One of the most common charges hurled by the opponents of Charles Freeman Jr., who yesterday withdrew as chair of the Obama administration’s National Intelligence Council, was that he “headed a Saudi-funded Middle East advocacy group in Washington.” I’ve written about the influence of money on think tanks and think it’s a valid point of concern, but let’s put this assertion in perspective.
Freeman headed the Middle East Policy Council. I’m not sure how much Saudi money flows to the think tank, but it can’t be much. I checked the firm’s non-profit disclosure form for 2007 and its total receipts for the year were $731,000, and it had assets of $1.3 million. Freeman was paid $87,000 that year.
Compare that to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a conservative think tank that is overwhelmingly supportive of Israel and whose board includes Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig and Martin Peretz. Its receipts for 2007 came to $11.9 million, and it had $26.5 million in assets. Robert Satloff, the institute’s executive director, was paid $307,000. Dennis Ross, now the Obama administration’s special adviser on Iran, was paid $208,000 for duties as a “Distinguished Fellow.”
Then there’s the equally pro-Israel American Enterprise Institute, from where a number of prominent Bush administration employees came. It had assets of $77 million in 2006 (the last year for which I could find its disclosure form at the Foundation Center), and receipts of $56 million.
None of these groups list funders on their websites, nor are they required to list them on disclosure reports. (AEI says it doesn’t disclose donors; the Washington Institute’s press contact was out today.) The Israeli government doesn’t (as far as I know) back AEI or WINEP, but conservative foundations do and it’s hard to imagine that pro-Israeli organizations and individuals aren’t kicking in large sums as well.
So why is the Middle East Policy Council any more intellectually corrupt than AEI or WINEP? And why is employment at the former a bar to government employment, but a job at the last two is not?