American Government – Interest Groups – short ess

These are meant to be 4 short essays. I do not need a cover page, or references. Only do the essays. I have numbered each one. It’s important to make sure you cover each question to each essay
1. What roles do interest groups play in the American political system?
2. Discuss the various strategies that interest groups may use to influence government policy.
3. What are Political Action Committees (PACs)? What role do they serve in the political system?
4. What criticisms have been leveled at PACs? What reform efforts have been made to curtail PACs?
The text book I’m working with is The Challenge of Democracy. Below is the internet link. https://books.google.com/books?id=_WlzlY9dv74C&pg=PA18&lpg=PA18&dq=What+has+been+the+government’s+oldest+objective?&source=bl&ots=nxtEJi0kQO&sig=3jgygNrqBdMEuI1BLa9K3dbVGGA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CBwQ6AEwAGoVChMIs4–566ryAIVARseCh0f1gyh#v=onepage&q=What%20has%20been%20the%20government’s%20oldest%20objective%3F&f=false

Interest Groups

Most national interest groups have their headquarters in the Washington, D.C., area. The area is also home to the federal government, Capitol Hill, trade associations, polling firms, and the largest press corp in the world. Most of the jobs in the area are political in some nature—directly or indirectly. It is not surprising, therefore, that after making Washington, D.C., my home, I worked for numerous interest groups, including food and health policy groups, tax and telecommunications groups, and my present position for a women’s health group.

Lobby groups rely on developing their membership base, developing a relationship with congressional members and their staff, and working in coalitions (other lobby groups with the same interest). We are constantly presenting our views in the form of letters, e-mails, and phone calls to encourage members to vote a certain way on legislation that affects our interests. Working with other lobby groups in coalitions enables us to show politicians the number of people in all these organizations that would or wouldn’t support a certain vote. We also send press releases to the media to get public attention on our issues.

Objectives:

  • Outline the positive and negative roles played by interest groups in American politics.
  • Explain how interest groups form.
  • Describe the major resources interest groups use in their efforts to influence policy.
  • List the tactics used by interest groups to win the support of policymakers.
  • Account for the recent increase in the number of interest groups.
  • Discuss the difficulties involved in trying to reform the role of interest groups in American politics.

Themes and Highlights:

An interest group can be defined as an organized body of individuals who share some political goals and try to influence public policy.

Do interest groups contribute to the proper functioning of democracy, or are they a threat to it? James Madison warned of the dangers of “factions.” He noted that the causes of factions were “sown in the nature of man.” He believed it was a mistake to try to eliminate factions, because that would restrict liberty. Rather, relief from factions should come from controlling their effects.

Interest groups play many roles in the American political system.

  • representation: Interest groups represent their constituents before government.
  • participation: They facilitate people’s participation in politics.
  • education: Efforts are made by interest groups help to educate their members, the public at large, and government officials.
  • agenda building: New issues are brought onto the political agenda through interest group advocacy.
  • program monitoring: Lobbying organizations keep track of how programs are working in the field and try to persuade government to take action when problems become evident.

One of the most valuable resources an interest group can have is a large and politically active membership. Business, professional, and trade associations have an easier time holding onto members than citizen groups do. A citizen group must rely largely on ideological appeals. Many try to attract new members through direct mail.

Political Action Committees (PACs) pool contributions from group members and donate those funds to candidates for office. Two types of PACs have shown the greatest growth in numbers:

  • Corporate PACs
  • Nonconnected PACs (ideological PACs formed solely for channeling funds)

Lobbyists can be either full-time employees of the organization or hired from law firms or public relations firms. What the lobbyist is trying to do is to convince the policymaker that the lobbyist’s data are accurate and deserve more attention than those presented by opposing lobbyists. What kind of lobbying tactics are often used by interest groups?

  • In direct lobbying, a group’s representatives have direct contact with a policymaker. Lobbyists make personal presentations to officials. Testifying before committees is another direct tactic. Organizations may go to court and litigate.
  • In grassroots lobbying, an interest group’s rank-and-file members, and possibly people outside the organization, try to influence government on some issue. One way of doing this is by letter writing. Political protests are sometimes held, but it is hard for a group to rely on such action because it is difficult to sustain the anger and energy of large numbers of participants.
  • Information campaignsare organized efforts to gain public backing by bringing the group’s views to the public’s attention. Public relations may involve advertising in newspapers (which is very expensive), sending speakers to meetings, disseminating pamphlets and fact sheets, and making telephone calls. Sponsoring research is another way interest groups press their cases. Some groups publicize the voting records of Congress. Some publish indexes of how members of Congress voted on issues of critical importance to the group.
  • Many groups are now using high-tech lobbying, which includes using resources such as e‑mail, faxes, polling, and the Internet. Using electronic communication can considerably speed up the political process.
  • Coalition buildingtakes place when several groups join together in a lobbying campaign.

It is difficult to put limits on interest groups without limiting fundamental freedoms. PAC contributions are particularly problematic.

The role of PACs in financing elections has become the most controversial aspect of interest group politics. For most PACs, the primary goal of their contributions is to gain access to incumbents. Agreement is widespread that PAC donations do give donors better access to members of Congress. Critics charge that the money contributed leads to influence, and that in a democracy influence should not be tied to money. Defenders argue that PACs are a way people can participate in politics by pooling contributions. However, the greatest portion of PAC contributions comes from corporate PACs, thus some interests, notably those of business, are much better represented than others. Opportunities for access may often depend on money.

Congress has required disclosure of all campaign contributions so the sources can be identified. In 1995, Congress passed a law requiring lobbyists to register and to file semi-annual reports disclosing their clients, the amount of money they spent on lobbying activities, and the amount of money they were paid.

The controversy over PACs reflects the tension between the principles of freedom and equality. Critics charge that PACs reinforce, if not expand, the inequities between rich and poor. But PAC supporters counter that people should have the right to join with others who think as they do and support the candidates of their choice.

Exploring:

Visit the web sites of several interest groups. Which interest group role (representation, participation, education, agenda building, or program monitoring) is the site helping the group perform? Is the group a trade group, a public interest group, a professional group, or a PAC? Is the group using the site primarily as a means of organizational maintenance or as a means of attracting and recruiting new members?

For an index of PACs and public interest groups, check Yahoo Interst Groups. Some lobbying firms describe the services they offer. For a list, try Government Lobbying Groups on Yahoo.

Try the Internet Exercises on p. 332 of your textbook.

  1. Prior to and during 1994, Democrats received a relatively larger percent of the contributions from these three sectors. This pattern shifted after 1994, with Republicans receiving a relatively larger proportion. The Republican takeover of the Congress is the likely explanation for this pattern. After 1994, interest groups wanted to improve their access to Republican legislators in the House and Senate, so they shifted their support to the party in power.

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