Pressure Groups

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3.3 PRESSURE GROUPS (also known as Interest Groups)
1. Key concepts:
a) pressure group ­ Sometimes called interest group. David Truman said an interest group is "an organised body of
individuals who share the same goals and who try to influence public policy". They do not offer candidates for
elections, (unlike parties).
b) private interest group ­ pursue narrow self­interest
c) public interest group ­ pursue the public interest i.e. cause group
d) lobbying (including professional lobbyists). See Q4 methods
2. Why are pressure groups so numerous and so powerful in the US?
a) Decentralisation Federalism means, many access points at state and local level.
b) High cost of elections means candidates depend on pressure groups for funding.
c) Initiatives enable groups to bypass politicians altogether.
d) Constitution guarantees free speech and free association ­ vital to pressure groups. Long US tradition of citizens
lobbying in groups.
e) Parties are loose and weak ­ led to a growth in importance of pressure groups
f) Open govt in US ensures easy access for pressure groups and a variety of methods available for pressure groups
to use
g) Diversity ­ many ethnic and cultural groups leads to pressure group formation
NB pressure group power (e.g., destruction of Clinton's health care reforms) should be balanced by examples of pressure
group impotence such as inability to outlaw death penalty, or weakness of American Association of Retired Persons (large
membership but little power). Note that often one pressure group's power is blocked by another, e.g., gun control lobby is
blocked by NRA.
3. What are the different types of pressure group is the US?
a) Private interest groups pursue narrow self interest i.e. sectional groups. Examples.
Business groups e.g., National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Was vigorous in opposing Clinton's
healthcare reforms. Private companies such as GM, Boeing and Microsoft have permanent offices in Washington to
lobby the gvnt ­ 45% of representations in Washington are corporations.
Trade Unions, e.g., American Federation of Labour ­ Congress Industrial Organisations (AFL ­ CIO). Only 16% of
workforce is in unions, very weak compared with UK concentrate on bread and butter issues such as pay and
conditions. Loosely attached to the Democrats.
Agricultural groups e.g., American Farm Bureau Federation ­ once very powerful.
Professional bodies e.g., ABA (Bar), AMA (American Medical Association). The AMAPAC is one of the biggest
spenders at election time.
Ideological groups (be careful some of these groups can also be easily classified as public interest groups, as they
pursue the public interest). Unlike the other groups who are concerned with economic self interest, these groups
attempt to protect the interests of a particular section of the population e.g. The National Association for the
Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) ­ sponsored Brown v Broad in 1954. The National Organisation Of
Women (NOW), active in abortion, Equal Rights Amendments (but "outsiders"). The Christian Coalition ­ anti
abortion and pornography, proschool prayer. Raises funds through its own TV channel, pioneered direct mail
b) Public interest groups pursue the public interest i.e. cause groups. As a person's commitment to a public cause is
not always as reliable as a commitment to selfinterest, these groups can suffer from fluctuating membership.
Common Cause promote consumer rights against inefficient or unfair govt. Used the courts to clean up the
financing of federal election campaigns.
Congress Watch ­ monitors the performance of Congress
Natural Right to Life Committee ­ antiabortion
Environmental groups such as National Wildlife Federation
National Rifle Association often referred to as a hybrid group because members are gun owners and gun
sellers/manufacturers (both public and private).
NB. Other typologies include insider (NRA) v outsider (NOW), harmony with cultural norms. (American Cancer Association) v
conflict (Radical Gay rights lobby ­ "outing" campaign).
In recent years many pressure groups have created Political Action Committees (PACs) to raise money from members and
donate those funds to finance election campaigns of selected politicians. There are thousands of PACs e.g. National
Conservative PAC, NRAPAC.
4. What methods do pressure groups use?
a) Lobbying the President and the Federal bureaucracy. (see Q.16)
b) Why have professional lobbyists become important/controversial?
`The revolving door' syndrome e.g. immediately after retiring in the 2004 elections, former Congressman Billy
Tauzin became president of Pharmaceutical and Research Manufactures of America for $2 million per year.
Former legislators, bureaucrats, presidential advisors and assistants use their contacts to gain the kind of
access to policy makers which ordinary citizens cannot. They can use this privileged position to act as the eyes
and ears of their organisation on policy decisions being made and to convert policymakers to their point of
view. It has been estimated that 23% of those leaving Congress become professional lobbyists, exploiting their
knowledge and contacts for financial reward.
W/Politics (PH)/Revision Sheets/3.3 Pressure Groups (Interest Groups)

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Professional lobbyists now very important (numbers are increasing as are the fees they can command).
Examples include: the success of the NRA's full time team, and the lobbyists who blocked Clinton's health
reforms by representing their business clients.
A useful source of information and expertise. For policymakers to be successful, the advice of an experienced
former policymaker and the resources of their organisation can be invaluable. Alternatively, lobbyists are often
used to testify, as experts, before congressional committees. Can concentrate power in specialised elite
group.…read more

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PACs are not a loophole in the
campaign finance system. After Watergate era (Fat Cats giving money to Nixon) individual donations limited, but
PACs were not limited in the total level of giving (just $5000 to any single campaign). This gets round the legal limits
on direct contributions to candidates. PACs can receive such finance provided no single donation is above $5000.
1975 Sun Oil Case. Federal Elections Commission ruled that corporate PACs were legal.
1976 Buckley v. Valeo.…read more

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Discuss campaign finance legislation (see above) which is designed to limit the impact of Pressure Groups on the
electoral process, most notably the Federal Elections Campaign Acts (FECA) of the 1970s and the Bipartisan
Campaigns Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002.
Discuss the loopholes pressure groups have found in the legislation and how they have been used.
8.…read more

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Power elitism C Wright Mills wrote "The Power Elite". He said a small group, the "possessors of power, wealth,
and celebrity", govern the nation in their interest and not in the interests of the majority of the American people.
Military ­ Industrial complex. Theodore Lowi says p.g. power is now so great the govt has given up its right to make
difficult decisions and merely responds to p.g. demands.…read more

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Cabinet, EXOP, civil servants, key economic groups + advisors
Core Congress, Congressional Committees, party sources, Supreme Court
party groupings outside Congress, States
cause groups, media, academics
general public
11. Is US a pluralist or elitist system?
See Q9. This can be argued both ways. Most commentators would argue the US is an example of a pluralist
system (with undertones of elitism!)
12.…read more

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Hearings. At congressional committee hearings the members of the committee put questions to witnesses, to
determine opinion on issues or legislative proposals. These hearings present ideal opportunities for pressure
groups to put their case to members of Congress many will act as witnesses, giving testimony about their area of
e) Lobbyists. A great deal of pressure is carried out by professional lobbyists. The number of registered lobbyists
increased from 3,420 in 1976 to over 34,000 today, or 50 lobbyists for every member of Congress.…read more

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Interest groups will adopt a range of strategies in support of nominees who share their political outlook, or
opposition to nominees who may rule against their interests (e.g., NAACP opposed Bork), including:
Compiling detailed dossiers on the judgements (and private lives) of the nominee.
Ensuring that their members know the group's views on the nominee and encouraging them to write to
their representatives in Congress.
Mounting demonstrations during the confirmation hearings.
Funding newspapers and TV advertisements explaining why the nominee should/should not be
confirmed.…read more

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Influencing the Federal bureaucracy
Indirect access may be available to groups with the ability to influence the Federal Bureaucracy. This is often the
preferred avenue of groups unable to access the President directly. Civil servants, whose longterm projects may
not have the support of the President can be willing to work with groups who support their priorities. Pressure
groups may try to get sympathetic officials appointed.
Building iron triangles (see point 10 above).…read more

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For those on the left, therefore, the concerns of the Founding Fathers were legitimate and they tend to be critical of the role
played by pressure groups in modern America (NB Founding Fathers concern was that `factions' (selfinterested groups)
might use access points to advance their interests at the expense of the general population).…read more


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