Who Funds You? promotes funding transparency among think tanks and political campaigns with a strong public policy or research focus. We ask organisations to publish their annual income and declare their major funders.
What is your editorial stance?
Who Funds You? takes no editorial position beyond that of promoting funding transparency. We comment only on whether organisations declare their major funders – not on the type or sources of funding.
Who funds you?
We receive no funding, though may seek funding to expand in the future – which we will naturally disclose here.
Who runs you?
The website was set up by participants of the Political Innovation project, set up to help improve understanding of how democracy works in a changing world. It is independent, non-partisan and managed on a voluntary basis by a steering group comprising: Paul Evans (founder of Political Innovation and editor of Local Democracy blog), Clifford Singer (partner at digital design agency Social Spark), and Dr Andy Williamson (independent consultant and researcher, and former Director of Digital Democracy at the Hansard Society).
Why does funding transparency matter?
At their best, think tanks and public policy campaigns make a valuable contribution to political life, generating new ideas and producing important research. At their worst, they can provide a neutral front while actually working on behalf of vested interests. As organisations that exert influence on public life, it is right that we call think tanks to account and ask for a basic level of transparency.
Isn't funding transparency just one of several criteria for judging openness or accountability?
Yes – and factors such as governance and research methodology matter too. But funding transparency is a central issue – and without it only more limited progress can be made in those other areas.
Don't think tanks have a responsibility to funders to preserve their anonymity?
As organisations engaged in public advocacy, their responsibility to be accountable and transparent must come first. Such organisations have a very different purpose to that of, say, a charity for people with a particular medical condition. As think tanks increasingly take an important role in formulating government policy, it is important for a strong democracy that they are transparent about their own agenda and where their funding comes from. This is particularly the case in light of increased scrutiny of political party funding.
But an organisation that has promised anonymity in the past cannot simply break that promise, can it?
At the very least such an organisation can approach past funders to ask them to agree to be named, and – more importantly – pledge to name future major funders.
Is there ever a case for preserving funder anonymity?
Yes – if, for instance, an individual's personal safety would be put at risk. In the UK this is likely to occur only in exceptional circumstances.
What can we do if think tanks and public policy campaigns refuse to disclose their funders?
Ultimately this is less about campaigns and think tanks than the journalists, civil servants and politicians that listen to or write about them. We call for a more probing approach to organisations that refuse transparency. In particular we want a level playing field: if a journalist describes a more transparent organisation as "industry-funded" or "trade union-funded", then they should not unthinkingly repeat a less open organisation's claim to be "independent". At the very least journalists should draw attention to this imbalance. Anything less is unfair to those think tanks and campaigns that are upfront about their funding.
How do you know organisations are telling the truth?
We don't. We simply ask organisations to make a voluntary disclosure, and, as a small, volunteer-run project, are not in a position to verify this. But if you believe an organisation has been less than truthful, please contact us in confidence.
What happens if a think tank or campaign is funded by another organisation that is not transparent? Do you investigate that?
At the moment we only ask organisations to name their funders, but do not investigate those funders too. We'll be reviewing this soon – subject to our limited resources – and welcome your comments.
What can funders do?
Funders should insist on transparency – and many do. Besides anything else, responsible funders have an interest in knowing the company they keep by supporting a particular organisation, and should move their money away from those that won't say.
What will you do next?
Having rated 20 generalist political think tanks and campaigns, we will be looking at those working in particular sectors. We also invite organisations that are already committed to funding transparency to send their details so we can list them here. Please get in touch with your thoughts and ideas.