For new Fla think tank, a veil of transparency
Last year, Tarren Bragdon left the conservative think tank he started in Maine to launch a new one in Florida. The former Maine lawmaker and adviser to that state's governor told reporters at the time he was looking for a bigger stage. On June 27, he incorporated the Foundation for Government Accountability in Naples — and promptly waded into Florida politics.
So far, Bragdon's foundation has supported a handful of measures, including Gov. Rick Scott's plan to drug-test welfare recipients and his desire to expand a pilot program that has privatized Medicaid in parts of Florida.
The foundation's biggest achievement came last month when it unveiled its new website, floridaopengov.com. Like a growing number of similar sites around the country, it posts the salaries of thousands of government workers and other public records related to government spending.
Bragdon has pitched the effort as a way to bring more accountability to government. Give the masses a window into government spending, and officials will be more likely to be good stewards.
But Bragdon's effort to promote transparency does not apply to his own organization.
To be clear, the Foundation for Government Accountability and other nonprofits are not required to reveal their financial supporters. And Bragdon doesn't, except for the few givers who prefer their names be public.
That leaves us to guess at who is really behind the facts, reports and studies his think tank has produced to support conservative ideas.
Experts warn that a growing number of think tank organizations have been trying to pass off their opinions as unbiased fact. The organizations, they say, already have a working set of conclusions before they do any research.
"They are a decision in search of an opinion to support it instead of researching it to reach a decision," said James McGann, director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. "Policymakers are often looking for a way to build a case and push an idea whether it is sound or not. An idea can become quite powerful and be totally baseless and yet have significant impact on policy.''
There is plenty of evidence to suggest facts from the Foundation for Government Accountability should be taken with some skepticism.
Before he moved to Florida, Bragdon ran a similar Maine think tank that put a spotlight on state salaries and touted controversial Medicaid reforms, including drug testing for welfare recipients.
Some Maine legislators say the Maine Heritage Policy Center misrepresented the truth while leading tax-reduction measures...