Chapter 12 – Interest Groups
• An organized group of individuals or
organizations that makes policy-related appeals
to government is called an interest group.
Types of Interest Groups
Interest groups form
• To increase the chance
that their views will be
• To influence government
• To represent interests and
Some interest groups organize because they
have a direct economic interest in
Examples of such economic interest groups
• National Association of Manufacturers
• American Farm Bureau Federation
Organized labor organizations are
important interest groups in
• The International Brotherhood of
• SEIU (Service Employees International
Professional associations also try to influence
–American Medical Association
–American Bar Association
Some groups, like
public interest groups
active not out of
interest but for some Public-sector groups
broader purpose. like the National
League of Cities, think
tanks, and universities
also lobby the
Federalist 10 and Pluralism
Interest Group Pluralism
“By a faction I understand a number of citizens,
whether amounting to a majority or minority of
the whole, who are united and actuated by some
common impulse of passion, or of interest,
adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the
permanent and aggregate interests of the
—James Madison, Federalist 10
James Madison’s Federalist 10 provides a basis
for understanding the strengths and weaknesses
of interest group politics in the United States.
Federlist 10 – James Madison believed:
Madison • Balancing the conflicting
interests of different
Because “the latent factions was the most
causes of faction … are reliable way to control the
sown in the nature of negative effects of
man,” Madison argued factional politics.
that institutional • Increasing the number
arrangement must be and variety of factions
erected to control the actually aided the pursuit
effects of factional of the public good.
politics. • Less likely to dominate
political process is large
with diverse interests.
pluralists argued that
interest group politics
was a major strength Pluralism is the theory
of American that all interests are and
should be free to
compete for influence in
society. the government. The
outcome of this
• Interest groups are important to democracy
– Allow people to organize to change policies.
• Hundreds of interest groups compete for
– No one group will dominate others.
• Groups put up a fair fight
– No illegal activities to surpass other groups.
• Groups are equal in power
– Each have different resources to their disposal.
Pluralists argued that Interest Groups
• Represent many diverse interests in society
• Provide expert information and perspectives
that improve policy making.
Critics of pluralism argued that interest groups
• Represent “special interests”
– do not reflect the broader will of the people or
the public good
• Over represent the wealthy in society
• Provide self-serving and biased information
that warp policy making.
• Hundreds of interest groups
– Only a select few have any real power.
• Interests of only a handful of elites, usually
business people, are almost always favored over
• Policy battles won by smaller interests are
– Power mostly with large multinational corporations.
• System of elite control
– Maintained by a well-established structure of
interlocking policy players.
Hyper Pluralist Theory
• Interest group liberalism:
• Sub Governments, or iron triangles, form
around a specific policy areas. These are
– an interest group
– a federal agency
– any legislative committees or subcommittees
that handle the policy area.
Hyper Pluralist Theory
• By avoiding having to choose between policy
initiatives, government creates conflicting
policies that waste time and money.
• Groups have too much political influence
– they usually get what they want.
• Competing sub governments (iron triangles)
only add to the confusing regulations.
Pluralists and their
critics are united in
their belief that
interest groups are
in American politics.
Explosion in Interest Groups
• Civil rights and Anti- • Groups include
Vietnam War Common Cause, Sierra
movements activists Club, and NOW
• Form their own interest • 1970s and 1980s
groups called the new – Technological factor
politics movement. contributing to the rise
and success of new
interest groups was
Logic of Collective Action
In The Logic of Because the benefits
Collective Action, of public policy are
Mancur Olson argued distributed equally to
about the dynamics those who contribute
of collective action to policy formation
and that incentives and those who do
not, individuals have
exist for individuals to incentives to “free
shirk their ride” and let others
responsibilities to invest time, energy,
contribute to the and money to getting
public good. policies passed.
The Logic of Collective Action
Both enhancing democracy and
representing the “evils” of factional
politics, interest groups (however
problematic) are a fixture of American
Collective Action Principle
• According to Mancur Olson’s perspective,
collective action is most likely to be successful
among wealthy business owners. This is a small
group of privileged individuals.
• Lower class groups depend on political parties
• Large groups overcome the following to
implement collective action
– Claim no one individual’s contribution make much
Types of Selective Benefits
Interest groups • informational
give individuals benefits
incentives to join • material benefits
the group through
• solidary benefits
the provision of
selective benefits. • purposive benefits
Types of Selective Benefits
• Informational benefits
– Most widespread – information offered by
conferences, training programs, newsletters to dues
• Material benefits
– Measured monetarily like special services, money
• Solidary benefits
– Friendship and networking opportunities.
• Purposive benefits
– Appeal of purpose of interest group. Christian Right is
The Institution Principle: Institutions routinely solve
collective action problems.
Institutional arrangements provide for a division of
labor, rules regarding decision making, and checks
on the powers of political actors and institutions.
These routines and structured relationships enable
cooperation that alleviate impediments to collective
The obstacles to overcoming the collective action
problem are not insurmountable. By building a
strong organization, interest groups can offer
individuals powerful incentives to join groups and
contribute to the collective good.
Influence of Interest Groups
Interest Group Influence
Interest groups seek to
• Influence the creation and implementation
of policy in the legislative and executive
• Influence the interpretation of policy in the
• Shape public opinion regarding policy
• Influence the outcomes of elections.
Strategies of Influence
Inside strategies include:
• influencing administrative
seek influence rule-making
over policy • litigation
a mix of “inside” Outside strategies include:
strategies and • influencing election
strategies. • affecting media coverage
Interest Groups – Going Public
• Grassroots lobbying
campaigns played an
important role in
appointments to the
Regulation of Interest Groups
• Lobbying – attempt by a group to influence the
policy process through persuasion of
• 1946 Federal • 1995 Lobbying Disclosure
Regulation of Act
Lobbying Act – requires all organizations
– defines lobbyist employing lobbyists to
register in Congress.
• whom they represent
• what they are lobbying for
• how much they are paid.
• Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (1974)
– Limits campaign contributions and requires that each
candidate or campaign committee provide
• Name, address, occupation, principal business for each
person donating at least $100
• A political action committee is a private group
that raises and distributes funds for use in
Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
• Passed in 2002
• Eliminated unrestricted soft-money donations
• 527 committees
– Named after tax code – run by former party officials
– Allowed to engage in political spending as are issue
PAC Contributors to Federal Candidates, Top 10 (2007-08)
Operating Engineers Union
International Brotherhood of Electrical
American Bankers Association
Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union
National Beer Wholesalers Association
Credit Union National Association
American Association for Justice
0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 1.2 1.4 1.6
Millions of Dollars
Source: Center for Responsive Politics, “Top PACs” (http://www.crp.org/pacs/topacs.asp). Based on
incomplete 2007-2008 election cycle including moneys reported to Federal Election Commission as
of October 29, 2007.
When interest groups are able to place their
representative directly on congressional staffs, these
individuals are seen as “stealth lobbyists.”
Interest groups “lobby”
legislators in efforts to shape
policy as it is being made.
Interest groups also seek to
cultivate access to officials in
the executive branch to
influence administrative rule
making and the details of
Interest Group Actions
• Most interest groups try to maintain good
relations with both political parties.
• “Microsofted” – demonized by the public and
Congress. Need extensive lobbying efforts.
• Exerting influence on Congress requires the
interest groups to constantly cultivate easy and
constant access to decision makers.
• In the 1970’s dairy farmers set up their own lobby
and PAC’s to promote their interests separate
from other agricultural issues.
Interest groups hire lawyers
to influence the judiciary.
Sometimes groups are
litigants in lawsuits.
Often groups submit amicus 1965, states could
curiae briefs giving their not prohibit the
perspectives on cases to dissemination of
which they are not a party. information of
married couples due
to Griswold v.
Interest groups seek
to influence public
• developing media • An expensive, well-
strategies and designed ad that features
advertising (known as the successful track
going public) record in environmental
• mobilizing citizens at protection by a major oil
the grass roots. company that was
published in the New York
Times is an example of
• Phony grassroots mail
campaigns from people
are used to try and
on a particular issue is
known as Astroturf
• A process by which citizens may petition to place
a policy proposal on the ballot for public vote.
• First promoted by Populist in the late nineteenth
• Most initiatives today are sponsored by interest
groups to circumvent legislative opposition.