Penny for Your Biased Thoughts?

Inspired by recent public revelations about pundits who took large consulting fees from Enron, Robert W. Hahn ponders the financial conflicts of interest that pervade the world of Washington think tanks (including his own outfit, the heavily corporate-funded American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies). Hahn's essay, "The False Promise of 'Full Disclosure'," combines some fairly frank admissions with rationalizations about the "impracticality" of full disclosure. "I am aware of many people who write opinion pieces on a particular subject for direct compensation. Some disclose that information while many others do not," Hahn writes. In fact, "we are all walking conflicts of interest because most of us have to work for a living. And in exchange for money, most of us make compromises." Yet he concludes that stricter standards for full disclosure "would actually do more harm than good by reducing the pool of experts and encouraging people to circumvent the system. ... Indeed, if disclosure requirements are enforced more rigorously, I would expect more think tanks to emerge that serve as fronts for all sorts of preferred interest group policies."