Interest Groups (notes) 14

Interest Groups
The 1 Amendment
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of
the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances.”
The Role of Interest Groups
• Interest Group:
• An organization of people who
enter the political process to try
to achieve their shared goals by
putting pressure for change on
elected officials and policy
• Exist at all levels of government.
They usually have narrow selfinterests.
Not Political Parties
• Interest groups are different from parties.
• Political parties fight election battles; interest groups
do not run their own slate of candidates for office;
they simply support candidates for office.
• Interest groups are policy specialists (focus on one
area); political parties are policy generalists (broad
spectrum of policies).
Interest Group Explosion
• 1959 – 2001: # of interest groups from
6,000 to 22,000.
• Technology has made the creation of
interest groups easier through mass
• Economic Interests
• Government Policy
• Strong Leadership
Types of Interest Groups
• I. ECONOMIC INTERESTS: concerned more with profits, prices and
• #1 Labor Groups
• AFL-CIO largest labor union today
• #2 Agriculture
• Import quotas, price supports (subsidies)
• National Milk Producers Federation
• #3 Professional Groups
• represent various occupations; policies that affect their professions
• American Medical Association; National Education Association
• #4 Business: large and small corporations
• Ex. Chamber of Commerce is world’s largest; Pharmaceutical lobby is
very powerful.
Types of Interest Groups
• II. CONSUMER/PUBLIC INTERESTS: seek a collective good
with benefits for everyone
• promote public good/consumer rights
• 1960s: Ralph Nader = icon
• Common Cause (electoral reform)
• III. ENVIRONMENTAL INTERESTS: oppose offshore oil drilling,
nuclear power plants etc.
• Sierra Club
• IV. EQUALITY & JUSTICE INTERESTS: particularly for women and
• NAACP (Oldest and largest)
• NOW = National Organization for Women
Single Issue Groups
• Focus efforts on one issue
• i.e. National Right to Life v. Planned Parenthood
• National Rifle Association (NRA) best known today.
Power Rankings?
Powerful Interest Groups
1. American Association of Retired People (AARP)
2. American Israel Public Affairs Committee
4. National Federation of Independent Business
5. American Association for Justice
6. National Rifle Association
7. Christian Coalition
8. American Medical Association
9. National Education Association of the U.S.
10. National Right to Life Committee
A Nation of Joiners…
Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830’s
that, “Americans of all ages and all dispositions
constantly form associations.”
Why Join an Interest Group?
• Solidary Incentives – pleasure, status, or companionship that
arises out of meeting in small groups. Requires organization.
• Purposive Incentives – the appeal of the group’s stated goals
• Material Incentives – money, services, discounts, etc.
Selective Benefits
• Offer selective benefits –
goods such as travel and
insurance discounts) to only
the group that pays annual
• AARP has built up a
membership of over 33
million by offering selective
Olson’s Law…
• Small groups are easier to
organize than large groups.
• Large groups tends to have a
more serious free rider problem.
• Sitting back and let other people
do the work and still enjoy the
“collective good.”
• Ex. AFL-CIO wins a higher
minimum wage, all low paid
workers benefit regardless of
whether or not they are
members of the union.
Kinds of Interest Groups
• Institutional Interests - Individuals or
organizations that represent other
• Membership Interests - Organizations
supported by the activities and contributions of
individual citizens.
• Three Fundamental Goals
1. Gain access to policymakers.
2. Influence public policy.
3. Support sympathetic policymakers.
How Interest Groups Work
Interest groups generally employ four
strategies for accomplishing their goals:
• I. Lobbying
• II. Electioneering
• III. Litigation
• IV. Appealing to the public
How Groups Try to Shape Policy
I. LOBBYING: Communication by someone other
than a citizen acting on his own behalf, directed to a
governmental decision-maker with the hope of
influencing his/her decision.
• Two basic types of lobbyists:
• Regular, paid employees of a group; former legislators
typically make the best lobbyists (Revolving Door).
• 40% of retired Congressmen registered as lobbyists.
• Temporary hires – “lobbyists for hire” (thousands in
How Groups Try to Shape Policy
• Lobbyists:
 are a source of information (specialized expertise)
 help politicians plan political strategies for legislation (act as “coach”
in presenting proposals)
 help politicians plan political strategies for reelection campaigns
 are a source of ideas and innovations
Much evidence suggests that
lobbyists’ power over policy is often
exaggerated; more effective as
information sources; basically
reinforces and strengthens support.
How Interest Groups Work
Interest groups generally employ four
strategies for accomplishing their goals:
• I. Lobbying
• II. Electioneering
• III. Litigation
• IV. Appealing to the public
helping candidates financially and getting group
members out to support them
Since lobbying works
best with those already
on the same side, getting
the right people into
office and keeping them
there is a key strategy of
interest groups.
Political arms of interest groups,
legally entitled to raise voluntary funds to
contribute to favored candidates or political
• About ½ of members of the House of Representatives
get the majority of their campaign $ from PACs.
• PACs overwhelmingly support incumbents.
• Although, may play it safe by contributing to the
challenger as well…
• If an interest group fails in one arena, the courts may be
able to provide a remedy.
• Interest groups can file amicus curiae briefs to influence a
court’s decision.
• amicus curiae: briefs submitted by a “friend of the court” to raise
additional points of view and present information not contained in the
briefs of the formal parties
• Class Action lawsuits
Because public opinion makes its way to policymakers,
groups try to:
• Cultivate a good public image to build a reservoir of goodwill
with the public.
• Use marketing strategies to influence public opinion of the
group and its issues.
• Grassroots Lobbying.
Hyperpluralist Critique…
Groups have become too powerful as the
government tries to appease every interest
(Interest Group Liberalism).
Interest group liberalism is aggravated by numerous
iron triangles (comfortable relationships)
What is an Iron Triangle?
• Sub-governments (Iron Triangles)
• An alliance formed by Congress,
bureaucrats and interest groups to
make public policy in the group’s
• In the end, all parties benefit from
the relationship: Congress receives
campaign contributions, interest
groups get favorable legislation and
bureaucracies preserve their jobs and