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Special Interest

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Special Interest
Jermall Cuffee
Professor: Dr. Jane El-Yacoubi
POL 110
03/03/13

So, when the election is all over. What can the average American do to stay involved in the political arena and not have to wait for the next election? There is one significant way of influencing American government and that is through an Interest Group. Interest Groups also known as advocacy groups, lobbying groups or special interest, are in place to persuade or prevent changes in public policies. They exist for the solemn purpose of conveying the views and defending the interest of a part of society to public officials. There are all types of interest groups in America from animal rights groups to public interest groups to citizen groups.
Interest groups get there start when James Madison developed the theme in “The Federalists (No. 10). In it he discussed factions, which was his term for interest groups and Madison believed that will always have diverse interest especially when it comes to economic circumstances and property ownership. Even though interest groups can be found deeply rooted in many different traditions and cultures such as Germany, they are common threads that can be observed in the development of interest groups mostly in Western industrial societies. There are about four phases in which the development of interest groups can be viewed. In what is called the first phase or the preindustrial phase beginning in the 1830s to the 1870s, there were charitable organizations that assisted the poor and less fortunate, which were mostly middle class citizens that were a part of this organization. Then breaking off into the second phase was the process of industrialization that was from the 1860s, lasting until the early 1900s. During this time, is when membership for interest groups started to break the class line and the establishment of economic groups began to form like trade unions and employer organizations. In the third phase it lasted about 30 years between 1920 and the late 1950s. A lot of groups formed and increased for larger sects of the population.
Lastly in the fourth phase of the interest groups building is our current phase. This can be regarded as the postindustrial period where promoting postindustrial values, environmental and civil rights is huge. Today the number of interest groups that are active in America has increased drastically since the 1960s. Organizations today can range from underpaid professionals that organize groups, like lawyers (American Bar Association), doctors (American Medical Association), and labor unions (AFL-CIO).
One of the forms interest groups take is the individual form, which they are dependent on large numbers of members to give them the influence needed to persuade their government. Then you have some organizations that are much smaller is size throughout the country, that normally is associated with some type of economic organization. But there is another way of separating interest groups into a category and that’s economic and non-economic groups. Most economic groups have an agenda to protect or advance government actions. Non-economic groups are usually more influenced by their desire to create ideas from the basis of public policy, advancing causes, or even bringing single issues to the attention of policymakers.
It seems as if the structure of our nations has given interest groups a way of growing in government, because of the increasing complexity of the U.S. economic and political systems. In the First Amendment the Constitution has guaranteed the right to speak and assemble, all with the right to petition the government. This has led to citizens organizing and forming interest groups in the government. Another factor is our government has made it easy for interest groups to reach them. Since the government has grown so vastly this has resulted in interest groups doing the same. The United States governmental system has brought on more responsibilities on itself and the more it takes on the responsibilities of governing economic, social and personal life the more interest groups will have to say. (Interest Groups n.d.)
How interest groups work is they send representatives to state capitals and to Washington D.C., to place pressure on member of Congress and policy makers. They use lobbying as a way of influencing legislations or policies to work in their favor. Interest groups also have the power to testify during congressional hearings as well. A few years ago Congress wanted to stop discrimination in private clubs. It resulted in members of the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts appearing in the hearing to persuade Congress to let them keep their groups single-sex organizations. (Interest Groups n.d.)
Interest groups take extra measures in lobbying and using Grass-roots campaigns to influence the president and congress while policies are being made. It is important to note that there are two different strategies in interest groups planted within politics which are inside and outside strategies. Insider strategy is better known for having direct access to decision makers. This direct contact with the decision makers, gives insider interest groups one on one persuasion opportunities, and also a great knowledge of the political game. Outsider strategy was popular back in more democratic groups like in the 1960s and 1970s, which they relied heavily upon mobilizing forces outside of Washington in order to turn up the heat on decision makers. (Miroff B., Seidelman R., Swanstrom T. n.d.)
Insider strategy is still considered a valuable approach, but interest groups are slowly turning towards outsider strategy. The reason is because, “The individualistic nature of the new Congress has made it useful; modern technology has made it possible”. (Wilson 2009) Things such as radio, fax machines and internet allotted being able to disseminate information and news instantly. Insider strategy is dominated when technology and public attention is narrow. The negative part that insider strategy gives off is during lobbying that back room deals and corruption like the Keating Five scandal.
During the deregulation of savings and loan associates (S&Ls) in the 1980s, there were several of these banks that began taking liberties with depositors’ money. They ended up sinking a lot of the money into risky real estate ventures and bonds trying to maximize profits. Then the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB) placed a cap on the amount of money S&L’s were allowed to put in volatile instruments. Lincoln Savings and Loan performed an investigation and uncovered flagrant violations on the regulations that were in place exceeding over $615 million.
Before any measures could be taken against the company, five Senators contacted the FHLBB, and requested that they not pursue the charges that they have against Lincoln. The lists of Senators were John McCain, John Glenn, Alan Cranston, Donald Riegle, and Dennis DeConcini. None of them really had anything in common except for the fact that they all were linked to a gentleman by the name of Charles Keating. Keating was a banker that made major contributions to each of their campaigns; close $1.4 million dollars was donated to them. The Senators attempt to stop the FHLBB from their investigation, but was to no avail because the FHLBB ended up seizing Lincoln. The scale that this scandal costs the taxpayers was over $3 billion dollars. Keating ended up leading the Senate Ethics Committee to do an investigation on the five Senators that is known as the Keating Five. (Fetini A. 2008)
Another issue in lobbying is when former government officials use their knowledge to benefit private interests groups. That is why in 1978 Congress passed a law called the Ethics in Government Act, which forbids executive branched employees from lobbying issues that were a part of personally. A lot of former member of Congress become lobbyists in spite of the ethics laws set in Washington. (Miroff B., Seidelman R., Swanstrom T. n.d.)
With that in mind one must wonder if politicians really are influenced by interest groups at all. Some critics believe that interest groups do influence our government because of “buying” power. This is due to the fact that more money comes from businesses and corporations than any other sect. In light of this fact critics think that this gives interest groups an advantage to connect with the government on a level that ordinary people do not have. The truth is that there are so many interest groups out there that you can definitely find one if you choose too.
The biggest question with finding an interest group or being associated with one is, how much of what you fight for will impact the politicians and policy makers. Why should politicians listen to interest groups in the first place? One of the reasons is that interest groups are very active in political campaigns. This is what can be associated with Political Action Committees (PACs) which interest groups elect to vote for a candidate that shares the same position they do or issues or they could be opposed to a candidate that does not. Since the Campaign Finance Reform in the 1970s, laws were passed to prevent individual contributions to campaigns. So PACs have changed the way American elections are done. For instance if someone wants to support a candidate that is opposed to gun control, then they can make a contribution to a PAC who deals with that like the National Rifle Association does. This allows them to make contributions to those campaigns directly.
Subsequently because of PACs interest groups are important pieces in the electoral political process. Interest groups have always given politicians money, and have done favors with the occasional bribe. But due to the reform of making campaign contributions, PACs have been able to unleash new cash. Interest groups have a rating system on members in Congress and these ratings are sent out to members of the interest groups and other parties to influence their votes in elections. Nearly any organization can form PACs and half of the PACs that are formed are supported by corporations, and a tenth of them by labor unions and the rest of them fall under a variety of groups. Interestingly most of the biggest PACs are not run by corporations. (Wilson 2009) Although there is no real evidence that PACs influence members of Congress votes, but rest assure they have some type of affect. Not many Americans can fly government officials to meetings on their own planes, like most corporations do normally.
In today’s time interest groups use a lot of disruptive tactics in their outside strategy that brings a lot of attention to matters such as Occupy Wall Street. Methods like marches for protest, sit-ins, picketing, and violence have been a part of American politics for years. From African American groups to Religious groups all want their voices to be heard and understood by politicians and the policymakers of America. But really it boils down to how much the interest groups are willing to be heard. With media and others things we have today I believe that interest groups had and still possess the power to change and influence policies as long as their around. It is our right as Americans to form these groups and have an opinion of where this country is headed. As long as we have rights as Americans that’s how long we will continue to use them and impact government officials to do something about what we fight for.

References
American Government (n.d.) How do citizens connect with their government? 5c. Interest Groups, Retrieved March 3, 2013 from website: http://www.ushistory.org/gov/5c.asp
CliffsNotes.com (n.d.) Tactics of Interest Groups. Retrieved March 3, 2013 from website http://www.cliffsnotes.com/study_guide/topicArticleId-65383,articleId-65533.html. Fetini, A. (2008) The Keating Five: Time Business & Money. Retrieved March 3, 2013 from website http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1848150,00.html#ixzz2MU4E2X7x
Interest Group History (n.d.) Common Developments. Retrieved March 3, 2013 from website http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA98/pollklas/thesis/history.html
Interest Groups (n.d.) Interest Group Function. Retrieved March 3, 2013 from website http://www.garyrutledge.com/AmFedGov/SubjectNarratives/interestgroups.htm
Miroff B., Seidelman R., Swanstrom T. (n.d.) Interest Groups: Elite Bias, Retrieved March 3, 2013 from website http://college.cengage.com/polisci/miroff/dem_debate/2e/students/chapters/chap09/overview.html Wilson, J. Q. (2009). American government: brief version. (9th ed.: 2011 custom edition). Boston: Cengage.

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