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 An Internet Guide to Power Structure Research

Policy Formation















Sources of Information on Policy Formation

Privately funded policy planning organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Committee for Economic Development, the Brookings Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute play a key role in the formation of public policy in the United States. These policy planning groups bring together influential figures from business, government, academia, the legal profession, and the mass media to define and discuss problems facing the nation and to seek consensus on policies to address those problems.  Some policy planning groups sponsor research on political and economic issues.  Others actively seek to shape public opinion and lobby for the enactment of specific policies.  In a more informal way, these groups also provide a training ground for new leadership and a channel for recruitment into government service.  Below are some of the better sources on policy planning and policy advocacy organizations and the foundations that provide much of their funding.

  • CIAO: Columbia International Affairs Online.  This proprietary database provides full-text working papers and conference proceedings from university research institutes, think-tanks, and policy planning organizations.  

  • Foundation Center.  The most comprehensive Internet site on foundations.  The "Foundation Finder" page allows you to search for basic information on any of 58,000 private, corporate, and community foundations and to view their most recent IRS filing (Form 990-PF) in Adobe Acrobat format.  See page 1 of Form 990-PF for contributions received, page 6 for officers and directors, and page 10 for grants paid.  From terminals located inside Knight Library, you can also connect to the Foundation Center's  Foundation Directory Online, which allows for much more detailed searches of individual grants, grantmakers, and grant recipients.  

  • Guidestar.  Searchable database of more than 640,000 non-profit organizations in the United States.  Focuses mainly on foundations and charities, but also covers many organizations that are involved in policy planning.  Includes data on mission and programs, directors, finances, and copies of recent IRS (Form 990) filings.

  • NOZA (formerly GrantSmart).  Another site that allows you to search for IRS filings of foundations as well as IRS disclosure statements for political organizations.

  • GoToThinkTank.com.  This website is operated by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University or Pennsylvania.  The emphasis is on providing comprehensive lists of various types of think tanks ranked by prestige, but there is also a variety of other useful data and reporting on current trends and issues in the think tank world. Click here to go directly to their 2012 Annual Report. Recommended

  • NIRA World Directory of Think Tanks.  Provides basic information and links to think tanks around the world.  The site is operated by the National Institute for Research Advancement, a Japanese policy research organization.

  • National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.  This liberal organization promotes philanthropy in the public interest and the strengthening of the nonprofit sector as a force for social justice and progressive change.  Their website provides extensive information on the funding and activities of both conservative and liberal nonprofits in the public policy and political advocacy arenas.  Recommended.

  • Conservative Transparency.  Operated by the Bridge Project, this site provides a searchable database of the leading conservative foundations, their contributions to right-wing policy planning groups, and individuals associated with those groups. Good links and resources on the conservative policy planning network.  Highly recommended.   

  • State Policy Network.  A membership organization of mostly right-wing, state-level policy organizations.  Their website provides extensive links and information on policy planning at the state and regional levels.  Click on the SPN Directory Map to search for policy groups in each state. 

  • Capital Research Center.  A conservative group that monitors corporate philanthropy.  Rates corporations on how good (or bad) a job they do of contributing only to right-wing causes. Searchable database of corporate donors and grant recipients in the public policy area.  One of the few sources (albeit very incomplete) of data on direct corporate contributions to policy-making organizations (as opposed to contributions made by corporate sponsored foundations). Click here to go directly to their summary report, Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy.

  • Integrity in Science Database.  Corporate financing of academic scientists and their research plays an important role in both the marketing of products and the promotion of public policy.  This database, maintained by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, provides a tool for tracing the flow of corporate money to academic scientists, as well as an extensive archive of news releases dealing with the conflicts of interests that result from corporate sponsorship of scientific research.  Be sure to check out their excellent report, Lifting the Veil of Secrecy: Corporate Support for Health and Environmental Professional Associations, Charities, and Industry Front Groups. Highly recommended.

  • PR Watch.  The public relations industry is a crucial component of the corporate dominated policy-planning apparatus.  This website, operated by the Center for Media and Democracy, is dedicated to investigating and exposing the endless stream of spin and propaganda by which the PR industry seeks to influence public opinion and shape the policy agenda in the interests of the power elite. Particularly useful is the search option on the SourceWatch page, which allows you to retrieve biographical information, political affiliations, and corporate connections of policy wonks and other supposed experts cited in the media.  Highly recommended.

  • Direction of Higher Education.  An outstanding website that examines the dominant role of corporate elites over higher education policy.  Provides detailed information on the corporate connections of the directors (trustees, regents, or overseers) of the 50 largest U.S. research universities.  Excellent graphics illustrate the web of power that links universities under a common network of corporate control. Highly recommended. [archived version]

  • Council on Foundations.  A membership organization of grantmaking foundations aimed mainly at foundation managers.  Search engine locates relevant articles in Foundation News & Commentary and other sources.

  • Buying a Movement.  A report on the power and influence of right-wing foundations in American politics, prepared by People for the American Way, a liberal watchdog group. A good introduction to the topic.  

  • Care2.  Public policy issues discussed from a liberal perspective.  News stories, commentary, posts by users, and links to other sites.  

  • Think Tank Visibility in the Media.  An excellent study of the media impact of 12 leading U.S. think tanks. [archived version may lack some pages or graphics]

  • EnviroLink.  Resources and links on environmental policy.

Copyright 2013 by Val Burris