Elizabeth Warren throws down with a think-tank — and wins

Her letter about corporate fealty masquerading as research led to the resignation of a Brookings scholar

Published September 30, 2015 2:36PM (EDT)

Elizabeth Warren        (AP/Timothy D. Easley)
Elizabeth Warren (AP/Timothy D. Easley)

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren singled out a Brookings Institution scholar for writing a paper that would benefit his corporate benefactors, but instead of contesting the charges, the Democratic think-tank buckled and the scholar resigned.

For a sitting senator to score a victory against a think-tank at all is unusual enough, but for a Democratic senator like Warren to take on a Democratic institution like Brookings is almost unprecedented. Congressmen and -women on both sides of the aisles are typically quick to insinuate that the studies published by think-tanks aligned with their opposition are beholden to the nefarious interests who fund them, but Warren accused a scholar at an iconic center-left institution, indicating that for her, sound policy trumps party allegiance.

Warren alleged that Robert Litan's report criticizing consumer protection rules she supports was based not on sound intellectual or economic arguments, but on his fealty to the institution's corporate patrons. The $85,000 fee they received led to the production of what she characterized as "highly compensated and editorially compromised work on behalf of an industry player seeking a specific conclusion."

In an interview, Litan -- an unpaid "resident scholar" -- said that "I learned there was discomfort with the Warren letter, and I did not want to add to it. I said, 'If it will make Brookings more comfortable, I’ll resign.'" He insisted, however, that the Capitol Group sponsored his research, but had no influence over its direction or his conclusions.

He further lamented that "it’s unfortunate that, even when I disclosed the funding, people spent their time discussing who funded my work rather than discussing the merits of it."

A spokesman for Brookings added that the research in question was carried out in Litan's "private capacity, not connected with Brookings in any way."

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Aol_on Brookings Institution Corporate Corruption Elizabeth Warren Endemic Greed Robert Litan