Researchers or Corporate Allies? Think Tanks Blur the Line

thenewyorktimes magazine

Think tanks are seen as independent, but their scholars often push donors’ agendas, amplifying a culture of corporate influence in Washington.

WASHINGTON — As Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s largest home builders, pushed ahead with an $8 billion plan to revitalize a barren swath of San Francisco, it found a trusted voice to vouch for its work: the Brookings Institution, the most prestigious think tank in the world.

“This can become a productive, mutually beneficial relationship,” Bruce Katz, a Brookings vice president, wrote to Lennar in July 2010. The ultimate benefit for Brookings: $400,000 in donations from Lennar’s different divisions.

The think tank began to aggressively promote the project, San Francisco’s biggest redevelopment effort since its recovery from the 1906 earthquake, and later offered to help Lennar, a publicly traded company, “engage with national media to develop stories that highlight Lennar’s innovative approach.”

And Brookings went further. It named Kofi Bonner, the Lennar executive in charge of the San Francisco development, as a senior fellow — an enviable credential he used to advance the company’s efforts.

“He would be a trusted adviser,” an internal Brookings memo said in 2014 as the think tank sought one $100,000 donation from Lennar.

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»By Eric Lipton & Brooke Williams
»Photo: Greg Kahn for NYT

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