Tag Archives: Jane Mayer

Philanthropy, Weaponized

In a recent series of articles, The New York Times detailed how nonprofit think tanks are rife with conflicts of interest.

The Times reported how corporations made charitable donations to certain think tanks, which then happened to undertake studies that benefited those corporations. The Times also reported how associates of think tanks worked simultaneously for corporations affected by their studies. One scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, for example, wrote articles and testified in front of Congress urging the rejection of increased regulation of the internet – without revealing that he was also a paid consultant for Verizon and its trade organization. Another scholar at the American Enterprise Institute testified before Congressional committees in favor of increased military spending – while simultaneously serving as a paid lobbyist for Pentagon suppliers. The list goes on, and on.

But The Times missed the bigger story: the fundamental problem with the think tank industry itself. Many of the best-known think tanks are charities in name only. They have no mission beyond helping persuade the public and bully the government into accepting policies promoted by the think tanks’ founders and boards. Continue reading

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Partial Score

The late comedian George Carlin had a shtick back in the 1970s where he played a television sports anchor. With mock seriousness, he’d stare at the camera and say, “Here’s a partial score: Notre Dame 6.”

I thought of this as I read David Callahan’s perceptive interpretation in Inside Philanthropy of Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF)’s recently-released sortable listing of its 2015 grants. Through this listing SVCF, the largest community foundation in the country, shares how much money it has distributed from donor-advised funds and its discretionary grantmaking programs, and it lists which organizations received the bounty. SVCF is clearly trying to show how vast and diverse its giving is, and the foundation implies that sharing its grant table is a great act of transparency. But SVCF only tells us part of the story – and the parts that are left unexplained underscore the inherent problems with donor-advised funds. Continue reading

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