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Title: Ideas for Sale: An Investigation of Conservative Think Tank Influence on the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
Authors: Mukherji, Aniket
Advisors: McCarty, Nolan
Department: Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
Class Year: 2024
Abstract: Think tanks have been important players in the American political scene for a long time, producing research that informs lawmakers and citizens while also setting the terms of political discourse. Recent trends in the think tank industry, however, have threatened the objectivity of the analysis that these think tanks produce. These trends have raised questions regarding whether the research of think tanks can be manipulated by outside actors. This paper seeks to answer these questions through analyzing a case study featuring one piece of legislation, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, and two conservative think tanks, The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. My analysis finds that scholars at both think tanks acted like employees of advocacy organizations during the tax bill’s movement through the legislative process, taking positions with the aim of influencing the bill’s contents. I also find that these positions were motivated by connections these think tanks maintained with wealthy individuals and corporations. My research indicates that the current business model of think tanks poses serious concerns for the representativeness of American democracy, as I find that the affluent can use think tanks to ensure that their interests receive a disproportionate amount of attention from lawmakers. As a result, I endorse a policy recommendation aimed at empowering the public sector through investing in staffing resources for Congress and nonpartisan governmental agencies. This policy solution would increase the role that government staffers, who serve the American people, play in the policy making process and, consequently, decrease the role that think tanks, who have ulterior motives in their advocacies, play in it.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, 1929-2024

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