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It is so very tempting for me to cackle with glee upon seeing this story yesterday in The Nation (of all places): “The Secret Donors Behind the Center for American Progress and Other Think Tanks.” I will resist, but the irony is thick — and the schadenfreude is calling to me louder than a two-for-a-dollar cheeseburger special at Five Guys.
A leftist publication is upbraiding America’s leading liberal think tank for taking donations from eeeevvvvillll corporations? Bring on the smelling salts — not for me, but for the readership of The Nation and those poor souls who rely on only the mainstream media for news and commentary and think only right-leaning think tanks accept corporate donations.
The Nation apparently got its hands on “internal lists” of the Center for American Progress (CAP), and revealed that the think tank has something it calls the “Business Alliance,” which The Nation characterizes as “a secret group of corporate donors.” Among the many corporate donors/members of the “Business Alliance” are General Motors and First Solar. Hmmm. Says The Nation:
The Center for American Progress, Washington’s leading liberal think tank, has been a big backer of the Energy Department’s $25 billion loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects. CAP has specifically praised First Solar, a firm that received $3.73 billion under the program, and its Antelope Valley project in California.
Last year, when First Solar was taking a beating from congressional Republicans and in the press over job layoffs and alleged political cronyism, CAP’s Richard Caperton praised Antelope Valley in his testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, saying it headed up his list of “innovative projects” receiving loan guarantees. Earlier, Caperton and Steve Spinner— a top Obama fundraiser who left his job at the Energy Department monitoring the issuance of loan guarantees and became a CAP senior fellow—had written an article cross-posted on CAP’s website and its Think Progress blog, stating that Antelope Valley represented “the cutting edge of the clean energy economy.”
Though the think tank didn’t disclose it, First Solar belonged to CAP’s Business Alliance, a secret group of corporate donors, according to internal lists obtained by The Nation. Meanwhile, José Villarreal—a consultant at the power- house law and lobbying firm Akin Gump, who “provides strategic counseling on a range of legal and policy issues” for corporations—was on First Solar’s board until April 2012 while also sitting on the board of CAP, where he remains a member, according to the group’s latest tax filing.
CAP is a strong proponent of alternative energy, so there’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of its advocacy. But the fact that CAP has received financial support from First Solar while touting its virtues to Washington policy-makers points to a conflict of interest that, critics argue, ought to be disclosed to the public. CAP’s promotion of the company’s interests has supplemented First Solar’s aggressive Washington lobbying efforts, on which it spent more than $800,000 during 2011 and 2012.
The bold emphasis above is mine — as is the link to the Caperton and Spinner piece, which might be disappeared, Soviet-style, by CAP’s Think Progress site by the time you read this. It’s that inconvenient. But let’s focus on the bolded part about how The Nation says “there’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of its advocacy.” Would The Nation give such benefit of the doubt to a non-left organization? Please. Leftist publications such as CAP’s Think Progress never do.
The Heartland Institute is under constant attack on all fronts by an organized leftist campaign out to destroy us — and our advocacy or free markets — for supposedly being “shills” for the fossil fuel industry. In fact, CAP and the guys at Think Progress squealed like a girl who got a pony for Christmas after climate scientist Peter Gleick handed them internal Heartland budget and donor documents he stole via identity theft and fraud.
Click here to get a sense of the scope of the Center for American Progress’ glee while hammering Heartland in the wake of Fakegate — which for Heartland was a much more severe version of what CAP is now experiencing. In the late winter and early spring of 2012, CAP’s minions at Think Progress couldn’t get enough. They went after Heartland’s corporate donors demanding they pull all funding of Heartland — and they did it with shameless lies and unbound vigor. Ironically, General Motors was the Heartland corporate-donor trophy that gave them the most satisfaction. Again, peruse the “Heartland Institute” search at Think Progress to get a sense of the sick satisfaction of these folks — who have now been hoist on their own petard … which brings me to this:
The Washington Free Beacon contacted me yesterday for comment on its story about all this titled “Progressives for Sale.” As I said in the lead to this post — and you now know via the background of Heartland’s experience above — it was so tempting for me to cackle with glee and shove some schadenfreude in the face of these leftist agitators. Here is my correspondence with the reporter:
QUESTION (paraphrase): What does this say about CAP’s standard of ethics, considering how critical they have been of corporate money in politics?
ANSWER (verbatim): “I find it ironic that the Center for American Progress may now realize how difficult it can be for a controversial non-profit to have its corporate donors exposed. CAP, after all, was among the organizations that gleefully publicized the Heartland Institute budget documents climate scientist Peter Gleick stole from us early last year. Maybe now CAP will tone down its celebration of crimes in the name of ‘disclosure’ and denunciation of corporate donations to non-profits — but I have my doubts.”
QUESTION (paraphrase): Is there a conflict of interest when they are taking money from GM and First Solar as they are advocating for policies that directly benefit those companies?
ANSWER (verbatim): “It depends. You’d have to ask the folks at CAP if they only advocated those policies because GM and First Solar gave them funding, or if GM and First Solar gave them funding because they advocated those policies on principle. The former would rightly raise eyebrows, but the latter should not. The Heartland Institute, for instance, has been advocating for smaller government, vigorous and honest climate research, and free-market solutions to social and economic problems for 29 years. We’ve had corporate donors come and go, but have never wavered on our principled stands on the most pressing public policy issues of the day. Who funds the message is not relevant; the quality of the argument and the soundness of the public policy prescription is what matters.”
Yes, I give the Center for American Progress the benefit of the doubt — even after all this and much more at the hands of CAP and its lefty allies. I don’t expect commensurate graciousness from the left, but maybe this development will bring about honesty — on all sides — about how think tanks actually work. CAP knows it, and should simply say it: The truth and the policy is what matters.
I hope this harrowing experience by the leading liberal think tank in Washington would serve as a clarifying lesson about the proper way to debate public policy. I have my doubts.