Unformatted text preview: Chapter 6 Interest Groups Interests Groups and American Government An interest group is an organization of people sharing common objectives who actively attempt to influence government policy makers through direct and indirect methods. Interest groups form in response to change: a political or economic change, a dramatic shift in population or technology that affects how people live or work, or a change in social values or cultural norms. Interest Groups Serve Several Purposes They help to bridge the gap between citizens and government. They help raise public awareness and inspire action on various issues. They often provide public officials with specialized information that may be useful in making public policy choices. They serve as another check on public officials. Different Types of Interest Groups Business Includes umbrella groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, as well as trade organizations which are associations formed by members of a particular industry. Labor Includes some of the most influential groups in our country's history. The largest and most powerful labor interest group today is the AFL-CIO, an organization that includes nearly ninety unions. Consumer These are organized for the protection of consumer rights. One well known consumer group is Consumers Union. Different Types of Interest Groups, cont. Agricultural Three broad based groups represent millions of American farmers the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Grange, and the National Farmers' Union. Producers of specific farm commodities have formed their own organizations. Professional These groups are concerned mainly with the standards of their professions, but also work to influence government policy. Examples include the American Medical Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Environmental Some of the most powerful interest groups in Washington D.C. are the environmental groups. Examples include The Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation. Senior Citizen The largest of these is the AARP, with about 35 million members. The AARP is a potent political force. How Interest Groups Shape Policy Direct Techniques for Shaping Policy Lobbying: All of the attempts by organizations or individuals to influence the administrative decisions of government. This includes making personal contacts with key legislators; providing expertise and research results for legislators; offering "expert" testimony before congressional committees; providing legal advise or assistance to legislators and bureaucrats; and following up on legislation. The federalist system with points of entry at the federal level and the state level allows interest groups continuous access to policy makers. Interest group officials routinely contact state legislators as well as Congresspersons, state level bureaucrats and members of the federal executive branch and use the state as well as the federal courts. This allows them to enter the system and attempt to influence policy in a virtually constant manner. Providing election support: Interest groups may join and work with political parties in order to influence party platforms and the nomination of candidates; groups provide campaign support, urge members to vote for candidates who support the views of the group, raise funds, and make campaign contributions through political action committees (PACs) Indirect Techniques Shaping Public Opinion Such efforts may include television publicity, newspaper and magazine advertisements, mass mailings, and the use of publicrelations techniques. Some groups also try to influence legislators through ratings systems. Mobilizing Constituents Groups urge members to contact government officials by letter, email, or telephone to show support for or opposition to a certain policy. Going to Court Litigation may be used to achieve desired policy goals. Groups may also file amicus curiae briefs in appellate courts. Demonstration Techniques Include organized protest marches and rallies to support or oppose issues. Today's Lobbying Establishment Today, major interest groups all have headquarters in Washington D.C. The door between private interests and government is often characterized as a ,,revolving door because of the back-and-forth movement between government personnel and private interest groups. Those who leave positions with the federal government often become lobbyists or consultants for the private-interest groups they helped to regulate. There is also a population of Washington policy consultants who are actually "lobbyists for hire". They work often for firms, much like law firms, where they will take your cause in the same manner that a lawyer will take your case. They work for fees or on retainer and represent the cause, industry, advocacy group, etc. that has retained their services. This is a considerable part of the Washington D.C. public relations industry. Such firms might also have branch offices in state capitals doing state level lobbying in the same fashion as their Washington counterparts do in D.C. In 1996, both the House and the Senate passed a set of rules that prohibited members of Congress from accepting free trips, meals and gifts from interest group lobbyists. The Regulation of Interest Groups The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act (1946) Any person or organization that receives money to be used principally to influence legislation before Congress must register with the clerk of the House and the secretary of the Senate. Any group or persons registering must identify their employer, salary, amount and purpose of expenses, and duration of employment. Every registered lobbyist must give quarterly reports on her or his activities, which are to be published in the Congressional Quarterly. Anyone failing to satisfy the specific provisions of this act can be fined up to $10,000 and be imprisoned for up to five years. Limitations of the Lobbying Act The act did not succeed in regulating lobbying to any great degree because: The Supreme Court restricted the application of the law to only those lobbyists who seek to influence federal legislation directly. The act required that only persons or organizations whose principal purpose was to influence legislation need to register. The act did not cover lobbying directed at agencies in the executive branch or lobbyists who testified before congressional committees. The public was almost totally unaware of the information in the quarterly reports and Congress created no agency to oversee the interest group activities. The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 Strict definitions now apply to determine who must register as a lobbyist. Lobbyists must report their clients, the issues on which they lobbied, and the agency or house they contacted, although they do not need to disclose the names of individuals they contacted. Tax exempt organizations were exempted from these provisions as were organizations that engage in grass roots lobbying. A lobbyist is anyone who either spends at least 20% of their time lobbying members of Congress, their staffs, or executive branch officials, or is paid more than $5000 in a six month period for such work. Any organization that spends more than $20,000 in a six month period conducting such lobbying activity must also register. Any stricter regulation of lobbying may run into constitutional problems because of the potential abridgment of First Amendment rights. ...
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- Winter '08