Interest Groups

Instructional Objectives

1. Explain why the characteristics of American society and government encourage a multiplicity of interest groups.

2. Indicate the historical conditions under which interest groups are likely to form and specify the kinds of organizations Americans are most likely to join.

3. Describe relations between leaders and rank-and-file members of groups, including why the sentiments of members may not determine the actions of leaders.

4. Describe several methods that interest groups use to formulate and carry out their political objectives, especially the lobbying techniques used to gain public support. Explain why courts have become an important forum for public interest groups.

5. List the laws regulating conflict of interest and describe the problems involved with revolving door government employment. Describe the balance between the First Amendment's freedom of expression and the need to prevent corruption in the political system.

Text Outline

I. Explaining proliferation

A. Why interest groups are common in America
1. Many kinds of cleavages in the country

2. Constitution makes for many access points to government

3. Political parties are weak so interests work directly on government


II. The birth of interest groups

A. Periods of rapid growth
1 . Since 1960, 70 percent established their D.C. office

2. 1770s-independence groups

3. 1830s, 1840s-religious, antislavery groups

4. 1860s-trade unions, grange, fraternal organizations

5. 1880s, 1890s-business associations

6. 1900-1920-business and professional associations, charitable organizations

7. 1960s environmental, consumer, political-reform organizations

B. Factors explaining rise of interest groups

1. Broad economic developments create new interest
a. Farmers produce cash crops

b. Mass-production industries begin

2. Government policy itself

a. Wars create veterans, who demand benefits

b. Encouraged formation of American Farm Bureau Federation, professional associations

3. Emergence of strong leaders, usually at certain times

4. Expanding role of government

III. Kinds of organizations

A. Institutional interests
1. Defined: individuals or organizations representing other organizations

2. Types

a. Business firms: example, General Motors

b. Trade associations

3. Concerns-bread-and-butter issues of concern to their clients

a. Clearly defined, with homogeneous groups

b. Diffuse, with diversified groups

4. Other interests-governments, foundations, universities

B. Membership interests

1. Americans join some groups more frequently than in other nations
a. Social, business, professional, veterans', charitable-same rate as elsewhere

b. Unions-less likely to join

c. Religious, political, civic groups-more likely to join

d. Greater sense of political efficacy, civic duty explain tendency to join civil groups

2. Most sympathizers do not join because benefits flow to nonmembers too

C. Incentives to join

1. Solidary incentives-pleasure, companionship (League of Women Voters (LWV), NAACP, Rotary, Parent-Teacher Association, American Legion)

2. Material incentives-money, things, services (farm organizations, AARP)

3. Purposive incentives-goal /purpose of the organization itself

a. Though group also benefits nonmembers, join because:
  • Passionate about goal
  • Strong sense of civic duty
  • Cost of joining minimal

b. Ideological interest groups-appeal of controversial principles

c. Public interest groups-purpose principally benefits nonmembers

d. Engage in research and bring lawsuits, with liberal or conservative orientation

e. Publicity important because purpose groups are influenced by mood of the time

D. The influence of the staff on interest group policy stances

1. Staff influences if solidarity or material benefits are more important to members

2. National Council of Churches and unions are examples

IV. Social movements produce groups that rely on purposive incentives

A. Social movement is a widely shared demand for change

B . The environmental movement

C. The feminist movement; three kinds

1. Solidary-League of Women Voters (LWV), Business and Professional Women's Federation (widest support)

2. Purposive-NOW, NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) (strong position on divisive issues)

3. Caucus-National Women's Political Caucus (NWPQ) - (material benefits)

D. Unions left after social movement died


V. Funds for interest groups

A. Foundation grants
1. Ford Foundation and liberal public interest groups

2. Scaife foundations (conservative foundation) and conservative public interest groups

B. Federal grants and contracts

1. National Alliance for Business financed summer youth job programs

2. Jesse Jackson's PUSH (community development organization)

C. Direct mail

1. Unique to modern interest groups through use of computers

2. Common Cause a classic example

3. Techniques

a. Teaser

b. Arouses emotions

c. Famous-name endorsement

d. Personalization of letter


VI. The problem of bias

A. Reasons for belief in upper-class bias
1. More affluent more likely to join
2. Business/professional groups more numerous; better financed

B. Why these facts do not decide the issue

1. Describe inputs but not who eventually wins or loses

2. Business groups often divided among themselves

C. Important to ask what the bias is

1. Many conflicts are within upper-middle class, political elites

2. Resource differentials are clues, not conclusions

VII. The activities of interest groups

A. Supplying credible information
1. Single most important tactic

2. Detailed, current information at a premium

3. Most effective on narrow, technical issues-will see link to client politics

4. Officials also need cues regarding what values are at stake

5. Rating systems

B . Public support

1. Insider strategy previously most common-face-to-face contact between lobbyist and member or Hill staff

2. Increasing use of outsider strategy-grassroots mobilization of the issue public

3. Politicians dislike controversy, so work with those they agree with

4. Lobbyists' key targets: the undecided legislator or bureaucrat

5. Some groups attack their likely allies to embarrass them

6. Legislators sometimes buck public opinion, unless issue important

7. Some groups try for grassroots support

a. Saccharin issue

b. Dirty Dozen environmental polluters - 31 legislators with "Bad voting records" on the enviornment. Noted by the Interest Group, Enviornmental Action, only 7 survived in office.

C. Money and PACs

1. According to text, money is least effective way to influence politicians

2. Campaign finance reform law of 1973 had two effects

a. Restricted amount interests can give to candidates

b. Made it legal for corporations and unions to create PACs

3. Rapid growth in PACs has not led to vote buying

a. More money is available on all sides

b. Members of Congress take money but still can decide how to vote

4. Almost any organization can create a PAC

a. Over half of PACs sponsored by corporations, one-tenth unions, and remainder varied

b. Recent increase in ideological PACs; one-third liberal, two-thirds conservative

5. Ideological PACs raise more but spend less due to cost of raising money

6. In 1992 and 1994, unions and business/professional organizations gave the most

7. Incumbents get most PAC money

a. Labor PACs almost exclusively give to Democrats

b. Business PACs split money between Democrats and Republicans

c. Democrats get most PAC money (Remember, Wilson is a conservative, where is the proof??)

8. PAC contributions small

9. Text states that there is no systematic evidence PAC money influences votes in Congress (Hmm, not even big tobacco or the NRA??? Well, its not systematic but I think the influence is clear!)

a . Most members vote their ideology and with their constituents

b. When issue of little concern to voters and ideology with little guidance, slight correlation but may be misleading

c. PAC money may influence in other ways, like access or committee actions

d. PAC money most likely to influence client politics

D. The revolving door

1. Promise of future jobs to officials

2. Few conspicuous examples of abuse

E. Trouble

1. Disruption always part of American politics

2. Used by groups of varying ideologies, etc.

3. Better accepted since 1960s

4. History of "proper" persons using disruption-suffrage, civil rights, anti war movements

5. Officials dread "no-win" situations


VIII. Regulating interest groups

A. Protection by First Amendment
1. 1946 Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act accomplished little in requiring registration
a. Supreme Court restricted application to direct contact

b. Grassroots activity not restricted

c. No staff to enforce law

2. 1995 act provided a broader definition of lobbying

a. Requires reports twice a year, including client names, expenditures, issues

b. Still exempted grassroots mobilization

c. No enforcement agency established, but Justice Department may take action

d. Tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations cannot receive federal grants if they lobby

B. Other significant restraints

1. Tax code; nonprofits lose tax-exempt status

2. Campaign-finance laws limit PAC donations


Important Terms

cue (political) A signal, frequently provided by interest groups, that tells a politician what values are at stake in an issue and how that issue fits into his or her own set of political beliefs.

direct mail A mailing from an interest group focused at a specialized audience whose purpose is both to raise money and mobilize supporters.

Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946 A law which required groups and individuals seeking to influence legislation to register with the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House of Representatives. Quarterly financial reports on expenses were also to be filed. Note new reform legislation (1995) was more stringent.

ideological interest group An organization that attracts members by appealing to their interests on a coherent set of controversial principles.

incentive Something of value offered by mass-membership organizations to get people to join; it is a benefit exclusive to members.

institutional interests Individuals or organizations representing other organizations.

interest group An organization that seeks to influence public policy.

lobby A group that attempts to influence legislation through direct contact with members of the legislative or executive branches.

lobbyist A person attempting to influence government policy on behalf of a lobby.

material incentive Something tangible, such as money or services, which attracts people to join mass-membership organizations.

membership interests A type of interest group that represents the interest of its members.

pluralistic political system A description of the American political system, once used by scholars, contending that the policy-making process encompasses the effective competition of interest groups. This account is generally considered wrong, or at least incomplete.

political action committee An organization which finances candidates and may lobby. Such organizations can contribute no more than $5,000 to a federal candidate in any election.

public-interest lobby An interest group whose principal purpose is to benefit nonmembers.

purposive incentive An incentive to join a mass-membership organization based on the appeal of the group's goal.

ratings A type of cue supplied by some interest groups that ranks legislators on their degree of support for a particular cause, such as unions or the environment. These can be helpful sources of information, but are often biased.

social movement A widely shared demand for change in some aspect of the social or political order.

solidary incentive An inducement to join a mass-membership organization based on the sense of pleasure, status, or companionship derived from membership.

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