Observations Lobby Watch

The Stockholm Network

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c6413 (Published 10 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6413

Re: Legitimacy of think tanks

Publishing a list of funders is not full transparency

Helen Disney, the Chief Executive of the Stockholm Network, the
private company that coordinates the work of more than 100 free-market
think tanks argues that 'funding sources for research carried out by
policymaking organisations such as think tanks ought to be transparent
wherever possible'. She claims that 'we list all sponsors on our website
and in our annual reports' and the funding of the Network is 'openly
declared'. In fact, Disney does not publicly disclose how much money her company gets from Pfizer, GSK or Merck or the rest of the corporate interests that bankroll her operation.

This raises questions over how closely the research produced by the
Stockholm Network correlates to the commercial interests of its sponsors.
One sponsor, Pfizer, spent $21.9 million on lobbying in the United States
last year. The links between Pfizer and the Stockholm Network raise
legitimate concerns about lobbying activity, including the involvement of
a Pfizer executive in helping set up the think tank in the first place. We
argue that until the Network makes public the amounts from each sponsor it
will find allegations of lobbying difficult to refute, and remain unable
to claim they have 'openly declared' funding.

Disney advocates transparency yet the Stockholm Network chief
executive and her staff have made repeated edits to remove material from Wikipedia about
their organisation. This includes mention of think tanks leaving the
Network, and links to articles such as by Corporate Europe Observatory,
which had reported that the Network had responded 'seriously' to its 2005
EU funding transparency survey '...but with a remarkable determination to
avoid naming funders' .

Powerbase is, as Disney notes, a project of the non-profit
organisation Spinwatch, set up to promote transparency and shine a light
on issues, people and groups shaping the public agenda. It is not anti-
think tank or ideologically opposed as Disney contends but rather believes
it is valid to investigate potential conflicts of interest and to ask in
whose interests think tanks operate? That is why Spinwatch is pushing for
think tanks to be included (alongside PR and lobbying companies) on the
statutory register of lobbyists the coalition government is committed to
introducing.

Disney also asserts SpinWatch is 'funded by a number of foundations
with an explicit anti-globalisation agenda'. In fact, our main current
funders include the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the Roddick
Foundation and Network for Social Change, none of whom hold such a stance.
Another key funder, the Isvara Foundation, has 'a deep commitment to
globalisation from below', and a strong focus on corporate accountability
and lobbying transparency. As is proper, SpinWatch publishes a full list
of funders, including amounts, on its website. In the interests of
transparency the Stockholm Network should do the same.

Email: melissa.jones@powerbase.info, david@spinwatch.org

References:

Centre for Responsive Politics, Lobbying: Pfizer Inc,
Opensecrets.org, URL:
http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/firmsum.php?lname=Pfizer+Inc&year=2009,

HDisney, Revision as of 13:28 7-August-2008, Wikipedia, 7-August-
2008, URL:
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Stockholm_Network&action=histo...,
Accessed 18-November-2010

HDisney, HDisney, Revision as of 15:25, 20-January-2009, Wikipedia,
20-January-2009, URL:
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Stockholm_Network&diff=prev&ol...,
Accessed 18-November-2010

Stockholm Network, Revision as of 15:52,
Wikipedia,
18 July 2008,

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Stockholm_Network&diff=next&ol...

Corporate Europe Observatory, Transparency unthinkable? Financial
secrecy common among EU think tanks, Corporate Europe Observatory, July
2005, URL: http://archive.corporateeurope.org/thinktanksurvey.html#note25,

Spinwatch, Who Funds Spinwatch?,URL:
http://www.spinwatch.org.uk/about-spinwatch-mainmenu-13/3705-who-funds-
spinwatch

Competing interests: No competing interests

29 November 2010
Steven Harkins
Researcher
Melissa Jones, David Miller
Powerbase/Spinwatch
Click to like:
20