Hoover Touted Access to Mattis, Trump Team in Fundraising Plea

  • Institution can help influence ‘world history,’ e-mail says
  • Mattis has been a senior fellow on defense at Hoover since ’13

The Hoover Institution, a think-tank affiliated with Stanford University, touted its ties to retired General James Mattis and members of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team in a fund-raising appeal to potential donors.

“The Hoover Institution now has an opportunity to influence the course of American and world history in a way that no one could have foreseen,” institution director Thomas Gilligan wrote in a Dec. 27 “year-end greeting” seeking tax-deductible contributions. “Hoover Fellow General James Mattis has been nominated to be Secretary of Defense. He will no doubt rely on his colleagues at Hoover who already have extensive military and national security experience.”

Mattis with Trump

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Mattis, a 66-year-old former head of U.S. Central Command, has been a distinguished visiting fellow since 2013 at the tax-exempt Hoover, “examining current citizen attitudes toward the military” after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, according to the organization’s annual report. He’s expected to have his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee next week.

Mattis didn’t get an advance copy of the message and wasn’t asked to approve it, Hoover spokeswoman Eryn Witcher Tillman said in an e-mail. Hoover is closely affiliated with Stanford, which has so-called 501(c)3 tax-exempt status, and is based on the university’s campus in northern California. As a result, Hoover isn’t required to file a detailed tax return available for public review, said Chuck McLean, senior research fellow at GuideStar, an organization that monitors nonprofits and collects the tax return forms known as “990s.”

‘Drain the Swamp’

Trump, who takes office Jan. 20, has vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington that supports an ecosystem of special interests, lobbyists and compliant lawmakers. Experts in government ethics said there are limits to how much outside groups can justifiably tout their access to their own alumni.

Still, Tom Donnelly, a defense analyst with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said in an e-mail that Hoover’s use of Mattis’s name in the fundraiser letter isn’t inappropriate “up until the point of confirmation.”

That view was seconded by Mandy Smithberger, an official with the Project on Government Oversight in Washington.

“This doesn’t seem that unusual,” Smithberger said. If Trump’s campaign rival Hillary Clinton had been elected, “left-leaning think tanks would be sending out similar emails.” 

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