed by each organization in the board. Publish a breakdown of public funding, identifying specific government agencies and calls.

3 stars: 1 (2%)

‘All or most donors listed in 2 or 3 broad contribution brackets [e.g. “USD 5,000 to 15,000, the following donors”]’

  • FRIDEOne of the few Spanish Think Tanks consistently included in McGann’s rankings and a leading institution in the field of foreign policy, FRIDE is also the only Think Tank rated in the Transparify report from May 2013, when it scored 1. Their website was recently updated to accurately meet the criterion for 3 stars, with a table of donors during the last three years in three brackets: up to € 50,000, between € 50,000 and € 300,000, and above € 400,000.

Recommendations: indicate the exact amount of funding for each donor, and relate funding to particular projects.

4 stars: 0 (0%)

‘All donors above USD 5,000 listed in 4+ precise funding brackets, with anonymous donors no more than 15% (if membership base: precise number of members)’

5 stars: 1 (2%)

‘All donors listed, clearly identifying funding amounts for, and sources of, particular projects

  • Fundación Ecología y DesarrolloAn environmental nonprofit, Fundación Ecología y Desarrollo’s website links to a budget statement that includes information on every grant and donation received, the source and the project for which it was granted. Most of the funding comes from public agencies at different levels.

Recommendations: Include a summary of the information in html format on the website so that the information already published is easy to find.

Other recommendations for partisan foundations

This rating exercise has proven that the analysis of policy expertise institutions from a given country in search of their financial disclosure policies can find regular patterns that are deeply rooted in different factors, such as fiscal and nonprofit regulation, political traditions, the culture of giving and the involvement of corporate actors in public debate. In other words, in spite of the lack of homogeneity of the institutions analyzed, a one-country analysis does have the virtue of finding general features of interest that are quite idiosyncratic and can be addressed separately.

As an example, and given the importance of party tanks in Spain, several recommendations can be made that fall out of the scope of the Transparify framework:

  • Clearly state the relation to the political party
  • Publish the amount of public funding received, including:
    • Level of government and government agency
    • Type of funding (loan, grant, contract, etc.)
    • Related projects
    • Funding series. The call might be published regularly and consistently granted to certain institutions.

Summary of Ratings

Think Tank Rating
Fundación Ecología y Desarrollo 5
Circulo de empresarios 2
Centro de Toledo para la Paz 2
Club de Madrid 2
Fundación L’Alternativa 2
Fundación Ortega y Gasset- Gregorio Marañón 2
Real Instituto Elcano 2
Centro Atlántico de Pensamiento Estratégico 1
Cercle d’Economia 1
Fundación Alternativas 1
Fundació Catalunya Europa 1
Fundación Ciudadanía y Valores 1
Fundación Europea Sociedad y Educación 1
Fundación Irla 1
Fundación por la Europa de los Ciudadanos 1
Fundación Progreso y Democracia 1
Sabino Arana Fundazioa 1
Aspen Institute España 0
Civismo 0
Fundació Bofill 0
Fundación Campalans 0
Fundación CatDem 0
Fundación de Investigaciones Marxistas 0
Fundación Encuentro 0
Fundación Galiza Sempre 0
Fundación Independiente 0
Fundació Nous Horitzons 0
Fundación Pablo Iglesias 0
Fundación Pi i Sunyer 0
Fundación Seminario de Investigación para la Paz 0
Fundación Sistema 0
Gernika Gogoratuz 0
Instituto de Estudios sobre Conflictos y Acción Humanitaria 0
Instituto Galego de Análise e Documentación Internacional 0
Instituto Franklin de Investigación en Estudios Norteamericanos 0
Institución Futuro 0
Instituto de Estudios Económicos 0
Instituto Juan de Mariana 0
OpenCat 0
Persona + Democracia Joaquim Xicoy 0
About the author:

Enrique Mendizabal:  Founder, On Think Tanks

Read more from: Enrique Mendizabal