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Interest Group Politics in America


Interest Group Politics in America (or, Who is Really in Charge of the United States? ... the more you have, the better off you are...elitist theory of group politics ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Interest Group Politics in America

Interest Group Politics in America
  • (or, Who is Really in Charge of the United

What is an interest group?
  • An organization of people with similar policy
    goals that tries to influence the political
    process to try and achieve those goals. In doing
    so, interest groups try to influence every branch
    and every level of government.
  • Some are multi-issue groups and others are
    single-issue groups (much more successful).

How is an interest group different from a
political party?
  • They may support a candidate for office, but do
    not run their own slate of candidates.
  • They are policy specialists or experts, whereas
    political parties are policy generalists.
  • They do not face the constraints of trying to
    appeal to everyone.

History of Interest Groups
  • Federalist 10
  • Factions are inevitable
  • Should not be destroyed
  • Shays Rebellion
  • Organized group of farmers pressuring the
  • Unfortunately, they went the violent route
  • First Amendment seems to give legitimacy to the
    formation of special interest groups
  • Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about factions
  • Turnout in elections has, overall, declinedbut
    participation in interest groups has grown

Types of Interest Groups
  • Economic Interest Groups
  • Consumer and Public Interest Groups
  • Governmental Interest Groups
  • Others include ethnic and civil liberties
    organizations that push for changes that affect a
    large segment of the American population (NAACP
    and ACLU).

Economic Interest Groups
  • Formed to promote and protect members economic
  • Most numerous/powerful of all interest groups
  • Trade Organizations
  • US Chamber of Commerce
  • National Association of the Self-Employed
  • Businesses
  • IBM
  • US Airways
  • Labor Organizations
  • Teamsters
  • Professional Associations
  • AMA
  • ABA

Consumer and Public Interest Groups
  • Nonprofit organizations that are generally
    organized around a well-defined set of
    public-policy issues and usually work towards a
    collective good.
  • Consumer groups
  • Usually work to promote safer products and
  • Public Citizen, led by Ralph Nader
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (1973)
  • Environmental Groups
  • Advocating preservation of wildlife and
    wilderness areas
  • Sierra Club
  • GreenPeace
  • Single-issue groups
  • Often some of the most powerful because of the
    intensity of their members
  • NRA
  • National Right to Life Committee

Governmental Interest Groups
  • Governments that engage in interest group
    activity in order to achieve favorable policies
    for themselves.
  • Wide-ranging examples
  • National Governors Association
  • National League of Mayors
  • American-Israeli PAC
  • National Association of Arab-Americans

Theories of Interest Group Politics
  • Pluralism
  • Many groups are competing for a spot on the
    political agenda. The extensive organization of
    the competing groups is seen as evidence that
    influence is widely dispersed among them. (You
    win some and lose some, but you never win or lose
    all of the time)
  • Arguments of the Pluralist Theory
  • Brings representation to all by providing a
    linkage institution
  • Groups compete and counterbalance each other
  • No one group is likely to become dominant
  • Groups usually play by the rules of the game
  • Groups weak in one resource are usually strong in
  • Pluralists do not deny that some groups are
    stronger than others or that competing interests
    do not always get an equal hearing, but they
    argue that lobbying is open to all and should not
    be regarded as a problem.

Theories of Interest Group Politics
  • Elite
  • Argues that only a few groups actually have all
    of the power.
  • Main points
  • About 1/3 of top institutional positions in the
    US are occupied by people who hold more than one
    such position
  • Numerous groups (Pluralist theory) do nothing
    because the groups are all extremely unequal in
  • According to Elite Theorists, the most powerful
    interest groups are the most wealthy.

Theories of Interest Group Politics
  • Hyperpluralist
  • Argues that too many groups are getting too much
    of what they want and can often result in policy
    that is contradictory.
  • Interest Group Liberalism
  • Theodore Lowi
  • Refers to the governments excessive deference to
    special interest groups
  • Argues that all demands of groups are legitimate
    and the government must advance them all.
  • Very often results in gridlock

Writing Prompt
  • Different interest groups will choose different
    techniques to achieve their objectives based on
    their resources, characteristics, and goals.
  • Describe each of the following techniques and
    explain why an interest group would use each
  • Litigation
  • Campaign contributions
  • Grassroots lobbying/mobilization
  • Select one of the following groups and identify
    the primary technique that it uses from the list
    above. Explain why the group you selected would
    employ that technique over the other two
  • American Medical Association (AMA)
  • National Rifle Association (NRA)
  • Sierra Club
  • National Association for the Advancement of
    Colored People (NAACP)

What Makes an Interest Group Successful?
  • Money
  • Generally, the more you have, the better off you
    areelitist theory of group politics
  • Big Money Associations AMA, ABA, etc.

What Makes an Interest Group Successful?
  • Size large groups are surprisingly ineffective
    at times
  • potential group all people who might be group
    members because they share a common interest
  • actual group those in the potential group
    that actually join
  • collective good something of value that
    cannot be withheld from a potential group member

Mancur Olson
  • Economist Mancur Olson says that all groups-as
    opposed to individuals-are in the business of
    providing collective goods
  • The free-rider problem occurs when people
    decide not to join, but still partake of the
    collective good

Olsons Law of Large Groups
  • The bigger the group, the more serious the
    free-rider problem
  • It is easier to organize a small group with
    clear, smaller goals than it is to organize a
    large group with broad goals
  • Small groups have an advantage because the
    members share of the collective good may be so
    large that they work hard to try and secure it.

More of What Makes an Interest Group Successful
  • Group Intensity how strongly a group feels
    about a particular subject
  • Organizational features how well a group is
    organized can clearly affect how well its members
    can mobilize in times of need
  • Benefits offered to group members
  • Public image
  • Goals working to preserve the status quo is
    much easier than massive change

How Interest Groups Shape Public Policy
  • Lobbying
  • Term comes from people in interest groups waiting
    in the lobbies of the Capitol and Washington
    hotels to speak to Congressmen
  • Lobbyists must be on good terms with not only
    people that work in Congressional offices, but
    especially with the Congressional Committees that
    deal with issues of the group
  • Two Types of Lobbying
  • Direct
  • Overtly trying to influence policy choices
  • VERY effective b/c it minimizes misunderstandings
  • Indirect influencing a third party or public to
    adopt group position

Tips for Successful Lobbying
  • Know as much as you can about the situation and
    those involved
  • Understand the goals of the group and determine
    the best people to see
  • Be truthful in dealing with people
  • Work closely with the interest groups
  • Keep people you are trying to convince in your
    corner by telling them of the support that they
    will receive in return
  • Follow up on ALL meetings

How Interest Groups Shape Public Policy
  • Providing expertise and testifying in
    congressional committees
  • Creating a lobbying coalition
  • Litigation in Court
  • Used only if an interest group fails in Congress
    or gets only a vague piece of legislation
  • Writing amicus curiae briefs
  • Means friend of the court in Latin
  • Written arguments by non-litigants which are
    submitted to appellate courts in support of one
    side of a case
  • Class-action lawsuits
  • Grouping similarly situated plaintiffs to combine
    similar grievances into a single lawsuit

How Interest Groups Shape Public Policy
  • Grassroots efforts mobilizing rank and file
    members to write or call their representatives
  • Protest and Civil Disobedience think Gandhi or
    the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
    Unfortunately, this is nowhere near as effective
    as in the past.

How Interest Groups Shape Public Policy
  • Electioneering
  • Getting the right people into office
  • PACs are campaign and election organizations
    created by groups to support political candidates
    that support their views
  • PACs were made legal under the 1974 FECA
  • Permitted unions and corporations to establish
    political committees to contribute money to
    candidates in a primary or a general election
  • PACs collect small sums of money from individuals
    and bundles it into a larger pool of funds to
    donate to candidates
  • Congressional PAC donations
  • 1981 (83.7 million)
  • 1994 (179.6 million)
  • 2006 (385 million)

PAC Restrictions
  • Money MUST come from at least 50 donors
  • Money must be donated to at least 5 different
  • No more than 5,000 of PAC money to a single
    candidate in a year
  • No more than 15,000 of PAC money can be donated
    to a national party per year
  • All corporate, union, and trade PACs must raise
    the money from their members, not from their

Leadership PACs
  • Political Action Committees created by
    legislators for their own campaigns
  • Many will set up multiple PACs to get around
    campaign finance laws
  • BCRA (McCain-Feingold) limits amount donors can
  • Candidates - 2300
  • National Parties - 28,500
  • Individual PACs - 5000
  • Sum of all contributions cannot exceed 108,200
    over a two-year period

Current Trends in PACs
  • Over 4,000 registered PACsjust over 1,000 are
    issue oriented
  • PACs donate most heavily to House campaigns
  • Most PAC money is given to incumbents
  • Some candidates may receive PAC money even if
    they are running unopposed

Attempts at Reforming PACs
  • Federal Corrupt Practices Act 1925 requires
    disclosure of financial contributions to federal
  • Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act 1946
    required registration of lobbyists and
    information about their backgrounds, salaries,
    and expenses
  • SCOTUS ruled that it only applies to lobbyists
    with direct contact with legislators
  • Indirect lobbying was not covered
  • As a result of SCOTUS ruling, very few lobbyists
    actually registered

Buckley v. Valeo
  • 1976
  • SCOTUS arrived at two points
  • Placing restrictions on donations is
  • Placing a limit on how much a candidate could
    spend of their own moneyor how much they could
    spend overallwas unconstitutional

Buckley v. Valeo limits on lobbying activities of
former govt. officials
  • Attempted to counteract the appearance of
    influence peddling using personal friendships
    and inside information to gain political
  • Former legislators must wait one year after
    leaving office before directly lobbying Congress
  • Can work as consultants to interest groups
  • Can do just about anything except call
    congresspersons directly to lobby for a bill
  • Former executive branch officials must wait five
    years after leaving the agency that employed them.

Soft Money
  • Soft money is money that is given to a political
    party instead of an individual candidate (28,500
    vs. 2,300) and is then funneled to particular
  • This is still largely unregulated. Although
    originally addressed by McCain-Feingold, the
    SCOTUS struck down their total ban on soft money.
    PACs can still triple their donation to a
    candidate by donating it directly to a political