A Center for American Progress event in Washington, DC. (REUTERS/Jim Young)
My piece here last Tuesday about secret donors to the Center for American Progress and other think tanks generated a lot of interest and debate. I also heard from many readers who passed along stories and documents, including a 2012 list of members of CAP’s “Business Alliance” corporate donor program [PDF]. Note on the second page of the document that donors are helpfully arranged by industry—“As listed by the Fortune 500,” the document says.
As I stated in the piece, CAP will not comment about its donors, and spokesperson Andrea Purse had refused to confirm or deny the names of Business Alliance members on three previous lists I had obtained, all from 2011. The lists were maintained by Chris Belisle, who CAP described as a “junior staffer” in its letter of reply to The Nation.
Belisle, who no longer works at CAP, carried the title of “senior manager” of the Business Alliance while at the think tank. In a résumé posted online, he said his job was to oversee the Alliance, which he said had more than sixty members, and that he worked “directly with senior or head of government relations in representing their company interests within the organization,” and was in charge of “programming” for members, including “the planning of monthly Roundtable discussions and customized policy briefings.”
When reporting the original story I sent Purse one of the 2011 lists, which she said contained dozens of errors (despite there only being a few dozen names on it), while failing to specify which names were incorrect. I was able to confirm more than a dozen names by calling the companies on the list, going through their foundation reports or obtaining independent confirmation.
The lists were sent internally to staffers so they would know to be careful when writing about companies that financially supported the think tank, sources told me. Numerous corporations appear on all four lists. They include Abbott Laboratories, Amgen, Bank of America, Carefirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, Citigroup, Eli Lilly, General Dynamics, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Pfizer, The Carlyle Group and Verizon.
Last week, I sought comment for this story from Purse; Neera Tanden, CAP’s president; and John Podesta, CAP’s chair and counselor. I listed the names of companies on all four lists and asked for confirmation that they were CAP donors. I did not hear back from Tanden or Podesta. Purse declined again to confirm or deny particular names, saying, “Our work speaks for itself. Your inference that corporate donations shape or drive the content of CAP and CAP Action is false.”
I also asked if CAP felt that taking secret donations from corporate donors neutered its ability to address the issue of campaign finance reform, and if it believed that money in politics was a serious problem. I asked as well if CAP would consider changing its policy of taking money without disclosure from corporate donors.