Who Rules America?  By G. William Domhoff, University of California at Santa Cruz

Power Elite Database

Power Elite data sources

The searchable database at http://whorulesamerica.net/power_elite/ and the associated analyses are based upon a dataset originally compiled by sociologist Clifford Staples (University of North Dakota) from the multiple sources listed below.

The Corporate Network

The 2010 list of Fortune 500 companies was published in July of 2010 (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2010/). Director names for each of the 500 companies were compiled from company websites or annual reports from the first half of 2011.

The Wealthiest Americans

In 2012, Forbes published its list of the "400 richest people" in the United States for 2011 (http://www.forbes.com/forbes-400/list/). As it happened, a minimum net worth of $1 billion was required to make it onto the "Forbes 400" list in that year. In a few instances, couples or individuals along with their families were listed as the owners of the wealth. For the purposes of this database, couples were separated and listed as individuals, and family members not identified individually were ignored. This resulted in a total of 406 names from the Forbes 400. The corporate source(s) of each individual's wealth was then identified, and the executives of those corporations, whether their stock was traded on a stock exchange or not, were included in the database. In some cases, these companies overlapped with corporate information from the other sources that were used to compile the database. In such cases, the company and its executives were entered only once.

The Corporate Policy Network

The governing boards (or membership) of six business groups were included in the study. Names were compiled in September 2012 from the organizations' websites as follows: The Business Council (TheBusinessCouncil.org, "Active Members"); The Business Roundtable (BusinessRoundtable.org, "Members"); The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USChamber.com, "Board of Directors"); The Conference Board (Conference-Board.org, "Trustees"); The Committee for Economic Development (CED.org, "Board of Trustees"); The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM.org, "Board of Directors" as of September 2012). The year 2012 was used so that enough time had passed for those who became CEOs or joined boards in 2011 (or were new members of the Forbes 400 in 2011) to have become members of one or more of these groups.

Think Tanks

The names of the trustees of the top 50 think tanks in the U.S. (as determined by GoToThinkTank.com via a survey of scholars, think tank directors, journalists, policymakers, and donors) were obtained from the think tank's websites. As in the case of the six business groups, the year 2012 was used so that new CEOs and corporate directors for the year 2011 would have time to join one or more of these boards.

Three of these think tanks (Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Center for International Development, and Center for Transatlantic Relations) were dropped because they did not have a governing board separate from the university bureaucracies of which they are a part. In addition, the United States Institute for Peace was excluded because the composition of its governing board is mandated by law and largely consists of high government officials.


The search for relevant foundations among the tens of thousands of foundations began with the 1,307 foundations that awarded 10,944 grants to the 46 think tanks between 2003 and 2012. After determining that 90% of the grant money given to the think tanks came from the top 100 foundations on the list, the focus was narrowed to those 100 foundations. The names of their trustees for 2012 were obtained from the Foundation Directory Online (fconline.foundationcenter.org).


Starting with the 73 colleges and universities that had endowments of $1 billion or more in 2011-2012 (from NACUBO.org), the trustees of the 47 private colleges and universities on the list were obtained from their websites. Not only are these private universities and colleges likely to be of greater interest to members of the power elite than public instituttions, but the boards of the 26 public universities contain many mandated government officials.

Federal Advisory Committees

To identify those individuals from the corporate/think tank/foundation network who also serve on Federal Advisory Committees, the names of the 226,019 people who served on one of these thousands of committees in 2009, 2010, and 2011 were downloaded from the Federal Advisory Committee database (fido.gov/facadatabase). More than 70% of these people were scientists, scholars, or government officials who served on scientific peer review panels and various intra-governmental committees. The focus was then narrowed to the Federal Advisory Committees that reported to the White House -- to keep the study manageable.

[Return to the Power Elite search portal]

This document's URL: http://whorulesamerica.net/power_elite/data_sources.html