Pressue Groups


categories of pressure groups

-PGs in US distinct from pol parties. PGs seek to influence those in gov power. In US they operate at all levels of gov - fed, state & local. 

  • business: American Business Conference, National Automobile Dealers Assocation 
  • agriculture: American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union
  • unions: American Federation of Labor, Congress of Industrial Organizations
  • professional: American Medical Association, American Bar Association
  • single issue: Mothers Against Drunk Driving, National Rifle Association 
  • ideological: American Conservation Union, People for the American Way 
  • group rights: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Organisation for Women
  • public interest: Common Cause, Friends of the Earth 
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functions of pressure groups

5 basic functions:

1-representation: they rep interests of various groups in society 

2-citizen participation: they increased the opportunities for ordinary citizens to participate in the decion-making process between elections 

3-public education: attmept to educate public opinion, warning them of dangers if issues are not addressed (environment & gun control)

4-agenda building: they attempt to influence the agendas of pol parties, legislators and bureaucracies to give prominence & priority to their interests

5-programme monitoring: scrutinise  & hold gov to account in the implementation of policies, to try and ensure that promises are fulfilled, policies delivered and regulations are enforced

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how pressure groups operate

  • electioneering and endorsement: campaign finance reforms meant significant changes have taken place in electioneering & fundraising roles of PG's. 1970's reform encouraged PACs to raise & give campaign funds to candidates for pol office. incumbents attract more PAC money than challengers & PG's endorse or oppose these candidates for pol office based on the candidates alignment to their views 
  • lobbying: to facilitate lobbying, groups have offices in W. DC, state captials and major US cities. W. DC lobbyist firms known as 'K Street Corridor'. Lobbyists provide policy makers w/ info & for members of the Cong they provide a voting cue. Many lobbyists recruit former policy workers leading to 'revolving door syndrome'
  • publicity: lobbying firms launch public relations campaigns to influence the policy-making process. Bush & Obama have felt the effect of lobbying firms launching publicity cases against their biggest policies, for example health care reforms & social secuirty reforms 
  • organising grassroots activities: postal blitzes on members of Cong, the White House or a gov department, marches and demonstrations. most peaceful but some violent 
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pol significance of pressure groups

reasons why pressure groups are so important in American Politics:

1-the USA is a diverse & heterogeneous society: US decribed as a 'melting pot' conveying the picture of all types of diversity. idea of 'hyphenated society', different prefixes before the title American. eg. Cuban-American, Irish-American

2-American pol system has many access points: there is a 'doctrine' of shared powers- shared between the 3 branches of fed gov, as well as fed gov & state gov. not just the 2 chambers that decisions are made, but multiple committee rooms 

3-the weakness of pol parties means that citizens turn to PGs: weak, undisciplined pol parties are nnot seen as the only groups which organise pol activity. likely that 1 party control excec and 1 control the legisilature branch of fed gov. Clinton enjoyed party control of Cong for 2 of 8 years in office. Bush 4.5 out of 8

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influence on fed gov

  • PGs attempt to influence Cong, the exec branch & the courts. 
  • American gov has more 'access points' that in the UK
  • Gov thought to be more 'open'
  • This enhances the potential for influence by PGs
  • In a system where pol parties are weaker that they are in the UK, this increases opportunities for PGs to have greater degress of influence 
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influence on the legislature

they seek influence on House & Senate members by the way in which they vote:

  • direct contact w/ House & Senate members & their senior staff 
  • direct contact w/ the relevant House & Senate committee members & their staff 
  • organisiing constituents to write to, phone, fax & email, or visit House & Senate members to express their support/opposition to a certain policy initiative 
  • publicising the voting records of the House & Senate
  • endorsement of supportive members and opposition to non-supportive members in forthcoming re-election campaigns 
  • fundraising & campaigning for/against members of Cong
  • the PG EMILY's list supports female cong candidates, helping them raise money early in the election cycle 

PGs can also launch high profile campaigns in the media when a sig piece of legislation is about to surface for debate & vote in cong. This includes healthcare reform, welfare reform, gun control & international environmental agreements 

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influence on the executive

  • PGs seek to maintain strong ties w/relevant executive departmentsm agencies & regulatory commissions
  • this is important when it comes to regulatory work for the fed gov, regulations perhaps regarding H&S, business, transport & communications industries
  • problems are prone when regulatory bodies are thought to have a 'too cosy' relationship w/ a particular group they are meant to be regulating. idea of 'watch dogs' or 'lap dogs'
  • Nigel Ashford identified a close link: - that between 'producer groups' such as companies, labor unions or small business federations, and relevant gov departments & agencies seeking protection, funding subsidies or price guarantee mechanisms
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influence on the judiciary

  • PGs can hope to influence the courts by offering 'amicus curiae' (friend of the court) briefings
  • through these, PGs have an opportunity to present their views to the court in writing before oral arguments are heard 
  • PGs have used this to great effect recently in areas such as civil rights, abortion rights and 1st Amendment rights 
  • the NAACP was the force behind Brown V. Topeka 1954, as well as the subsequent passage of civil rights legislation 
  • NAACP would use its money & prof expertise to bring cases to court that the people who could not afford it otherwise 
  • these would be cases the NAACP thought it could win 
  • pro-choice & pro-life lobbies have been active in American pol for 4 decades. 1973 Roe V. Wade
  • last 20 yrs, PGs have been active in supporting or opposing the nomination of judeges to the SC 
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arguments for PGs

  • act as info givers- to members of Cong, gov departments, the courts and the elecorate
  • policy formulators 
  • a 'sounding board' for members of Cong & gov between departments 
  • enhancers of pol participation, between elections specifically
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arguments against PGs

  • money becomes the all deciding factor - you have to 'pay to play'
  • late senator Edward Kennedy commented America has the 'finest congress money can buy'
  • they work too much for 'special' interests and against 'national' interest
  • tend to be elitist and unaccountable & their power detracts from elected/accountable cong members
  • lead to inequalities of power
  • 'revolving door syndrome' allows former members of cong to enter highly paid jobs for lobbyist firms 
  • use methods of 'Direct Action' that can be seen as inappropriate
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