Following a post last week by Taegan Goddard, questions and serious criticism arose over whether or not Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) plagiarized the work of Cato fellow Julian Sanchez in a commentary the congressman wrote for the Syracuse Post-Standard.
Of course, it's not a totally outlandish claim. In 2008, Rep. Hanna appears to have plagiarized the work of another Cato scholar, Ben Friedman. At The National Interest, Friedman wrote that it was particularly insulting because Hanna took a line to support a policy position completely the opposite of its original use. "In other words, while I dislike having my words stolen, I especially dislike having them stolen to support policy positions that they attacked," Friedman wrote. (The line, for the record, was: "The military gives us the power to conquer foreign countries, but not the power to run them." Hanna dropped "foreign.")
But that doesn't seem to be the problem with Sanchez, who tweeted, "Folks, Rep Hanna's op-ed wasn't "plagiarized"; his office adapted a summary of 3 expiring Patriot provisions w/my permission."
My post at Cato’s blog on the three expiring Patriot Act provisions drew on a short summary I wrote up for congressional offices—Rep. Hanna’s among them—that had asked me to help pinpoint the central issues in the renewal debate. Rep. Hanna’s office asked if they could adapt that summary for an op-ed, which I happily gave them permission to do after seeing a draft of the piece (this was on the 16th, I believe). As far as I’m concerned, this is a pretty routine case of legislators adapting analysis from outside experts in explaining policy issues to their constituents.
Contrary to the insistence by some that this is an ethics issue, what these two cases show are only two points of a very complex relationship between think tanks and policy/lawmakers. (Hanna's relationship with Cato alone is perplexing enough, as Bryon Ackerman reports.)
Sometimes think tanks approach officials; sometimes officials approach think tanks. But what happens after that is almost as complicated as lawmaking itself and depends on factors involving the scholar, the think tank, the official, funders, constituents, reputations, political climate and a multitude of other considerations to reach the decision as to who gets credit for what and when.
One think tank media relations representative told Think Tanked that there are "many occasions we don't want our name on something an elected official takes on until we absolutely know it's going to be successful." Think tanks aren't always eager to have a year's worth of research adopted only to be mucked up by a lawmaker who might not get it right or only selectively use what the scholar views as a complete package.
At the same time, think tanks these days are in the business of seeing their research all the way through to implementation and many think tanks have congressional liaison staff members (or entire staffs) to make sure of it. That same media relations contact said, "It's no secret that we need funding for our work and funders are more and more concerned with measuring impact in terms of direct input in policy and lawmaking." And sometimes that means scholars "have to check their egos at the door" and realize they might not get credit for their work in order to make legislators and, by extension, funders happy.
What this seems to suggest, then, is that these instances have less to do with who gets credit for what work and have more to do with revealing the inspiration for policy and legislative decision making--it's a question of disclosure, not plagiarism.
So, in the case of Hanna, the question is not: "Did Rep. Hanna plagiarize Julian Sanchez's work?" Instead it should be: "Is it ok that Rep. Hanna didn't disclose that the basis of his commentary was from the Cato Institute and all the considerations (good, bad or otherwise) that come with it?"
Chris Edwards, the Cato Institute's director of tax policy, has posed a challenge for February: find the most dramatic media account of budget slashing of a "popular" program, no matter how tiny the actual cut.
So get ready for a barrage of slasher stories! National Journal started us off yesterday with the headline “WH Slashes Heat for the Poor.”
Coming down the pike are dozens of stories about how policymakers are planning deep, vicious, and inhumane cuts that will undermine the foundations of the republic. A 5 percent cut to a program that has risen 50 percent in recent years will not be a simple “trim,” but a brutal, gouging “slash.”
I propose a “Slasher Story of the Month” contest for February. Send me an email if you see a great slasher story, and I’ll get my crack assistant, Amy, to analyze the rhetorical content. The winning story will have the most frequent uses of “slash” and “popular” to describe the programs that the godless heathens in Congress and the White House plan to ransack and decimate.
In August, I posted about Cato's Pat Michaels reluctantly admitting on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria that 40% of his funding for his environmental research comes from the oil industry.
At the time, Michaels told Think Tanked “It didn't reflect well on CNN. People notice this kind of thing.”
That's true, even if it's not right away.
The New York Times is reporting that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who took expert congressional testimony from Michaels on the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, wants to know if he and the other members were duped.
In a letter to his Republican successor as chairman, Fred Upton of Michigan, Mr. Waxman demanded an inquiry into whether Dr. Michaels deceived Congress about his financial background.
“It would be a serious matter if Dr. Michaels misled the committee about his financial backers and evaded Representative Welch’s attempt to seek clarification,” Mr. Waxman wrote.
“I hope you will agree that all witnesses need to provide accurate disclosures to the Committee and will work with me in resolving the issues raised by Dr. Michaels’s testimony,” he added.
I figured everything was going to be alright when Cato employees were sent home yesterday following the discovery of a gas leak within the Cato building. But after not seeing a single tweet this morning from one of the more tweet-lific groups, I'm not so sure (See update below). It's not clear what the causes were of the leak, but did the new $20 million construction plan have anything to do with it?
Cato employees were sent home early after authorities discovered a gas leak in the basement of the think tank's building, according to D.C. Fire/EMS spokesman Pete Piringer.
Piringer said crews traced the leak to a basement utility room. Emergency officials, Pepco and Washington Gas all responded to the situation, which was resolved about 3 p.m. Wednesday, Piringer said. The incident began about 1 p.m.
UPDATE: This just arrived in my inbox from the folks at Cato.
We are all doing well, and we are all back at the office this morning. The gas leak was a minor leak, and the building was evacuated as a purely precautionary measure. As construction crews continue the expansion of our facilities, we expect things like this to occur from time to time, and we are well prepared for contingencies.