Foreign Funding and Public Trust in the Think Tank Sector

Think tanks can serve as a crucial link between academia and the policy community, offering critically important research and ideas to solve the nation’s most pressing problems. But think tanks can also serve as de facto lobbyists and public relations mouthpieces for their funders, sometimes even doing work at the behest of foreign powers. As these conflicts of interest have become more apparent the public has expressed low levels of trust in think tanks, which has only been amplified by recent scandal — most notably the former President of Brookings facing allegations of working as an unregistered foreign agent. Fortunately, Congress has taken note of this problem and there is growing bipartisan support for a number of long-overdue solutions. Please join us for a discussion on recent polling and research suggesting what think tank experts can do to earn back the public’s trust and what Congress is considering doing to increase transparency and reduce corruption at think tanks, featuring Eli Clifton, Investigative Journalist at Large at the Quincy Institute; Katy Murray, Insights and Relationships Lead at Cast from Clay; and Nicholas Robinson, Senior Legal Advisor at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. Ben Freeman, Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute, will moderate.


Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton is an investigative journalist who focuses on money in politics and U.S. foreign policy. He previously reported for the American Independent New Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service. Clifton is co-author of the Center for American Progress’s report Fear Inc.: The Roots Of the Islamophobia Network In America. Eli has been a fellow at The Nation Institute and the Type Media Center. His work has appeared on PBS/Frontline’s Tehran bureau, The Intercept, the South China Morning Post, Right Web, LobeLog, Salon, Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Slate, Gawker, and Eli holds a bachelor’s degree from Bates College and a master’s degree in international political economy from the London School of Economics.

Katy Murray

Katy Murray is Insights and Relationships Lead at Cast From Clay, a communications consultancy that helps public policy experts shape conversations that strengthen democracy. The firm has a focus on improving the relationship between policy experts and the public. Katy leads Cast From Clay's research into that relationship. She was previously Lead Consultant, managing campaigns on behalf of policy organizations like WRI, E3G, the Stimson Center and the OECD. Prior to joining Cast From Clay, she spent five years working in the non-profit sector, most recently as Communications Manager for charity think tank and consultancy New Philanthropy Capital. She holds a BA (Hons) in Ancient World Studies from University College London, and a Postgraduate Certificate in Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, which explored the complex interplay between individuals and society.

Nick Robinson

Nick Robinson is a Senior Legal Advisor at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) where he manages the organization’s U.S. Program. Nick’s research and expertise center on how laws aimed at curtailing foreign influence can impact civil society organizations, the regulation of the freedom of assembly, and civic space in a time of rising global authoritarianism. He has testified before Congress and his research has been published in a number of academic journals, including Duke Law Journal and Cornell Law Review. He is regularly quoted or cited in leading news outlets and has contributed to the New York Times, Foreign Policy, LA Times, NBC Think, and other media outlets. Nick holds a J.D. from Yale Law School and a B.A. from the University of Chicago.

Ben Freeman (Moderator)

Ben Freeman is a Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His work focuses on how foreign governments seek to influence American government and politics. This work builds upon his book, The Foreign Policy Auction, which was the first book to systematically analyze the foreign influence industry in the U.S. Previously, he was Director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy. Before launching the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative, Freeman was the Deputy Director of the National Security program at Third Way. Prior to joining Third Way, he served as the National Security Fellow at the Project On Government Oversight from 2011 to 2013, where he spear-headed creation of the “Foreign Influence Database,” a repository of propaganda distributed by foreign agents that was previously unavailable online.