Pressure groups in the US

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Pressure groups: Key questions
What is the theoretical basis of pressure groups activity?
What types of pressure groups exist in the USA?
What are their traditional functions?
Why do people join pressure groups?
What methods do pressure groups use?
What impact do they have?
How effectively are pressure groups regulated?
What are their merits and demerits?
Which factors lead to pressure group success?
Key terms/concepts
Theory which suggests political power in a society does not rest simply with the
electorate or with the governing elite but is distributed amongst a number of
groups representing widely different interests within society.
Theory which suggests that political power in a society rests with a small group
who gain power through wealth, family status or intellectual superiority.
Pressure group:
An organised interest group in which members hold similar beliefs and actively
pursue ways to influence government. Unlike political parties, which seek to win
control of government, pressure groups are principally interested in influencing
those who determine policy.
Political action committees (PACs):
Pressure groups that collect money from their members and then give it to
political candidates and political parties that support their interests.
An attempt to exert influence on the policymaking, legislative or judicial process
by individuals or organised groups.

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Revolvingdoor syndrome:
The practice by which former members of Congress (or the executive branch)
take up wellpaid jobs with Washingtonbased lobbying firms and then use their
expertise and contacts to lobby the institution of which they were once a
Iron triangle:
Term used to describe a strong relationship between pressure groups, the
relevant congressional committees and the relevant government department or
agency in an attempt to guarantee the policy outcomes to the benefit of all three.…read more

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Further reading/research `Influence and lobbying' button on homepage `What we do' button.
Batchelor, A., `US pressure groups: a blight on democracy?' Politics Review, Vol.
19, No. 2, November 2009.
Dumbrell, J., `Pressure groups and the US Congress', Politics Review, Vol. 17,
No.4, April 2008.
Hefferman, R., `Pressure groups: do promotional groups strengthen democracy?'
Politics Review, Vol.22, No. 1, September 2012.…read more

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Unlike parties, don't seek political office.
Vary considerably in size, wealth, influence.
Operate at all levels of government (federal, state, local.
Institutional pressure groups:
Seek to represent other organisations and groups
eg. trade groups: US Chamber of Commerce (represents thousands of
different businesses across the nation), labour unions (most of which
represent a particular trade .
Membership pressure groups:
Seek to represent individuals Americans rather than organisations and groups.
eg.…read more

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US citizens can have their views represented and their grievances articulated.
One's senator or representative will be trying to serve a great variety of
constituents, their party and the administration.
Link between the public and politicians.
Channel of easy access for citizens to voice their opinions.
Views of all different kinds of people represented in all three branches of
government at federal. state and government level.
Citizen participation:
Increased opportunity for participation
Can influence decision making between elections.…read more

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Berry and Wilcox (2007) suggested three classes of material benefit which
explain joining
Material benefits
"The tangible rewards that individuals or companies get in return for their
Believe something worthwhile will come out of membership
"If I join this pressure group, what will I get in return?"
"If I donate this money, what will society get in return?"
Might come in form of information: magazine/newsletter (eg. Sierra, American
Rifleman). Will also use the internet.
Service benefits eg.…read more

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Electioneering and endorsement
Since campaign finance reforms in the 1970s, considerable changes have taken
place in the role of pressure groups and political fundraising.
Limited amount that any pressure group could give to a candidate in a
federal election.…read more

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Allows them to be on hand to lobby members of federal, state and local
Overwhelming presence of lobbyists, referred to as `Kstreet corridor".
Some of the most notable lobbying firms are built around former presidential
aides and cabinet officers whose visibility and experience helps to attract clients.
Pressure groups also provide legislators with voting cues.
Liberal Democrats to groups such as Americans for Democratic Action
(ADA) to provide reassurance they are taking the right stand on a
particular issue.…read more


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