University Should Shut Down the Center or Take Steps to Restore Its Integrity and Increase Its Transparency
WASHINGTON, D.C. – George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center (RSC), which claims to be an unbiased and objective analyst of regulatory policy issues, almost universally advocates against regulation and relies primarily on researchers with ties to groups funded by the Koch family, a Public Citizen report shows.
The report unearthed numerous instances of RSC writers imparting deceptive or patently false information, such as grossly misstating the scope of regulation, exaggerating the annual growth of regulation and citing discredited studies on the annual cost of regulation.
“The RSC is the Fox News of the regulatory policy world, except it still clings to the fiction that it is fair and balanced,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report. “The center is a microcosm of the strategy that Charles Koch has honed since the 1970s to finance deceptively named university centers to generate faux scholarship in support of Koch’s anti-regulatory views.”
Public Citizen’s report found that:
- Between 2013 and 2018, 96% of public comments submitted to government agencies by RSC writers who opined on the stringency of specific regulatory proposals recommended less regulation than the status quo or proposal;
- 75% of public comments submitted by the RSC in this period were authored or co-authored by people with past or present ties to Koch-funded entities;
- RSC researchers have been affiliated with at least 28 Koch funded entities. Eight RSC researchers, including its director, Susan Dudley, have been affiliated with Koch-funded programs at George Mason University, the hub of the Koch university initiative;
- Funders of the RSC, which are not fully disclosed, include the Charles Koch Foundation, the libertarian Searle Freedom Trust foundation, the far-right Sarah Scaife Foundation and ExxonMobil Foundation, along with anti-regulatory business trade associations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the American Chemistry Council; and
- Koch funding of university programs has roughly quadrupled in the past decade, to $60 million annually, and the family now helps fund more than 50 university centers.
The RSC’s writings often focus on environmental matters – such as opposing proposals to reduce pollution and combat the climate crisis – that have material implications for Koch Industries, the petrochemical giant primarily owned by brothers Charles and David Koch. The Trump administration has acted on many of RSC’s polluter-friendly recommendations, such as reducing the costs that the government attributes to greenhouse gases and raising the bar for issuing new energy efficiency standards.
Public Citizen is demanding that George Washington University either close the RSC or take steps to ensure that it is not serving merely as a cog in an industry-backed campaign to attack regulation. Necessary reforms would include disclosing the details of the RSC’s funding arrangements and establishing a robust policy on institutional conflicts of interest to ensure that researchers’ decisions are not influenced by their sources of funding.
The RSC is just one outgrowth of a university-centered advocacy effort that the Koch family has fostered for decades. In the mid-1970s, Charles Koch called for the “development of a well-financed cadre of sound proponents of the free enterprise philosophy.” One of his aides outlined a plan calling for the creation of centers that would be connected to universities, controlled by their funders and carry names and mission statements that obscured their true purposes.
“Charles Koch’s approach to stopping action to address the climate crisis and the innumerable harms caused by the petrochemical industry has been to finance phony scholarship to turn the public against regulation, full stop,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen. “It is not remotely appropriate for George Washington, or any university, to be an accomplice in this scheme.”
“The Koch network’s dark money manipulation of our nation’s colleges and universities has been proven to harm communities of color, dismantle protections for workers and obstruct environmental protections,” said Samantha Parsons, campaigns director for UnKoch My Campus. “As with our legislatures and courts, democracy advocates must protect the independence of our schools and scholarship. We must hold our colleges and universities accountable by requiring them to disclose the terms and conditions attached to private sources of funding for research, courses and faculty. If this information is not transparent to the public, studies produced by donor-sponsored programs like the RSC should not be used by our representatives in the rulemaking process.”
“As Public Citizen details, and as UnKoch My Campus has been shining a light on for years, funding research centers like George Washington’s RSC is part of an intentional strategy to advance an anti-regulatory agenda,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The center consistently develops analyses to support weakening public health and safety protections. That is neither good science nor good public policy.”