The policy-planning capacity of the American corporate community: Corporations, policy-oriented nonprofits, and the inner circle in 1935–1936 and 2010–2011

Tom Mills, G. William Domhoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using a combination of network analysis and descriptive statistics, this study examines the extent to which six important and longstanding policy-oriented nonprofit organizations — foundations, think tanks, and policy-discussion groups — were connected via their directors with the 250 largest corporations in the United States in 1935–1936 and 2010–2011. The results demonstrate that the six nonprofit organizations included in the study were well integrated into corporate networks in both periods, and had an even greater integrative role in 2010–2011 than they did in 1935–1936. This finding supports the hypothesis that policy-oriented nonprofit organizations allow the corporate community to develop proposals, and to reach consensus, on major policy issues. This hypothesis is further supported by an overview of existing studies that illustrate the success of these organizations in shaping policy outcomes on a range of issues. Based on the overall results, the longstanding claim that corporations influence government primarily or solely at the “interest-group” level can be supplemented by the conclusion that policy-oriented nonprofits support a policy-planning process that links the corporate community to government on general issues. In addition, the findings cast doubt on the claim that the corporate community has lost its capacity for policy cohesion in recent decades, due primarily to a “fracturing” caused by a decline in bank centrality. Since general policies have been created within the policy-planning process since at least the mid-1930s, the decline in bank centrality is irrelevant to the corporate community’s ability to formulate general policy proposals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1067-1096
Number of pages30
JournalTheory and Society
Issue number6
Early online date9 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023

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  • Corporate community
  • Corporate networks
  • Policy planning
  • Interest groups
  • Policy-oriented nonprofits
  • Inner circle


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