US Asks Think Tanks to Disclose Foreign Funding, Cites Concerns Over China and Russia

October 13, 2020 Updated: October 14, 2020

The U.S. State Department is asking think tanks that wish to engage with it to prominently list all funding they receive from foreign governments and state-owned enterprises, citing concerns about covert influence by China and Russia.

“The unique role of think tanks in the conduct of foreign affairs makes transparency regarding foreign funding more important than ever,” the department said on Oct. 13 in a statement. “To protect the integrity of civil society institutions, the Department requests henceforth that think tanks and other foreign policy organizations that wish to engage with the Department disclose prominently on their websites funding they receive from foreign governments, including state-owned or state-operated subsidiary entities.”

Some of the most influential think tanks in the United States have significant ties to China. The Brookings Institution, for example, established a center in Beijing in 2006. A number of think tanks operate from elite universities that have reported accepting millions of dollars in gifts and contracts from China.

The University of Pennsylvania, which hosts the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, reported accepting more than $77 million from China, according to mandatory filings with the Department of Education. The Earth Institute, one of the top university-affiliated think tanks, operated from Columbia University, reported accepting more than $40 million in gifts and contracts from China.

The State Department noted that the request isn’t binding, but asked department officials to consider whether the think tanks they are considering engaging have disclosed foreign funding. The department specifically noted concerns about efforts by China and Russia to “seek to exert influence over U.S. foreign policy through lobbyists, external experts, and think tanks.”

On Oct. 8, Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) wrote (pdf) to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, urging an inquiry into potential funding by Russia and China of environmental think tanks and nonprofits.

Gooden accused the Sea Change Foundation, the Sierra Club, and the Sunrise Movement of receiving foreign funds but didn’t offer evidence in the letter or in response to a request from The Epoch Times.

“Based on information recently brought to my attention, I believe there is considerable evidence of foreign interference in our government, perpetrated through environmental groups like these taking shelter behind the non-profit status of donor anonymity,” Gooden wrote.

Gooden isn’t the first lawmaker to allege foreign influence over environmental foundations and think tanks. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) sent a similar letter (pdf) to Attorney General William Barr in September.

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