Ken Silverstein slices and dices the “liberal” think tank called the Center for American Progress, in The Baffler.

Silverstein documents the ties between corporations and CAP. He also shows that its policies reflect those of the Obama administration.


To understand just how Thomas Friedman, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Gail Collins have been repurposed as purveyors of bold new ideas, it helps to see how the world of liberal think tanks has been upended, ever so gently, by a steady onrush of corporate funding—and corporate-friendly policy agendas. Think tanks have always reflected relatively narrow elite opinion and were never entirely impartial, but the earliest were modeled on academic institutions. Brookings, the first, began in 1916 (as the Institute for Government Research) and subsequently billed its mission as “the fact-based study of national public policy issues.” During the Great Depression, its scholars took sides both for and against the New Deal. The Council on Foreign Relations began in New York five years after Brookings and, as author Peter Grose later wrote, sought to “guide the statecraft of policymakers” with in-depth reports prepared by “groups of knowledgeable specialists of differing ideological inclinations.”

An emerging, more aggressive perspective was prompted by the specter of economic stagflation and the twin political crises of the early 1970s, Vietnam and Watergate. In 1974 and 1975, top corporate officials convened annually under the auspices of still another ideas consortium called the Conference Board—but this time out, they didn’t feel quite so dispassionate about the policy-debate scene. Feeling pressured by then-powerful labor unions and the demands of what they saw as an ungrateful citizenry, the assembled CEOs feared a popular revolt might be imminent. “We have been hoist with our own petard,” one executive said at one conclave. “We have raised expectations that we can’t deliver on.” Another executive complained, “One man, one vote has undermined the power of business in all capitalist countries since World War II.”

In order to recapture politicians, intellectuals, and the media, corporations increased their Washington lobbying efforts and jacked up campaign contributions as well. Just as important, corporations shoveled cash into existing think tanks and established dozens of new ones. The Heritage Foundation began in 1973, and within a decade its annual budget topped $12 million. The American Enterprise Institute, which began life as a fairly nondescript business advocacy group, became more politically emboldened and saw its budget triple between 1975 and 1985. New conservative think tanks founded in the post-Watergate period included the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Over time, corporations also provided major support for think tanks aligned with Democrats, especially moderate ones. The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) began in 1989 and received millions of dollars from sources such as the Tobacco Institute, Occidental Petroleum, and various Wall Street firms.

The article doesn’t say much about CAP’s education initiatives. Too bad, because it has been a reliable mouthpiece for corporate reform. Peter Greene roasted CAP in “The Progressive” for supporting charter schools, high-stakes testing, and every other right wing idea.

Before readers point it out, please note that the founder of CAP was John Podesta, now managing Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

I think there is only one genuine liberal think tank in D.C., at least where education is concerned, and that is the Economic Policy Institute.