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INTEREST GROUPS A. INTRODUCTION Imagine a person with an intense devotion to a social cause. Let’s say that he or she believes strongly in animal rights, or is distressed about the deteriorating earth environment. Or think of someone else whose work is seriously undervalued, who works very hard but is paid very little money. What can any of these imagined people do to improve their situation? One solution is to start or join a group with similar interests, with the idea that people together can do more to bring about change than people alone. They could organize an interest group to put pressure for change on elected officials and policy makers on all levels of government An interest group is an organization of people who enter the political process to try to achieve their shared goals. Almost from the beginning, Americans have joined political groups, as noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1834, ãIn no country of the world has the principle of association been more successfully used·than in America.ä Today about 2/3 of Americans belong to such groups. However, Americans historically have distrusted the motives and methods of interest groups. James Madison called interest groups and political parties factions, and he saw federalism and separation of powers as necessary to control their "evils." Since the number of interest groups and the people who participate in them have increased greatly over the past half century, they appear to be even more important today than they have been in the past. B. PARTIES, INTEREST GROUPS, PACS, AND 527S Interest groups, like political parties, are organizations that exist outside the structure of government, but they interact with government in such a way that it is impossible to separate them. Policy making is intertwined with both parties and interest groups so that government would operate very differently without them. In recent years two other type of outside organizations, political action committees (PACs) and 527s, have joined parties and interest groups as major influence on policy making in this country. C. PARTIES VS. INTEREST GROUPS Parties and interest groups have a great deal of common because they represent political points of view of various people who want to influence policy making. This similarity has led some observers to suggest that interest groups may someday even replace parties as linkage institutions to the electorate. However, some significant differences still exist. Parties influence government primarily through the electoral process. Although they serve many purposes, parties always run candidates for public office. Interest groups and PACs support candidates, but they do not run their own slate of candidates.
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Parties generate and support a broad spectrum of policies; interest groups support one or a few related policies. So, whereas a party may take a position on gun control, business regulations, campaign finance reform, and U.S. involvement in conflicts abroad, an interest group almost always focuses on one area. D.
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