The Centre for Welsh Studies think tank has received funding from a United States-based global network organisation that seeks to promote right-wing free market ideology across the world, we can reveal.

Centre for Welsh Studies (CWS) has been under pressure to reveal the origins of its funding, and earlier this month was at the centre of controversy after it emerged that a consultancy run by its director, Matthew MacKinnon, also hosts a climate denial Facebook page called Eco Central.

Now, after we asked Mr Mackinnon why CWS is described on the website of the Atlas Network as a “partner”, he confirmed that his think tank has received funding from it.

Mr MacKinnon said: “We have applied for grants from the Atlas Network, and have received several thousand pounds from it.”

The mission of Atlas, according to John Blundell, its president from 1987 to 1990 “is to litter the world with free-market think-tanks”.

Atlas identifies, screens and offers initial support to individuals and groups who want to create local think tanks.

“Our ideal ‘intellectual entrepreneur”, says Atlas, is “someone who communicates effectively with businessmen, academicians and the general public”.

By facilitating the establishment of local think tanks, Atlas increases both the reach and local credibility of their “free market” message, thereby having “the most cost-effective impact”.

Since its formation in 1981, Atlas has funneled over US$20m in grants to think tanks that have passed its screening process.

Atlas aims, it says, to “increase that amount tenfold in the next decade”.

Among those who have donated to the Atlas Network are billionaire members of the Koch family.

In her 2016 book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, the American investigative journalist Jane Mayer wrote about a group of extremely wealthy conservative Republicans, foremost among them Charles and David Koch, who have together funded an array of organisations that work in tandem to influence academic institutions, think tanks, the courts, statehouses, Congress, and the American presidency – in her view for their own benefit.

The American magazine People’s World summed up the free market values of the Kochs as “free trade; the elimination of all government regulation that interferes with profit-making; the privatisation of all aspects of society, with profit-making for corporations as the purpose of it all; savage cuts in the social safety net so as to lower taxes on corporations and the rich; and the willingness to use force, including US intervention in foreign countries, to enforce all of this.”

Labour MS Alun Davies, who has previously called on CWS to be more open about its funding, said: “The CWS has refused point blank to be open about the source of its funds. Now we know why.”

Mr MacKinnon said: “We are the only think tank in Wales that supports the free market, so it’s not surprising that we should wish to work in partnership with the Atlas Network. We have received grants of a few thousand pounds from it.

“However, most of our funding comes from relatively small donations from members of the public.”

Asked why CWS, which has an office in Cardiff Bay, was not more open about the source of its funding, Mr MacKinnon said: “There is a lot of vicious material on social media and our donors – some of whom are elderly and vulnerable – don’t want to be subjected to it.”

Mr MacKinnon insisted CWS was a think tank that was carrying out original research.

He said: “We have just taken on a new researcher and an intern.

“Well-known free market think tanks based in England like the Institute of Economic Affairs are also partners of Atlas.”