Interest groups

Advanced Placement®
American Government and Politics
Unit III – Political Parties (8) and
Interest Groups (11)
Part 2 – Interest Groups
What is an interest group?
• Also called an “advocacy group”
• Organization of people with shared policy goals
that try to influence the political process to
achieve those goals
• Parties are policy generalists, while IG’s are policy
• Huge explosion in recent times; 90% have HQs in
Washington DC
• Interests primarily
Where to find
K Street.
Interest groups: Good or Evil?
Alexis de Tocqueville
• wrote Democracy in America
• suggested that the ease with which Americans
form organizations is a reflection of a strong
democratic culture
Interest groups: Good or Evil?
Federalist No. 10
warned of the dangers
• Madison noted that
the causes of actions
were "sown in the
nature of man”
• trying to eliminate
factions would restrict
• relief from factions
should come from
controlling their effects
This should mildly disturb you.
Interest groups are distinct from parties
• Political parties
fight election
battles; interest
groups do not
field candidates
for office but
may choose
The roles of interest groups
What do interest groups do?
• Representation: represent their constituents
before government
• Participation: facilitate and stimulate people's
participation in politics
• Education: educate their members, the public at
large, and government officials
• Agenda building: the process by which new
issues are brought into the political limelight
• Program monitoring: keeping track of
government programs
The roles of interest groups
How do Interest Groups achieve their goals?
• Supply credible information (most important role/tactic)
• detailed/current info is political gold
• most effective on narrow, technical issues
• Tactics:
• Lobbying (political persuasion)
• Electioneering (getting people into office, keeping
them there)—PACs
• Litigation (look for amicus curiae briefs)
• THEN: “insider strategy” most common (face-to- face
meeting b/w lobbyist and official)
• NOW: “outsider strategy” (“grassroots” public
mobilization, thanks to modern technology; ex.
• Target: the undecided legislator or bureaucrat (“lobby
Theories of Interest Group Politics
Elite Theory
• Societies are divided along class lines and
an upper-class elite rules, regardless of the
formal niceties of governmental
Pluralist Theory
• Politics is mainly a competition among groups,
each one pressing for its own preferred policies
Hyperpluralist Theory
• Groups are so strong that government is
• an extreme, exaggerated form of pluralism
Theories of Interest Group Politics
Elites and the Denial of Pluralism
• Real power is held by the relatively few.
• Power elite theorists believe that a small number of super
rich individuals, powerful corporate interest groups, and
large financial institutions dominate key policy areas
• Elite power is fortified by a
system of interlocking
directorates of
corporations, the wealthy
and other institutions
• Other groups may win many
minor policy battles, but elites
prevail when it comes to big
policy decisions
• Lobbying is a problem because it benefits the few at the
expense of the many
Theories of Interest Group Politics
Elites and the Denial of Pluralism
Power elite theorists point to the recent financial
crisis to illustrate their view of the close relationship
between Wall Street interests and Washington
• While ordinary Americans received small stimulus
checks, Wall Street banks received enormous
federal bailouts
As noted by the American Political Science
Association, “Citizens with lower to moderate
incomes speak with a whisper that is lost in the ears
of inattentive government officials, while the
advantaged roar with a clarity and consistency that
policymakers readily hear and routinely follow.”
Theories of Interest Group Politics
Pluralism and group theory
• lots of groups / highly
organized / no one group
wins all the time
• Groups provide a key link
between the people and
the government
• some groups stronger then others (none always
• not all groups have equal time with power
• lobbying is open to all and should not be
regarded as a problem
Theories of Interest Group Politics
Pluralism and group theory
While elitists point to the concentration of power,
pluralists emphasize that America’s fragmented
federal system and division of power into three
branches provides many points of access and
• As a result, no one group can dominate the entire
Pluralists point out that interest groups lacking
financial resources can use their size and intensity to
achieve their goals
• For example, a determined interest group that
lacks legislative influence can turn to the courts
for a favorable decision
Theories of Interest Group Politics
Hyperpluralism and interest group liberalism
• pluralism out of control
• interest group liberalism by Theodore Lowi
• governments excessively refer to groups
• government listens / acts / advances nearly all
• created when government appeases:
• government agencies proliferate
• conflicting regulations expand
• programs multiply
• budget skyrockets
Theories of Interest Group Politics
Hyperpluralism and interest group liberalism
• iron triangles or
• key interest group for
particular policy
• government agency in
charge of administrating
the policy
• members of congress
that handle the policy
• relations between groups
and government too cozy
• hard choices rarely made
• policy paralysis
Theories of Interest Group Politics
Hyperpluralism and interest group liberalism
• When political leaders try to appease competing
interest groups, they often create policies that
are confusing and at times contradictory
• As a result, legislators avoid making hard
choices that are in the national interest
• For example, public health groups have
successfully convinced the government to
launch vigorous antismoking campaign
• At the same time, interest groups
representing tobacco farmers have
successfully lobbied the government to
subsidize their crop
What makes an interest group
Group Success (cause)
• many factors suggest
• size of the group
• Intensity
• financial resources
What makes an interest group
• intensity can motivate a large group (abortion)
• politicians will listen to active, motivated,
intense groups
• single issue group
• narrow, issue
oriented group,
dislikes compromise,
pursues goal
What makes an interest group
Group Failure
• collective good
• something of value that can not
be withheld from a potential group member
• clean air, higher minimum wage
• free rider problem
• when potential
members decide not to
• free riders benefit, but
do not contribute
What makes an interest group
Law of Large Groups
• created by Mancur Olson
• bigger the group, bigger free rider problem
• need a selective benefit to entice membership
①information publications
③travel discounts
Types of Interest Groups
• Economic Interests
• Labor
• Agriculture
• Business
• Environmental Interests
• Equality Interests
• Consumer and Public Interest Lobbies
Interest Groups and Democracy
• James Madison’s solution to the problems posed
by interest groups was to create a wide-open
system in which groups compete
• Pluralists believe that the public interest
would prevail from this competition
• Elite theorists
point to the
proliferation of
business PACs
as evidence of
interest group
• Hyperpluralists maintain that group influence
has led to policy gridlock
PACs (Political Action Committee)
• set up by and representing a corporation, union,
IG, political candidate that raises & spends
campaign contributions on behalf of candidates
or causes
• Rapid growth in PACs, but probably hasn’t led to
vote-buying (???); $ is available on both sides of
• Most members of Congress vote ideology or
constituency; but it IS a political issue
PACs (Political Action Committee)
Over 4,600 active, registered PACs
Connected PACs
established by businesses, labor unions, trade
groups, or health organizations
receive and raise money from a "restricted class,"
generally consisting of managers and
shareholders in the case of a corporation and
members in the case of a union or other interest
Non-connected PACs
ideological mission, single-issue groups, and
members of Congress and other political leaders
may accept funds from any individual, business
PAC or organization
PACs (Political Action Committee)
Super PACs
Since 2010, "independent-expenditure only
can raise unlimited sums from corporations,
unions and other groups, as well as wealthy
made possible by two court rulings that lifted
many spending and contribution limits.
can also mount the kind of direct attacks on
candidates that were not allowed in the past.
Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate directly
with candidates or political parties and must
disclose their donors
PACs (Political Action Committee)
Leadership PACs:
established by a member of Congress to support
other candidates
non-connected PACs, and can accept donations from
an individual, business or other PACs
cannot spend fund to directly support the campaign
of its sponsor (through mail or ads)
may fund travel, administrative expenses,
consultants, polling, and other non-campaign
Can also contribute to the campaigns of other
Between 2008 and 2009, leadership PACs raised and
spent more than $47 million.
527 organization
• can take a stand on an issue, but cannot directly
contribute to candidates
• cannot explicitly endorse a candidate
• can accept contributions of unlimited size
• can indirectly criticize candidates by emphasizing
an issue that illuminates the difference between

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