Naomi Fowler ■ Who funds you? Transparency and think tanks: we score the maximum, again
The organisation Transparify provides the first-ever global rating on the financial transparency of major think tanks. Today they release their 2018 rankings. It’s vital that people know who’s funding organisations that shape the news and the narratives on key things like the economy, public services, healthcare, taxation, and the environment. In any healthy democracy we should all be in a position to judge for ourselves whether or not research has integrity and intellectual independence. Too often the media fails us on this, often uncritically interviewing spokespeople as ‘experts’ from organisations which are secretive about their funders, without any challenge or inquiry into whether or not these sources are credible.
Highly relevant to this discussion is the current investigation by the UK’s Charity Commission into whether pro-Brexit, anti-National Health Service think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs (registered as an educational charity – yes, we repeat, it’s a registered educational charity) has broken the rules on political independence, (reported on here by Open Democracy). The Institute for Economic Affairs is given a regular platform by the mainstream media, particularly by public service broadcaster, the BBC.
In the words of Transparify’s Advocacy Manager: “Do we want to listen to opaque outfits that refuse to come clean about who their paymasters are, or do we prefer to place our trust in transparent think tanks that adhere to democratic norms? The choice is ours to make.”
Indeed. But not when it’s unclear to us whose interests these organisations really represent. That’s why the work Transparify does is so important. As previously, this year, once again, the Tax Justice Network scores the maximum transparency score of five stars for being ‘highly transparent.’ It shouldn’t be any other way.
Here are the findings of the Transparify 2018 report in full. They look at 92 think tanks in 24 countries. Here’s part of their statement on their latest results:
More think tanks are embracing transparency globally, according to a new study released today. Transparify, a non-profit initiative based in Georgia (Caucasus), has rated nearly 100 think tanks as highly or broadly transparent on their levels of financial disclosure, nearly five times the number of transparent institutions in 2013.
Dr. Hans Gutbrod, Transparify’s Executive Director, stated, “The expansion of transparent think tanks over the last five years shows that financial transparency is becoming the norm among high quality institutions the world over.”
The study suggests that there are highly transparent institutions in over 20 countries on all six continents. “Our work demonstrates that top transparency performers can be found in places as far apart as the United States, Ecuador, South Africa, and Ukraine. Clearly, transparency is a feasible option in a wide variety of contexts,” according to Dr. Gutbrod.
The study concludes that for transparency to become institutionalized, donors need to encourage financial transparency. Dr. Till Bruckner, Transparify’s Advocacy Manager, stated, “Major donors need to ask the think tanks they finance to disclose where their funding comes from. Only through a systemic solution that targets the point of application for research funding will the think tank sector be sustainably transparent.”