How Interest Groups Operate and Why
Many groups also use litigation, bringing lawsuits or assisting private individuals to bring lawsuits so they can challenge laws that the group opposes. In the 1940s and 1950s, the NAACP effectively used litigation as a tactic for challenging segregation laws in university and professional school education. Building on those victories, it persuaded several African American families in Topeka, Kansas, to try to enroll their children in a nearby neighborhood school. When the school system refused to admit them because the schools were meant for whites only, the families brought a lawsuit, which was litigated by NAACP lawyers. This suit won a major victory in Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case that determined separate but equal public schools actually were not equal and that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. This landmark ruling issued by a unanimous court paved the way for the integration of public schools. While litigation can be effective, it can also be expensive and take a long time to get a resolution.
Advocacy advertising is used extensively to advise the public of issues that affect different groups. Magazines, radios, TV, and the Internet all carry messages put out by various interest groups, and in modern times groups have begun using social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms to publicize their goals and concerns. Some advocacy issues are presented in public service announcements. Not all advertising promotes the interest group. For example, American Heart Association ads suggesting viewers lose weight and exercise do not promote the group itself, focusing instead on promoting its goals.
Interest groups are often active in political campaigns and elections. Groups make contributions to campaigns of candidates that they think—or know from past voting history—support the group's preferred policies. They may form or contribute to an existing political action committee (PAC), an organization established by an interest group to raise money for and provide financial support to political candidates or parties. They also can spend on advertisements supporting those candidates. Industry and professional groups vary greatly in how much they contribute to campaigns, and they also show some differences in terms of contributions to Democratic and Republican candidates. While contributions from the finance, insurance, and real estate industries; the health care industry; and miscellaneous business groups are relatively even between the two parties, there are clear preferences in the energy and natural resources industry and agribusiness toward Republicans and from labor groups, lawyers and lobbyists, and the communications and electronic industries toward Democrats.
Interest Group Contributions to Candidates in 2016
|Interest Sector||Amount to Candidates or Parties||Percentage of Total Given to Democrats||Percentage of Total Given to Republicans|
|Finance/insurance/real estate||$606,013, 276||45.9%||53.8%|
|Lawyers and lobbyists||$242,295,489||70.7%||29.0%|
Some interest groups are part of a broader social movement, a type of group action undertaken to assert rights, protest social or political conditions, or advocate change. In the 1960s particularly, because of a lack of representation in Congress, civil rights organizations relied heavily on civil disobedience and nonviolent protests. Large marches, such as the 1963 March on Washington, attracted widespread media coverage. Groups also advocated boycotts and sit-ins to protest what they considered unjust laws. Some of these were large marches; others were as simple as sitting in a "whites only" section of a restaurant. Such activities attracted attention from both the public at large and legislators. Social media has become a major resource for groups to voice protests or initiate more direct action, such as a boycott of a company.