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How Think Tanks Represent Causes and Agendas in Washington, D.C.

Like all organizations, Washington, D.C., think tanks need financial support. Often, they are established by a wealthy and generous benefactor who wishes to advance a particular cause or political agenda. They use their particular political stance to woo likeminded individuals to contribute to help fill their coffers.

A donation to an influential think tank could give you more bang for your buck in terms of influencing the policy debate than donating to the average candidate for office.

A quintessential Washington think tank is the Brookings Institution. Founded by philanthropist Robert S. Brookings in 1916 as the Institute for Government Research, it was, according to Brookings, the “first private organization devoted to the fact-based study of national public policy issues.”

Some think tanks specialize in one issue, while others cultivate a broad field of expertise. Brookings belongs to the latter category and works on a full range of domestic and international issues. Economics, taxes, foreign policy, global development, education, children and families, healthcare — it’s as close as a politician gets to a one-stop shop for late-night reading.

While Brookings covers the full spectrum of policy issues and is slightly left of center, other think tanks take a more focused approach.

Some think tanks are more closely identified with the conservative end of the policy spectrum, including the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute. Others, like the Center for American Progress, align more closely with the liberal side of Washington politics.

Founded by John Podesta, the Center for American Progress was so closely connected with the presidential campaign of Barack Obama that TIME magazine labeled it “Obama’s Idea Factory in Washington” soon after his 2008 victory. Not coincidentally, the leader of the Obama presidential transition was the very same Mr. Podesta.

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