Essay/Term paper: Interest groups
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Interest Group is defined as "an organized body of individuals who try
to influence public policy." This system is designed so that interest groups
would be an instrument of public influence on politics to create changes, but
would not threaten the government much. Whether this is still the case or not
is an important question that we must find out. Interest groups play many
different roles in the American political system, such as representation,
participation, education, and program monitoring. Representation is the
function that we see most often and the function we automatically think of when
we think of interest groups. Participation is another role that interest groups
play in our government, which is when they facilitate and encourage the
participation of their members in the political process. Interest groups also
educate, by trying to inform both public officials and the public at large about
matters of importance to them. Lobby groups also keep track of how programs are
working in the field and try to persuade government to take action when problems
become evident when they monitor programs. The traditional interest groups have
been organized around some form of economic cause, be it corporate interests,
associates, or unions. The number of business oriented lobbies has grown since
the 1960s and continues to grow. Public-interest groups have also grown
enormously since the 1960s. Liberal groups started the trend, but conservative
groups are now just as common, although some groups are better represented
through interest groups than others are. There are many ways that the groups
can influence politics too. The increase in interest group activity has
fragmented the political debate into little pockets of debates and have served
to further erode the power of political parties, who try to make broad based
appeals. PACs also give money to incumbents, which means that incumbents can
accumulate large reelection campaign funds, that in result, discourages
potential challengers. As a result, most incumbents win, not because they
outspend their challengers, but because they keep good potential opponents out
of the race. Conservatives are one of the big groups that influence politics
and for many reasons.
Conservative thinking has not only claimed the presidency; it has spread
throughout our political and intellectual life and stands poised to become the
dominant strain in American public policy. While the political ascent of
conservatism has taken place in full public view, the intellectual
transformation has for the most part occurred behind the scenes, in a network of
think tanks whose efforts have been influential to an extent that only five
years after President Reagan's election, begins to be clear.
Conservative think tanks and similar organizations have flourished
since the mid-1970s. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) had twelve
resident thinkers when Jimmy Carter was elected; today it has forty-five, and a
total staff of nearly 150. The Heritage Foundation has sprung from nothing to
command an annual budget of $11 million. The budget of the Center for Strategic
and International Studies (CSIS) has grown from $975,000 ten years ago to $8.6
million today. Over a somewhat longer period the endowment of the Hoover
Institution has increased from $2 million to $70 million. At least twenty-five
other noteworthy public-policy groups have been formed or dramatically expanded
through the decade; nearly all are anti-liberal.
No other country accords such significance to private institutions
designed to influence public decisions. Brookings, began in the 1920s with
money from the industrialist Robert S. Brookings, a Renaissance man who aspired
to bring discipline of economics to Washington. During the New Deal the
Brookings Institution was marked-oriented--for example, it opposed Roosevelt's
central planning agency, the National Resources Planning Board. Only much later
did the institution acquire a reputation as the head of liberalism.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, as Americans enjoyed steady increases in
their standard of living and U.S. industry reigned over world commerce,
Washington came to consider the economy a dead issue. Social justice and
Vietnam dominated the agenda: Brookings concentrated on those fields, emerging
as a chief source of arguments in favor of the Great Society and opposed to U.S.
involvement in Vietnam. In the Washington swirl where few people have the time
to read the reports they debate, respectability is often proportional to tonnage.
The more studies someone tosses on the table, the more likely he is to win his
point. For years Brookings held a dominance on tonnage. Its papers supporting
liberal positions went unchallenged by serious conservative rebuttals.
As the 1970s progressed, a core of politically active conservative
intellectuals, most prominently Irving Kristol, began to argue in publications
like The Public Interest and The Wall Street Journal that if business wanted
market logic to regain the initiative, it would have to create a new class of
its own --scholars whose career prospects depended on private enterprise, not
government or the universities. "You get what you pay for, Kristol in effect
argued, and if businessmen wanted intellectual horsepower, they would have to
open their pocketbooks."1
The rise of Nader's Raiders and similar public-interest groups--which
achieved remarkable results, considering how badly outgunned they were; brought
a change in business thinking about money and public affairs. So did the
frustration felt by oil companies, which were being fattened by rising prices
but still dreamed of being fatter if federal regulations were abolished. They
were willing to invest some of their riches in changing Washington's mood.
Women also have a voice in their own interest groups. The Woman
Suffrage movement was headed up by many groups that differed in some of their
views. The moderate branch was by far the largest and is given most of the
credit for the Nineteenth Amendment. Under the banner of the National Women's
Party, the militant feminists had used civil disobedience, colorful
demonstrations and incessant lobbying to get the Nineteenth Amendment out of
These are just some of the ways that American politics in the twentieth
century was influenced by special interest groups. Interest groups have grown
this much in this century and will probably keep progressing in the coming
1. Groliers Encyclopedia on CD-Rom, 1993 Grolier Inc., Software Toolworks
2. Ideas Move Nations, The Atlantic Monthly, 1986
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Interest groups date back to the year of 1834, when a young French social
historian was amazed at how Americans formed groups in which they could solve
problems. Today, in the United States, there are thousands of these same groups . They
share common objectives, beliefs, and attitudes. Interest groups form an organization to
attempt to influence policymakers, and in my opinion should be legal to a certain degree.
Interest groups are both small and large, some groups have membership fees or
monthly dues, and often provide there members with discounts on certain things. They
speak to their members and to the public through newsletters, magazines and educational
activities. In order for them to be effective they must be up to date with information that
is revalent to their interest and offer politician appealing incentives. At times they will
also testify at congressional hearings or draft amendments to legislation.
A well known person/s in an interest groups is what are called lobbyist. They
received this name because they originated as journalist who would stand in the lobby of
the House of Commons to speak with the legislators. Before the Public Utilities Holding
Company, and the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act were passed, lobbyist were able to
bribe politicians to change their views on legislation. The First Amendment to the
UNITED STATES Constitution also allows interest groups to survive. It states that all
citizens have the right to free speech and the right to petition the government for redress
or grievances. These laws legalize the existence of these groups and because they have
limited them to certain actions, they now use other tactics and resources to pursue their
One of their resources is an organizational resource. The members of the group
must be able to move around freely with little limitations this is incase if political action
must take place. The group will offer their members information quickly and tell there
members what they should do in any given situation. Another resource is the political
resource, it is extremely important for groups toward their success, which is why many
times former congressman are hired into the group. If lawmakers believe a group is
knowledgeable and trustworthy, they will have a greater advantage over the less
knowledgeable, trustworthy groups. Finally, the attribute which is the most influencing is
their physical resource, money. Money speaks louder than words, is a perfect saying
when discussing interest groups. It can be used to reach other resources such as political
and leadership skill and public talent. It also can be used as a campaign support for
candidates that the interest group thinks will do good for them. This method is mainly
used by corporations through indirect channels. Although legally each corporation is
allowed to gather money from fifty volunteer donors and contribute to one PAC (political
action committee) annually.
Today, many Americans believe that the use of interest groups is not a very moral
way of establishing laws. To some degree this is true, I believe that the use of money to
influence others in politics should not be used. I am sure the founding fathers of our
country would not agree that this is a ethical way of politics. Politicians should stand for
what they represent and should not be effected by the use of material thing, whether its
money, gifts, going to lunches, and things of that nature.
Although this issue is very sensitive, I do believe that the idea of America having
interest groups is good. These groups are still an important part of the legal system.
Aslong as there is no physical resources influencing politicians. The government should
have them under microscope for unethical practices that may influence politicians. The
reasons there are interest groups is for citizens to bring light on certain situations and to
share that with politicians. Situations like the killing of rainforest, and national gun
control, or even abortion. If America did not have interest groups the government would
have the power to impose laws that its citizens would not support therefore eventually
destroying our constitutional government.