Ezra [Klein] was even more right than he knew about the efficacy of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. They are effective in two crucial ways that the media-mentions-per-dollar metric completely misses. (Truth in labeling: I am a CBPP board member; think it is the best organization operating in Washington; and make my largest charitable contributions to them.)
First, they work in advance of the news shaping reporting before the events actually happen. An obvious example, out today, is Jim Horney's piece explaining to everyone how to interpret the budget deficit numbers that will be released next week. You can read it at http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=2894. There are not many people around with the sort of insider expertise to write such a piece. He isn't looking to be cited by the media for this piece, and he won't be, but the piece will influence the questions that get asked of officials and even how they are answered, and it will (or should) influence what gets written....
Second, CBPP staff are in the rooms when bills are drafted and marked up. They are consulted mostly by Democrats, but also, to a striking degree, by Republicans who sometimes take the view that they know that the left will oppose what they are doing but do not want to do needless harm to and may occasionally try to help vulnerable groups. Years ago, a CBPP study extended the reach of the maternal nutrition program by belling the cat on price fixing by formula manufacturers. They designed presumptive eligibility under Medicaid. They have helped to set up state-based watchdog organizations, clones of themselves, in most states of the nation. These organizations have taken the lead in pushing state-based earned income tax credits They are also organizing similar organizations and helping to fund, through regranting, for developing nations around the world.
Finally, they are not only analytically better than virtually any other policy organization around, they are fast. Bob Greenstein, Peter Orszag (then a consultant to CBPP), Jim Horney, Richard Kogan, and others were so fast off the mark during the social security privatization debate that Bush White House operatives became afraid (and so stated) to put out the specious statistical crap; administration people complained that the Center seemed to put our rebuttals as fast as the administration could put out statements. Not one of the organizations among the top ten on the list circulated yesterday (including the one for which I worked) had both the expertise and the will to mobilize it that the Center brought to bear on that issue (and many others).
Sure, media cites is a legitimate indicator. My point was not that it should be ignored in this media-besotted age or that the number of studies languishing on dusty bookshelves is a better metric of impact. My point was that impact is what counts and media cites is poorly correlated with impact. And, oh yes, the Center on Budget is in a class of its own!