October 03, 2022

Warren Seeks Answers from Brookings about Funding Agreements from Foreign Governments Undermining the Think Tank’s Independence

New Letter Follows a July 2022 Letter from Warren Calling Out Troubling Accusations of Illegal and Inappropriate Lobbying By Brookings Officials and Leaders

Text of Letter (PDF)
Response from Brookings to Senator Warren’s July 2022 Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the Brookings Institution, seeking answers about how Brooking ensures its funding agreements from foreign governments do not undermine the independence of its research and expressing concerns that the organization is not able to ensure its leaders are avoiding illegal or inappropriate lobbying. This letter follows up on Brookings’ responses to Senator Warren’s July 2022 letter, where she expressed concerns that Marine Corps General John R. Allen, the former President of the Brookings Institution, was illegally lobbying for the government of Qatar, while he was a Brookings senior fellow, and sought answers about how Brookings protects its independence. Senator Warren is calling on Brookings to disclose all of its funding agreements with foreign entities and provide more information about its conflict of interest policy.

“Brookings’ agreement with Qatar appeared to significantly compromise their independence, ” said Senator Warren.  “Foreign governments, billionaire corporations, and the super wealthy should not be able to hide behind think tanks to secretly peddle influence and shape policy, and the Brookings Institution needs to fully disclose all of its funding agreements or it risks undermining its reputation.”

In the letter, Senator Warren raises several new concerns about Brookings’ responses to her July 2022 letter. While Brookings claimed that its conflict of interest policies protect its integrity, “in the case of General Allen these policies appeared to be a complete and unmitigated failure” as Brookings only found out about General Allen’s alleged work for Qatar through media reporting. Senator Warren also reiterated concerns about Qatar’s funding agreement with Brookings.

“While you noted that funders must acknowledge commitments to ‘objective and rigorous Scholarship’ and that Brookings’ scholars ‘make the final determinations regarding their scholarly activities’ it remains unclear whether other foreign funders are entitled to regular consultation, budget review, and agenda reviews, and to what extent this may affect the overall integrity of Brookings’ research. This is why I remain concerned that these foreign governments – as well as the many private sector corporations and wealthy individuals that are listed as Brookings contributors – can use Brookings and other think tanks to covertly peddle their influence before Congress and the administration,” wrote Senator Warren. 

Given Senator Warren’s concerns about Brookings’ responses to her questions and its ability to ensure its independence Senator Warren is asking Brookings about the control that large donors have over Brookings’ research and for the institution to disclose all of its funding agreements with foreign entities, including its funding agreement with Qatar, by October 24, 2022. 

Senator Warren has led efforts to fight government corruption and the revolving door that lets former government officials cash in on their service. Senator Warren’s Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act is sweeping anti-corruption legislation that would rein in corruption, strengthen ethics, end lobbying as we know it, improve the integrity of the judiciary, and reform campaign finance law. Her DoD Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act (S. 2396) would require the explicit approval of the Secretary of State for all former senior officials of the White House and Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury who seek paid work for a foreign government or non-governmental foreign entity, and bans former senior Pentagon officials from lobbying and behind-the-scenes lobbying DoD for four years. Senator Warren has also worked to secure commitments from nominees — including Secretary Austin and other Department of Defense nominees — on ethics standards. In 2015, Senator Warren sent a letter to Brookings questioning financial conflicts of interest and previously undisclosed financial industry editorial input into a report questioning the Department of Labor’s Conflict of Interest rule.