Twelfth in a series.
WASHINGTON — The August recess traditionally gives members of Congress a chance to go home and hear directly from local constituents clamoring for personal contact with their elected representatives.
But in some districts, a different stripe of player will be competing for political attention: the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank specializing in public policy research.
The nine-city “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour,’’ to be headlined by the think tank’s president, former Republican senator and Tea Party movement leader Jim DeMint, is appealing to supporters to “join fellow conservatives in your area and learn how to get America back on track.”
It is a new and startlingly aggressive role for a leading Washington research institution, even one with the ideological underpinnings of Heritage, and emblematic of a larger trend. Not long ago, Washington’s think tanks constituted a rarefied world of policy-minded scholars supported by healthy endowments and quietly sought solutions to some of the nation’s biggest challenges. But now Congress and the executive branch are served a limitless feast of supposedly independent research from hundreds of nonprofit institutions that are pursuing fiercely partisan agendas and are funded by undisclosed corporations, wealthy individuals, or both.
The shift is upending the role of think tanks, prompting some researchers to worry it is eroding trust in these institutions.
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