British voters are worried about who is funding the think tanks which are becoming synonymous with our politics – especially on the right.
In a new survey, 59% of respondents said that think tanks were not transparent about the sources of the money they received, while only 19% of respondents believed they were.
The polling, of 1,036 British adults, was carried out by Deltapoll on behalf of Centre Think Tank with the Millbank Think Tank following a paper titled Following the Money which investigates the use of “dark money” on British politics. Dark money refers to the finances donated to political parties, causes or politicians, whose sources are not disclosed in an attempt to influence the democratic process.
“Whilst US-based donor information gives some insight into the type of donations which organisations of this kind receive, we know it is only a small part of the big picture,” says the report.
The report looked at over one hundred think tanks and similar organisations. In total, it found that 22% of think tanks did not declare a total income while only 32% of think tanks revealed all of those who fund them over a figure of £7,500. It also found that right wing organisations were less transparent than left wing organisations.
Peter Geoghegan, author of Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics, who wrote the paper’s foreword, said: “As this paper shows, too many think tanks still operate behind closed doors, releasing little information about who funds them and why. That millions of pounds of dark money is swirling through Britain’s think tank world is deeply concerning. That many of these anonymously-funded think tanks are registered charities only adds to the sense that the system is broken and needs reform.
He added: “As someone who has spent years tracing the money behind British think tanks, I welcome the paper’s proposals to increase think tank transparency. Public trust in politics depends on everyone being able to see who is funding these influential political actors.”
Torrin Wilkins, director of Centre Think Tank and the author of the paper said: “Our polling clearly shows that the public sees think tanks as lacking transparency. Political parties should also take note of these results as the majority of voters from every party thought that think tanks lack transparency. To tackle these issues this paper calls for a new funding transparency body, reforms to lobbying rules and better guidance on releasing donor information. These will help think tanks to be more transparent whilst increasing transparency with new rules. They also help the public to see which think tanks are transparent on their income sources”.