Monday, 20 April 2009

Think tanks as lobbyists - put them on the list

When the Special Minister of State Senator John Falkiner gets around to reviewing the effectiveness of the federal lobbyists register he might like to consider these words:

Originally, think tanks were conceived as “universities without teaching,” But they also differ on other points: they have no students, and they are not subjected to the system of peer review that academia uses to promote diversity of thought and scientific rigor. "Normal" academic institutions are expected to conduct their research first and draw their conclusions second.

Some would argue that policy-driven US think tanks have reversed this process: "conclude, then justify." In the US, think tanks have dramatically grown in size and influence during the past 100 years. Their numbers increased from 8 in 1910 to over 1,000 today! Today, modern think tanks are tax-exempt, political idea factories, with huge budgets. In the US, the top 20 conservative think tanks now spend more money than all of the "soft money" contributions to the Republican Party.

In fact, by being outside the scope of US lobby regulation, US think tanks may be enjoying an unfair comparative advantage.

Mr Kallas was critical of the fact that while European think tanks were included in the EU's definition of lobbyists, only one had chosen to join the voluntary Brussels register of interest representatives. He argued that while most think tanks did no direct lobbying whatsoever, and would never accept to prepare a report on behalf of a corporate sponsor, the influence obtained through their indirect methods seemed to be a highly appreciated tool. "As a recent survey found,"he said, "75% of corporate interest representatives declares spending less than 25% of their "public affairs" budget on direct lobbying. Therefore, missing the indirect avenues would mean missing an important segment of the market."
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