The Struggle for Democracy: A Reader in American Politics

Compare and contrast lobbying and activism (via social movements). What are the differences between the organizations and activities of interest groups and social movements? What are the similarities (especially given the focus in interest groups on the “outside game”)?

Interest Groups and Business Corporations

Political Linkage: Intermediaries in the Link between People and Public Policy










Interest Groups in a Democratic Society

Definition: private organizations that try to shape public policy

aka, “special interests”

Lobbying: the physical act of contacting members of Congress

Americans have historically been suspicious of groups banding together to promote their interests






Interest groups are different from political parties?


How, you say?

They do not engage in electioneering








Interest Groups in a Democratic Society


The “factions are evil” argument:

Interest Groups have a narrow self-interest

Function without regard for the public good


Look at Federalist #10 by Madison






Interest Groups in a Democratic Society


The pluralist argument: interest groups are OK because people are free to join or organize groups that reflect their own interests






Interest Group Formation

Why do interest groups form?

Elections do not adequately communicate what we want

Groups are easy to form

Protected by the First Amendment

Federalism and its dispersal of power creates many access points for groups to approach

American government is open to the influence of these groups






So the process might look like this….






Interest Group Formation


When do interest groups form?

Interest groups flourish under certain conditions

When there are many interests

When the political culture supports the pursuit of private interests

When the rules make it easy to organize

When power is dispersed throughout the political structure






What Interests are Represented?

Types of interests groups

Public: connected with the general welfare of the community





Citizens’ groups






Yep, you too?






What Do Interest Groups Do?

Inside Game

Direct contact between a group representative and government officials

Access to policy makers

Lobbyists are often retired policymakers

Most effective when the issue is narrow and does not command a lot of attention






What Do Interest Groups Do?

Inside game (con’t)


Executive branch: providing technical information

Congress: providing information, expertise, and financial contributions


Amicus curiae briefs






What Do Interest Groups Do?

Outside game

Indirect form of influence that involves efforts to mobilize public opinion, voters and important contributors to pressure public officials

Mobilization of membership

Organizing the area

Shaping public opinion

Involvement in campaigns and elections






What Do Interest Groups Do?






Possible Flaws in the Pluralist System

Representational inequalities

Resource inequalities

Soft money: expenditures on public education, voter registration, and voter mobilization

Has no limits

Banned in 2002: resulted in 527 organizations

Independent expenditures: money spent on ads and on behalf of candidates or issues not connected with the campaign

Has no limits

No one gives something without expecting something in return






Table 7.2: Major spending on federal lobbying in 2011, by industry






Possible Flaws in the Pluralist System

Access inequality

Iron triangles: the three-way relationship among a bureaucratic agency, an interest group and a congressional committee or sub-committee

Does money = access?






Possible Flaws in the Pluralist System

The public activity of these groups are easily monitored

It is the “behind the scenes” activities of groups and corporations that brings into question the pluralist argument

The minutia of legislation and regulation is the area of concern






Figure 7.3: The Iron Triangle






Curing the Mischief of Factions

Disclosure – Why? “The politics of faction is usually the province of the privileged”

Public Utilities Act (1935) required lobbyists for that industry to register with Congress

all lobbyists have been required to do so since 1946

1993: Congress required all lobbyists to report on their activities

Ethics in Government Act (1978) prohibits former officials from lobbying their former agency for one year on any issue in which the person was substantially involved






Interest Groups and Democracy

Some political scientists suggest that in order to decrease the power of interests groups, we should strengthen the institutions of majoritarian democracy such as political parties, the presidency and Congress

Can we decrease inequalities among interest groups without trampling on our liberties?

The Struggle for Democracy: A Reader in American Politics, latest edition Edward S.Greenberg & Benjamin Page eds.  Longman

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