‘Opaque’ and ‘Deceptive’ Think Tanks Spend Millions Pushing Brexit and Climate Science Misinformation – Report

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Three think tanks known for pushing for Brexit and spreading climate science misinformation spent over £3 million of ‘dark money’ influencing British politics last year, according to a new report.

The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), Civitas, and the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) all received the lowest score from independent watchdog Transparify in its latest transparency ratings. The three organisations were part of a list of seven ”highly opaque and deceptive think tanks in Britain that take money from hidden hands behind closed doors”, the report said.

All three were criticised as being “highly opaque”, while the International Institute for Strategic Studies was the only think tank Transparify assessed that was given a new 'deceptive' label.

DeSmog UK previously revealed how the CPS, IEA, and Civitas operate as part of a network of organisations based around Westminter's 55 Tufton Street that pushed for the UK to leave the EU while spreading climate science misinformation.

Till Bruckner, Transparify’s advocacy manager, told DeSmog UK that think tanks are responsible for “a lot of influence in the US, UK and other countries, and a lot of that influence is benign. But a minority of players are giving think tanks a bad name and devaluing the label and brand”.

In some people’s minds, ‘think tanks’ are now synonymous with any other sort of lobby group, he said.

We’re trying to save the reputation of the sector by encouraging think tanks to be more transparent as a way to signal to their audience that they’re reliable and have confidence in their intellectual independence”.

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Transparify gave Civitas a “highly opaque” zero-star rating this year, having previously been in the two-star category. This was mainly due to its funding information being out of date.

Civitas has previously published work by John Constable, who is now on the academic advisory board of climate science denying think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

Civitas started its life as part of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), becoming an independent think tank in 2000. The IEA's founder, Antony Fisher, was part of the Mont Pelerin Society, founded by economist Freidrich von Hayek in 1947 to promote libertarian free market ideas.

Civitas's chief executive, David Green, told DeSmog UK that its funding this year is “not significantly different from the figures on the website”.

To describe figures that are a couple of years old as 'opaque' is deliberately deceitful. In any event they will be updated when the 2016 accounts have been audited.”

We respect the privacy of donors when they have a legal right to make charitable donations without being publicly identified. While transparency is an important value, there are also good reasons why some foundations and individuals prefer not to be identified”, he added.

Institute of Economic Affairs

The Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) is another influential think tank given zero-stars by Transparify. It has previously been linked to funding from ExxonMobil.

The think tank was behind a controversial ‘anti-lobbying’ regulation that would have prevented any groups that receive public money banned from using those funds to attempt to influence either government or Parliament. The government eventually decided to scrap the idea, with the IEA later investigated by the charity commission for breaching existing rules.

A spokesperson for the IEA told DeSmog UK that “it is a matter for individual donors whether they wish their donation to be public or private – we leave that entirely to their discretion.”

We do not accept any earmarked money for commissioned research work from any company, whilst the vast majority of our research is blind peer-reviewed by leading academics. We are totally confident that our output is rigorously independent and free from any conflicts of interest”, they said.

The Centre for Policy Studies

Expenditure and funding sources for the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) are largely not public, making it very difficult for people to judge how impartial its research is, Transparify said.

CPS has published multiple reports by climate science denier Rupert Darwall arguing against investment in renewable energy and calling for tax breaks for the North Sea oil and gas industry. One of these reports was recently referenced by Times columnist and GWPF advisor Matt Ridley.

Former CPS director, Lord Howard Stanley Kalms, also gave £40,000 to the Vote Leave campaign.

CPS did not respond to DeSmog UK’s request for comment.

Updated 08/02/2017: The Civitas quote attribution was changed. The reference to the Mont Pelerin Society was updated and corrected. A line clarifying the 'highly opaque' and 'deceptive' categorisations was added.

Main image credit: Geralt via Pixabay CC0

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