The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) ‘evolved from a monthly dinner club’ in 1921. By the 1970s, when business mobilized, it was the largest of the policy organizations and in 2000 it had just under 3900 members, many of whom were not active participants. Its links with the corporate class have been well documented. Domhoff noted: ‘In a study of the directors of 201 large corporations in 1970, it was found that 125 of these companies had 293 positional interlocks with the council. Twenty-three of the largest banks and corporations had four or more directors who were members.’
CFR was funded by corporations, wealthy individuals and subscriptions to its magazine, Foreign Affairs, and discussed policy issues at lunches and dinners with invited speakers from governments around the world, as well as through books and other publications. In 1973 the CFR chair, David Rockefeller, founded the Trilateral Commission. Rockefeller became co-chair of the Trilateral Commission with Zbigniew Brzezinski, also a CFR member.
In 1979 G. William Domhoff noted that 'Many council members are directly involved in the making of foreign policy in Washington. "Over a third of the Council's 1500 members have been called on by the government during the last 20 years to undertake official responsibilities," reports a council publication.'
As its name suggests, CFR is concerned with foreign affairs policy. Its corporate members includ Alcoa, American Express, AIG, BP, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Ford Motor, General Electric, GlaxoSmithKline, JPMorgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, McGraw-Hill, Nike, Pfizer, Shell Oil and many others. It still holds regular meetings "where senior government officials, members of Congress, global leaders, and prominent thinkers come together with CFR members to discuss and debate major international issues". CFR is funded by donations, the largest of which come from corporations, foundations, individual endowments.
According to Foreign Policy magazine, the CRF is one of the top two think tanks in the US in terms of influence with a budget of $38million.