Navigating the Gray Zones of Third-Party Lobbying via Nonprofits: Transparify’s Experiences with Think Tanks and Fake News
As institutions that conduct policy research and advocacy, think tanks in Brussels and beyond routinely engage in lobbying-like activities while insisting that they are not lobbyists. This article argues that the dividing lines between research-driven advocacy and interest-driven lobbying are inherently blurred. Serious think tanks are struggling to maintain integrity and credibility as funders exert pressure, and fake think tanks set up by lobbyists threaten the credibility of the sector as a whole. Transparify, an initiative promoting transparency in policy research and advocacy, has encouraged hundreds of think tanks to disclose their funders in order to bolster their credibility. This article concludes that researchers and activists need to show greater understanding for the difficulties faced by policy-relevant nonprofits trying to navigate gray areas. Many organizations are willing to become more transparent about their operations if they are approached respectfully and become convinced that this will support their core mission. Rather than attempting to control nonprofits top-down, the best antidote to the more sinister forms of third-party lobbying taking place in Brussels may be to link legitimacy and credibility to transparency in the mind of policy-makers, journalists, and voters.