September 29, 2008 -- They talk about Kazakhstan's "new middle class" and the "success" of this oil-rich central Asian nation. But the three reports, issued this year by an institute at Johns Hopkins University, don't mention one key fact: who underwrote the cost.
The answer? The government of Kazakhstan.
The payments – brokered through the government's Washington lobbying firm, APCO Worldwide – were part of Kazakhstan's broader effort to bring attention and burnish its imagine inside the Beltway.
"They wanted greater attention to Kazakhstan and we said you could do that but you cannot have any control and they agreed," said Elizabeth Jones, a former ambassador to Kazakhstan now a lobbyist with APCO.
The funding of the reports by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Hopkins' School for Advanced and International Studies was disclosed as part of regularly required filings by the country's lobbying firm, APCO.
Foreign governments try to influence Washington's policymakers everyday. But some scholars says that the institute had an obligation to disclose its funding relationship, even if it had no impact on the outcome of the reports.
"The sources of funding should be clearly stated," said Paul Goble, a longtime American specialist of the region who teaches at the Institute of World Politics. "If they are not or if there is even the hint that someone is hiding something, there will be suspicions, justified or not, about whatever appears."
He added: "We in this country have an obligation to provide a best practices model for countries like Kazakhstan whose political and intellectual elites emerged from the Soviet system and do not fully understand the importance of transparency and thus may be tempted to use funds in ways that we would and should find problematic."
S. Frederick Starr, director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins, said that that while he was aware of APCO's representation of the Kazakhstan government, the institute's relationship was only with the lobbying firm and not directly with the government.
"The choice of topics, the choice of authors and the entire editorial process was 100 percent in our hands," he said. "The arrangements that they entered into with us didn't touch anything that would have to do with image building or creating a favorable impression."
Starr said that he had been thinking of putting together studies on Kazakhstan when he was approached by Jones, who he had known for years. "The question that was put to me was very simply: we may have some money to support some research on Kazakhstan and are you doing it," he said.
According to the disclosure documents, APCO, on behalf of the Kazakhstan embassy, paid Johns Hopkins $52,300 on January 31 for two of the reports, entitled "Kazakhstan's New Middle Class" and "Parliament and Political Parties in Kazakhstan." Both were published in April. Jones confirmed that the third report, "Kazakhstan in its Neighborhood", published in July, was also underwritten by the government but disclosure on that payment has not yet been filed.
The reports were released in conjunction with think tank discussions -- which were required as part of the payment -- sponsored by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, according to the disclosures.
All three authors – two of the three of whom have spent extensive time in the country – said that while the institute had chosen the topics they had been free to take the research in any direction they saw fit.
"It's an important topic so I would have written about it anyway," said Richard Weitz, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, who authored the third study.