By now many readers have likely seen Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders’s salvo at the D.C.-based think atnk Center for American Progress — claiming it is attacking progressives and noting it has been financed by corporations and foreign governments.
I think many would wonder what the merits of these criticisms are. Is there a point to clashing with CAP?
My day job is to study and work on social and political polarization, and so I try to keep my political engagement to three areas based off what I’m learning there: keep your political criticism measured, civil, and constructive.
What can be demonstrated from the evidence is that constructive criticism of CAP has pushed it to improve its transparency and responsiveness.
For instance, CAP did not always disclose most of its donors. While I worked at the institution from 2009-2012, most of its donors were kept secret. However, following investigations by journalist Ken Silverstein, the think tank decided to disclose most of its donors.
Similarly, I wrote several articles based off of presumably hacked and leaked emails from the inbox of the Ambassador from the United Arab Emirates that showed that the UAE was both financing CAP and using its senior staff to lobby the Trump administration and influence Washington policy. After a series of articles noting these ties, CAP eventually decided to end its financial relationship with the UAE, as was reported earlier this year.
Measured, constructive, and civil criticism gives us room to strongly disagree with others in politics while still influencing them to do the right thing. That has been the case with CAP in the past, and it’s possible that Sanders’s campaign against them could achieve one of two things: 1) It could influence them to end the practice of soliciting corporate donors and giving them access to their policymaking process 2) It could influence them to have a transparent and democratic process for how they influence policymakers — rather than a tiny handful of people with D.C. jobs influencing policy, they could have a grassroots, national network deciding their direction and how they influence the government.