President of Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou in Taipei, May 19, 2010. (REUTERS/Nicky Loh)
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has emerged as one of the Beltway’s most consistent advocates for the sale of advanced fighter jets to Taiwan. Previously undisclosed tax filings reveal that while issuing research reports and publishing articles on US-Taiwan relations, AEI received a $550,000 contribution from the government of Taiwan, a source of funding the think tank has never publicly acknowledged.
In 2009, AEI, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, received the contribution from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), Taiwan’s equivalent to an embassy.
The think tank couches its hard-nosed advocacy of arms sales and trade agreements with Taiwan as a strategic necessity for the United States. “Withholding needed arms from Taiwan in the present makes a future conflict—and US intervention therein—more likely,” wrote AEI senior research associate Michael Mazza in an October 2011 article in The Diplomat.
But AEI’s undisclosed source of foreign funding raises ethical and legal questions about AEI’s Taiwan-policy work.
“Any organization that’s trying to influence public policy should disclose its donors so the public can know who the money behind these institutions is,” said Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based organization that advocates for increased transparency and accountability in government. “It’s critical for the public to know this.”
AEI’s “schedule of contributors,” a form typically not intended for public disclosure but acquired through a filing error, names TECRO as the organization’s fourth-largest contributor during the 2009 tax year, following Donors Capital Fund ($2,000,000), Paul Singer ($1,100,000) and the Kern Family Foundation ($1,071,912). The US Chamber of Commerce contributed $473,000, making it AEI’s seventh-largest donor.
When asked about the contribution, TECRO spokesperson Lishan Chang acknowledged the transaction and explained that TECRO was helping to facilitate a Taiwanese university’s donation to AEI.
“The contribution was given by the Institute of International Relations of the National Chengchi University to AEI’s Asian Studies Program,” said Chang. “It was therefore an act of scholarly cooperation between the two research organizations with the goal of promoting academic exchanges and research on issues concerning Asia.”
The Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University, a top public university in Taiwan, did not respond to a request for comment.
What “scholarly cooperation” was undertaken by AEI remains unexplained by either AEI or the university, but Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, made no secret of his government’s warm relationship with AEI during a February 2009 meeting with AEI president Arthur Brooks and former AEI president Christopher DeMuth.
“[Ma] noted that the AEI has deep ties with the ROC [Republic of China] and has long supported the various policy stances of the ROC government,” said a TECRO press release.
“AEI President Brooks expressed his appreciation to President Ma for taking time out of his busy schedule to meet with him and his predecessor,” the release noted. “He added that the AEI is delighted to maintain relations with Taiwan given the values of democracy, peace and freedom that are shared by the two. He said he looks forward to continuing the friendship in the future and engaging in further cooperation.”