Earlier this week, David Climenhaga seized on the ludicrously suggestive “freedom of information” campaign being waged by conservative forces in this country (CBC and unions should have to open their books for public inspection; corporations and the rest of government, not so much) to advance an even more radical solution: any organization that receives government money should have to publicly report how much money it gets and what it does with it. That would also include think tanks, subsidized corporations, and churches.
I’m not sure whether it’s intended in all seriousness or not, but I think Climenhaga raises an interesting idea while still sort of missing the point. I am not particularly excited by the idea that every citizen should have the right to pore over the public account books on a whim (though in a democracy, she should). More important, where think tanks and the like are concerned, is that most of these groups routinely put themselves into a conflict of interest when they advocate policies which benefit their large donors (mainly foundations owned by large corporations and billionaires who own large corporations), and compound that conflict of interest by not disclosing it. This position isn’t about accounting transparency; it’s about basic public ethics.
Finding out where think tanks get their money from is exceedingly difficult in Canada because they are not required to disclose who funds them, and the Canada Revenue Agency does not list all recipients of grants from a charitable foundation (unlike in America, where this information can and is retrieved by organizations like MediaMatters. Still, I want to make use of some of the limited available material we do have to make some observations about how the Canadian think tank sector works.Tweet