The Center for American Progress (CAP) has received funding from a prominent Washington consulting firm that works with undisclosed foreign entities and previously employed the top U.S. negotiator on the Iranian nuclear program, raising questions about the progressive think tank’s commitment to transparency.
The Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm run by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, is one of CAP’s corporate donors, according to a list CAP released last week. CAP published the list in an effort to increase transparency after its founder, John Podesta, accepted a job in the White House.
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The company "helps corporations, associations and non-profit organizations around the world meet their core objectives in a highly competitive, complex, and ever-changing marketplace." It says it has worked in 65 countries over six continents. It also does not disclose the names of all of its clients.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who is representing the United States in the Iranian nuclear negotiations, served as a top chair at Albright Stonebridge before joining the State Department in 2011.
CAP and its media arm, ThinkProgress, have been major boosters of the Iranian nuclear deal.
"By marshaling all the elements of America’s power—diplomatic, economic, and military—the United States and its partners are on the cusp of an agreement addressing one of the most pressing challenges in the Middle East: the Iranian nuclear program," wrote Matt Duss, a national security policy analyst at CAP, in a Nov. 21 assessment.
That same sentence appeared nearly word-for-word in a statement from CAP President Neera Tanden praising the nuclear deal several days later.
"The first-step deal announced yesterday in Geneva represents a major achievement by the Obama administration, addressing a top U.S. security challenge," Tanden said. "By marshaling all the elements of American power—diplomatic, economic, and military—the United States and its partners [have] taken a significant step toward addressing one of the most pressing concerns in the Middle East: the Iranian nuclear program."
CAP senior fellow Lawrence Korb also promoted the deal in a column for the Hill, which was reposted by CAP on Nov. 25.
"Despite the criticisms of some members of Congress and some of our allies in the Middle East, the accord reached by the P5+1 members and Iran is good for the United States, Iran, the Middle East, and the world," Korb wrote.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund’s blog ThinkProgress has also been extremely supportive of the deal.
Ploughshares Fund government affairs director Joel Rubin urged U.S. policymakers to support the deal being negotiated in Geneva in a ThinkProgress blog post on Nov. 10.
"All the political elements are in place," wrote Rubin. "Now is the right time for a deal to be struck, and it is clear that the countries negotiating with Iran are playing their strong hand smartly."
Albright Stonebridge also shares other ties with the think tank. CAP national security senior fellow Brian Katulis is also a senior adviser at Albright Stonebridge, "assisting clients with issues related to the Middle East and South Asia."
Carol Browner is a senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge as well as a senior distinguished fellow and executive committee member at CAP. Richard Verma is a counselor at Albright Stonebridge where he "supports the firm’s global trade, regulatory, and policy capabilities"—and he is also a senior national security fellow at CAP.
While it is unclear what influence, if any, Albright Stonebridge might have on CAP’s foreign policy research, the think tank and its action fund have criticized other firms for lack of disclosure in the past.
ThinkProgress’ Lee Fang objected in 2011 to a blogger who allegedly "failed to disclose that his law firm counts Koch Industries as a major client."
Ryan Koronowski, in a ThinkProgress piece last month, criticized a consulting firm hired by the State Department for having "undisclosed ties to fossil fuel companies that have a stake in the Canadian tar sands industry."
CAP also advocates regularly for tougher regulations on corporate political spending.
David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, argued that it is "definitely hypocritical" for CAP to argue in favor of stronger disclosure laws in campaign finance while failing to disclose all of its financial interests.
"If new disclosure laws are such a great idea, they should disclose all their activity now," said Keating. "The fact they don't and won't proves their proposals harm speech rights."
But some have suggested CAP’s research has been influenced by its donors in the past. An article in the Nation last May revealed several of CAP’s financial supporters, including foreign entities such as the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), a Turkish business association, which reportedly funded CAP trips to Turkey.
The Nation reported that CAP, which has held events favorable to Turkish interests, "also presses for closer ties between the U.S. and Turkish governments, just as Ankara’s lobbyists do."
CAP did not respond to request for comment about its relationship to Albright Stonebridge or the firm’s undisclosed donors.
However, the group denied that its funders influenced its policy research in an interview with the New York Times last week.
"This is an institution that tries to find the right answers," said Tanden. "It does not answer to the agenda of any of its individual supporters or corporations."