Are corporations people? Do constitutional guarantees of free speech apply to corporations spending money to shape public policy? The United States Supreme Court has answered both of these questions in the affirmative in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission case.
Even before the US Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case, the United States government and various interest groups have been spending vast sums of money to promote "free speech" and buy influence around the world for a long time. This money is given to non-government organizations (NGOs) and various think tanks, either directly by the USAID or through various private American foundations with the blessings of Uncle Sam.
Funding of Hate Groups' "Free Speech":
Free Speech is a useful cover for many hate groups that are spewing venom against minorities. Such groups, particularly anti-Muslim groups in the United States, are very well funded. Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group, estimates that these groups have raised and spent over $100 million in recent years.
Spending on Islamophobia is having a significant effect on Americans perception of Muslim Americans. Results differ by political party, with the majority of Republicans holding negative views of both Arab-Americans and Muslims. Democrats gave Arab-Americans a 30 percent unfavorable rating and Muslim-Americans a 33 percent unfavorable rating, while Republicans gave Arab-Americans a 54 percent unfavorable rating and Muslim-Americans a 63 percent unfavorable rating, according to public opinion survey conducted by Zogby Analytics.
There are hundreds of foreign-funded NGOs operating in Pakistan. Many of them provide much needed service but some are likely being used as cover to push foreign agendas. It has been established that the CIA used one such organization to fund a fake polio vaccination campaign in Abbotabad as part of its hunt for Usama Bin Laden.
In a strange twist, Americans are now complaining about foreign funding of Washington NGOs and Think Tanks. New York Times has named several foreign governments from Asia, Europe and the Middle East providing tens of millions of dollars to American think tanks to push "United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities".
Since 2011, at least 64 foreign governments have contributed to a group of 28 major US-based think tanks and NGOs, according to disclosures by the institutions and government documents.
As the New York Times puts it: "The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington. And it has set off troubling questions about intellectual freedom: Some scholars say they have been pressured to reach conclusions friendly to the government financing the research."
Foreign-Funded US Think Tanks:
Here are three of many examples of foreign government funding of think tanks cited by New York Times:
1. Japanese government is a major donor to Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) for the purpose of promoting free trade treaties, particularly the Trans Pacific Partnership, in recent years.
2. United Arab Emirates is a major donor to the Atlantic Council. Michele Dunne was forced to resign the head of its center for the Middle East after calling for the suspension of military aid to Egypt in 2013 after the military coup that overthrew the democratically government of President Mohammad Mursi.
3. Norway has given at least $24 million to several Washington think tanks over the past four years, according to a tally by The New York Times, transforming these nonprofits into a powerful but largely hidden arm of the Norway Foreign Affairs Ministry. Documents obtained under that country’s unusually broad open records laws reveal that American research groups, after receiving money from Norway, have advocated in Washington for enhancing Norway’s role in NATO, promoted its plans to expand oil drilling in the Arctic and pushed its climate change agenda.
"Free Speech"is extensively being used as a cover to promote special interests and spew hate speech in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
Foreign funding of NGOs and Think Tanks is a reality. This fact must be acknowledged. As Saleem Ali, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, put it to New York Times: “If a member of Congress is using the Brookings reports, they should be aware — they are not getting the full story.” Ali said he had been told during his job interview that he could not take positions critical of the Qatari government in papers. “They may not be getting a false story, but they are not getting the full story.”
The Clinton Foundation, headed by former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hilary, the former secretary of state, has come under severe criticism for accepting millions of dollars from foreign contributors. American media are demanding full disclosure and transparency from the couple. Shouldn't it also apply to foreign donations flowing into NGOs in Pakistan?
With growing Pakistan-China cooperation, trade and investment, Indian and western governments and spy agencies will try and ratchet up the pressure on the two countries by further fueling the insurgency in Pakistan. The issue will be played up by western and Indian media and some foreign funded NGOs in Pakistan as the work on China-Pakistan corridor proceeds and Chinese investment in Pakistan materializes. This cynical effort could claim more innocent and well-meaning victims like Sabeen Mahmud who get caught up as pawns in the cross-fire of international geopolitics. Pakistani leaders and people need to be aware of it and be prepared to deal with it intelligently.