Think Tanks: Corporations' Quiet Weapon

Derailing a multibillion-dollar federal plan to restore the Florida Everglades is just the kind of cause that suits Citizens for a Sound Economy, a conservative think tank. But soon after the group took on the Everglades project in 1998, the Washington-based nonprofit got an incentive that went beyond the purely philosophical. It received $700,000 in contributions from Florida's three biggest sugar enterprises, which stand to lose thousands of acres of cane-growing land to reclamation if the Army Corps of Engineers plan goes into effect. The sugar contributions were never disclosed publicly but were outlined in internal CSE documents obtained by the Washington Post. The documents show how various corporate interests secretly donated millions to the CSE earmarked specifically to bankroll efforts on issues of direct interest to the corporate donors. CSE received more than $1 million from Philip Morris Cos. at a time when CSE was opposing cigarette taxes. Phone company US West Inc. gave $1 million as CSE pushed deregulation that would let US West offer long-distance service.