Pro-immigration research papers published by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, are not independent, but designed to meet the needs of lobbying clients, according to allegations in a Telegram message obtained by Chronicles.
Aman Kapoor, president of the advocacy group Immigration Voice
(IV), alleged that Cato Research fellow David Bier was paid by IV to write pro-immigration papers, and that Bier is “like mercenaries (sic
), working to push the agenda of the highest bidder.”
Kapoor’s organization is primarily concerned with removing the 7 percent country cap quota for employment-based green cards, which would mainly benefit Indian nationals on H-1B visas, who immigrate to America in large numbers to work for technology firms such as Microsoft and Google. But now, according to Kapoor’s Telegram message, the focus of Bier and Cato has shifted away from IV’s work because it is getting more money from Facebook and FWD.us, a pro-immigration lobbying group, to push other immigration issues, such as amnesty for DACA beneficiaries. Facebook has increased its lobbying efforts
recently, pouring money into immigration reform generally and DACA specifically.
“A lot of people don’t know that IV gave good (sic
) amount of money to CATO and David Bier to write those papers that he flaunts everywhere,” wrote Kapoor in a private Telegram channel, “and our people think that David is writing about about (sic
) backlog out of his goodwill.” Here Kapoor is referencing Bier’s work on the backlog of employment-based green cards
that mostly affects Indians with H-1B visas. “We have (sic) him money when no one knew him and he was fresh out of Congress as a staffer, and no one was willing to support him,” Kapoor added.
Kapoor’s allegations about Bier and Cato appear to be supported by a correlation between research papers produced by Bier that Kapoor and IV then cite as independent scholarship supporting their position. When in fact, according to Kapoor, IV has paid Bier and Cato to write the papers ahead of time. If Kapoor’s allegations are true, they reveal an incestuous relationship between Washington, D.C., think tanks and lobbying firms that create an echo chamber of policy recommendations.
Calls and emails to Bier, Cato, Kapoor, and IV were not returned for immediate comment.
To be sure, Bier’s ideological leanings would place him in Kapoor’s camp regardless of whether the president of IV was paying him for favorable research. Moreover, Cato doesn’t go to great lengths to hide its incestuous relationship with organizations like IV, as Ilya Shapiro
, a senior fellow at Cato, sits on IV’s advisory board. Still, Cato presents itself as providing independent policy research. Kapoor’s allegations raise concerns about the integrity, independence, and transparency of this research, which can have an outsized influence on policy debates.
This is not the first time the Cato Institute has been implicated in a pay-to-play scandal. In 2005, a senior scholar at Cato resigned after it came to light that he took payments from the lobbyist Jack Abramoff
in exchange for writing columns favorable to his clients.
The research Kapoor claims Bier did at his behest centered on the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, the first version of which was introduced to Congress in 2011. It would eliminate provisions in immigration law designed to prevent countries like India that send large numbers of immigrants from monopolizing a limited number of green cards. The bill would also be a boon to tech companies that discriminate against American workers
in hiring and employment to exploit cheap labor from abroad. Indeed, Facebook recently settled
for $14.25 million in a Justice Department case that alleged the company had intentionally dissuaded Americans from applying for positions it had set aside for visa workers. Bier denounced the Justice Department lawsuit as baseless. “A settlement to scare people even though the claims are absurd,” he tweeted
But Kapoor appears frustrated that Bier is more focused on promoting the agenda of FWD.us, which is primarily concerned with amnesty and recapturing “unused” green cards from previous years. There is currently an effort in Congress to include a pathway to citizenship for DACA beneficiaries through budget reconciliation, which FWD.us supports, but country cap quota removal language is largely absent from the debate, to the chagrin of Kapoor.
IV’s tax returns filed with the IRS
show significant revenue but do not list any payments to independent contractors from 2015 to 2018, the last year on file. Nevertheless, it’s not hard to see a connection between Kapoor’s interests and Bier’s research.
Bier worked as a senior policy adviser for Congressman Raúl Labrador from 2013 to 2015. His earliest writing for Cato
on the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act dates to 2016. He wrote about that bill for The Hill
while working at the Niskanen Center in November 2015, after he had left Congress as a staffer, according to LegiStorm
. Bier’s work often directly buttresses Kapoor’s claims in the policy discourse.
On June 8, 2018, Bier wrote an article for Cato
claiming that the immigration backlog had created a 150‐year wait for some workers and concluded that the solution was passing the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act. Shortly after that, Kapoor complained in an interview
with OpenSecrets about the backlog; OpenSecret's article mentioned Bier's Cato article as evidence of support for Kapoor's position. On Sept. 8, 2020, Kapoor wrote an op-ed for the Miami Herald
on the same issue, authoritatively citing a Cato report written by Bier.
Again and again, when Kapoor and his allies comment
on the need for passing the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, Bier is usually cited
or comments himself
. Another organization connected to IV, lobbying firm Corley Pipes Consulting, similarly leans on Cato’s research to argue for an increase in visa workers.
Since 2011, IV has paid Corley & Pipes significant sums
to lobby. Disclosure filings show
Corley & Pipes has also lobbied on behalf of Compete America
, a U.S. lobbying coalition arguing for an increase in the number of “skilled migrants,” whose partners include Amazon, Facebook, and Google. However, it's never clearly disclosed that Corley & Pipes' partner and co-founder, Scott Corley, is the executive director of Compete America. Corley’s bylines and profiles in The New York Times
, Roll Call, The Hill
, and Washington Examiner
omit his affiliation with Corley & Pipes. Like Kapoor, when Corley comments
on the need to eliminate caps on work-based green cards, he often cites Bier's research to support his argument. In one Washington Post
story from 2019, in which Kapoor and Corley both commented
on the importance of the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, Bier is quoted in support of their views in a Cato article
published just two months before. IV paid Corley & Pipes $80,000 in 2019.
Messages left at Corley & Pipes Washington and Texas offices were not immediately returned.
Washington D.C. think tanks like the Cato Institute are frequently cited as authoritative sources in the media and their analysts are invited on news programs to provide independent viewpoints on U.S. policy debates. However, the incestuous, pay-for-play relationship between Immigration Voice and Cato alleged by Kapoor is anything but independent and objective.