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Civics Chapter Nine Notes

Mr. McCormack
American Government
Central Dauphin High School
Chapter Nine – Interest Groups
I. The Nature of Interest Groups
A. Interest Groups Defined
1. Private Organizations
a. Public officials may also join interest groups, but most of their members are ordinary citizens
b. The government’s ability to control interest groups is limited by the rights of assembly and petition
2. Unified by a common cause or purpose
a. Whether you realize or choose to participate, there are many interest groups working to represent your
b. Many interest groups work for a single cause, but others have broader purposes
3. Tries to persuade public officials to support their cause
4. Helps frame the issues that result in public policies
5. Also known as pressure groups or special interests
B. Interest Groups work at every level of government to achieve their goals
C. Distinguishing Interest Groups from Political Parties
1. Political parties nominate candidates for political office, but interest groups do not
a. Interest groups do attempt to influence the outcome of political contests
b. Interest groups may endorse candidates or campaign on their behalf
2. Political parties are more concerned with winning elections, interest groups with winning approval for their
preferred policies
a. Interest groups have less incentive to attract the support of a majority of people
b. Interest groups may seem to prefer one party over another, but often support candidates of both parties
3. Political parties are concerned with a wide range of public affairs, but interest groups have narrower foci
D. Evaluating the impact of interest groups
1. Historical Perceptions
a. Many people have always viewed interest groups with deep suspicion
i. James Madison believed them to be dangerous because of their pursuit of selfish interests
instead of the public good
ii. Madison did, however, recognize that they were inevitable – you can eliminate factions only by
eliminating freedom
b. The danger of factions could only be balanced by a multiplication of factions – prevent any one from
gaining an outright majority, and they will be forced to compromise
c. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that Americans were a people prone to forming beneficial associations
2. Valuable Functions of Interest Groups
a. Helping stimulate interest in public affairs
i. They increase awareness of important issues
ii. They give average Americans a means of participating in public debates
b. Providing networks and representation outside of a geographic base
i. A very small minority in an area may not feel like it can participate effectively, but if given the
opportunity to join with like-minded individuals from the entire country, may be able to represent
ii. A farmer from one state probably shares more concerns with other farmers than with his
neighborly computer technicians
c. Providing helpful information to the government
i. Interest groups may have better access to information on the economy, scientific research, etc.
ii. Interest groups provide this information to support their calls for action
d. Strengthening the idea of checks and balances, helping to hold the government accountable for itself
3. Criticisms of Interest Groups
a. Interest groups push their agendas even if they’re not in the best interest of the country
b. Some interest groups have far more influence than their size justifies
c. Some interest groups may not truthfully advertise who they represent
d. Many interest groups will claim to speak on behalf of a large population, when few of that population
would actually support that group
e. Some groups use or have used tactics that undermine the integrity of our system
i. Bribery
ii. Threats and coercion
II. Types of Interest Groups
A. Organized groups represent just about every conceivable interest in America
1. No one has ever been able to accurately count all of the interest groups, but they number in the thousands
2. Many groups may not normally consider themselves interest groups, but they may play a role in public policy
debates from time to time
a. Churches may encourage action on a special issue gambling
b. Garden clubs may take a position on city beautification
3. Not all groups are equal
a. Some have a national reach, others purely regional or local
b. Most pursue agendas that are considered normal, but others pursue hateful or criminal agendas
4. Many people may find themselves belonging to groups with competing agendas
a. A teacher is forced by contract to support a liberal union but joins conservative groups
b. A businessman may pay dues in the local pro-business group but donate to environmental causes
B. Groups Based on Economic Interests
1. The largest category of interest groups
2. While primarily organized for economic interests, these groups often take positions on issues unrelated to
economics (i.e. labor unions promoting gay marriage and abortion, etc.)
3. Business Groups
a. Businessmen have often looked to the government to promote their interests
b. Most form to protect their trade from being taxed or to encourage taxes on foreign competition
i. United States Brewers’ Association
1. Formed in 1862, it is the oldest organized interest group working in national politics
2. Created in response to the first national tax on beer
ii. National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)
1. Formed in 1895
2. Represents over 14,000 firms
3. Represents “big business”
iii. Chamber of Commerce
1. Formed in 1912
2. Three million business firms and 5 million individuals are members
3. Represents “small business”
iv. Business Roundtable
1. Formed in 1972
2. Composed of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) from 150 of the nation’s most
prestigious and influential corporations
c. Nearly every segment of the business community now has its own trade association (i.e. American
Bankers Association)
d. Business groups do not always cooperate and often compete against each other
4. Labor Groups
a. Labor unions are formed by workers who share the same type of job or work in the same industry
b. Labor unions have dramatically declined in membership over time, but their strength in politics is as
strong as ever
i. At their peak in the 1940s, unions accounted for about 35% of all workers
ii. Unions represent less than 14% of all workers today
c. Many unions work together as members of the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial
Organizations (AFL-CIO), but many unions work independently
5. Agricultural Groups
a. Farming was once the leading occupation in the United States
b. Today, fewer than 5 million people, less than 2% of all Americans, live on farms
c. Farmers continue to exercise enormous influence through many different associations
i. The Grange
1. Formed in 1867
2. The oldest and most conservative of the farm associations
3. It is as much a social as a political organization
4. Some 300,000 farm families are members
5. Most of its support comes from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states
ii. The American Farm Bureau Federation
1. Formed in 1919
2. The largest and most effective agricultural group
3. More than five million farm-family members
4. Most of its strength is in the Midwest
5. Supports federal assistance to agriculture and free market economies while opposing
iii. National Farmers Union
1. Smaller and less prosperous farmers are the major supporters
2. 250,000 members, mostly in the upper Midwest
3. Often conflicts with the other agricultural groups
iv. Each farm commodity has its own association (i.e. peanut farmers, dairy farmers, etc.)
6. Professional Groups
a. Professions are those occupations that require extensive and specialized training
b. Most professional groups are not as large or influential as the business, labor, or farm groups
c. Three major professional groups
i. American Medical Association (250,000 doctors are members)
ii. American Bar Association (400,000 lawyers are members)
iii. National Education Association (2.7 million teachers are members, not all of them willingly)
d. Professional groups lobby the government for their professional interests (i.e. doctors attempting to limit
damages in lawsuits, etc.)
C. Other Interest Groups
1. Groups that promote causes
a. Hundreds of groups exist to promote a single cause or idea
b. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
i. Formed in 1920
ii. Approximately 400,000 members
iii. Uses the court system to redefine civil and political rights
c. Common Cause
i. Formed in 1970
ii. Approximately 210,000 members
iii. Promotes major reforms in the political process
d. League of Women Voters
i. Formed in 1920
ii. Approximately 130,000 members
iii. Attempts to spread knowledge and interest in public affairs
e. Other examples
i. National Wildlife Federation
ii. Sierra Club
iii. Audubon Society
iv. National Right-to-Life Committee
v. Planned Parenthood
vi. National Rifle Association
2. Organizations that promote the welfare of certain groups
a. Veterans (i.e. American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars)
b. Senior Citizens (i.e. AARP)
c. Minorities (i.e. NAACP)
3. Religious organizations
a. Catholics – National Catholic Welfare Council
b. Protestants – Christian Coalition, National Council of Churches
c. Jews – Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Congress
D. Whatever their priorities might be, many groups claim to be “public interest groups,” working for the good of all
III. Interest Groups at Work
A. Influencing Public Opinion
1. No public policy will be successfully enforced unless it enjoys the support or tolerance of the majority
2. Interest groups try to manage public opinion in many ways
a. Supply the public with information to sway its judgment
b. Build a positive image for itself
3. Many criticize interest groups for engaging in propaganda
a. Propaganda is a technique of persuasion that aims to create a particular belief
b. The belief may be true or false, or somewhere in between
c. People tend to think of propagandists as liars or deceivers, but that is not always the case
d. Propaganda Techniques
i. Begin with a conclusion
ii. Present all evidence in support of the conclusion
iii. Ignore or diminish all evidence contrary to the conclusion
iv. Make your message simple, interesting, and credible
v. Appeal to your audience through the use of positive symbols or celebrity testimonials
vi. Always represent your side as representing the majority (“bandwagon approach”) or the
common man (“plain folks approach”)
vii. Use pejorative terms (name calling) to describe your opponents (i.e. That sounds like Hitler!)
e. The mass media (television, radio, internet, papers, etc.) in this country facilitates the dissemination of
B. Influencing Parties and Officials
1. Some groups cultivate close relations with one party, others with both
a. Encouraging members to become active in party politics
b. Donating money to party organizations, particularly through PACs (political action committees)
c. Endorsing candidates in party primaries or general elections
2. Most groups balance currying favor from one party with creating enemies in the other
3. Lobbying
a. Interest groups lobby when they apply pressure to elected officials
b. Lobbyists are often former Congressman or other knowledgeable professionals
c. Lobbyists help to educate Congress through testimony and other means
i. Writing speeches
ii. Drafting legislation
d. Lobbyists coordinate “grass roots” efforts to sway holdouts
i. Grass roots means the average voters and “folks back home” – the Congressman’s constituents
ii. Average voters support lobbyists through letters, phone calls, emails, etc.
e. Many lobbyists publish annual rankings of Congressman to help shape their perceptions by the public
f. Many lobbyists are “hired guns” – they will work for anyone who can afford their fee
g. While lobbyists frequently make campaign contributions, outright bribery is very rare
h. Lobbyists work hard to preserve their reputations, so lying and other schemes are uncommon
i. Lobbyists are regulated to prevent abuse of influence
i. 1946 – Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act
1. Required lobbyists to register with the House and Senate
2. The law had many loopholes
ii. 1995 – Lobbying Disclosure Act
1. Closed many of the former loopholes
2. Lobbyists must supply more information about their activities in semi-annual reports
iii. Many states have lobbying regulations in force
4. Even after a law is passed, lobbying the executive can help determine how the law will be enforced
5. If all else fails, interest groups can take their cause to court