Chapter 5: Interest Groups
by Carl D. Cavalli and Barry D. Friedman
The framers’ hostility to “factions” was addressed not by restrictions, but by encouraging proliferation, creating what today is referred to as a pluralist system. While groups offer potential members many social and economic reasons for joining, obtaining active support is often difficult because of the “free-rider” problem. Modern literature challenges the popular myth of benevolent groups alleviating inequities in society. Instead, Roberto Michels speaks of an “iron law of oligarchy” and E.E. Schattschneider warns of a strong upper-class bias. Data on federal spending by lobbyists support this theory about bias. Groups use many methods to influence public policy. These methods include lobbying, direct access through “iron triangles,” litigation, direct grants of power from governments, “going public,” and electoral activity. Government regulation of groups’ electoral activity has resulted in the formation of many types of organizations including political action committees, “527” organizations, and, most recently, “SuperPACs.”
Chapter 5: Interest Groups
Figure 5.1: The Iron Triangle
Watch the following video to learn more about interest groups.
The following video examines a specific American interest group, the NRA (National Rifle Association).
See what a former lobbyist has to say about what it means to be a lobbyist.
The following video examines the reaction of lobbying groups to elections.
Test Your Knowledge
An individual who does not to join a group representing his or her interests yet receives the benefit of the group’s influence.
A collection of people who share a common interest or attitude and seek to influence government for specific ends. Interest groups usually work within the framework of government and try to achieve their goals through tactics such as lobbying.
Iron law of oligarchy
Theory by French sociologist Roberto Michels asserts that in any organization, a clique of some sort will inevitably rise to the top and assume control.
A policy-making alliance among a congressional committee, an interest group, and a Federal Department or agency.
Activities aimed at influencing public officials, especially legislators.
A person who is employed by and acts for an organized interest group or corporation to try to influence policy decisions.
Nongovernmental organization (NGO)
A nonprofit association or group operating outside of government that advocates policy objectives.
A theory of government that holds that competing groups can check the asserted power by other groups.
Political action committee (PAC)
The political arm of an interest group that is legally entitled to raise funds and contribute funds to candidates or political parties.
Examine The Revolving Door for Yourself!
Examine the data on the “revolving door” by going to the OpenSecrets.org website. Under the “Influence & Lobbying” menu, click on “Revolving Door.” On the left-hand menu, click on “Lobbying Firms” and select one of the firms. You will see a list of its lobbyists. Examine the lobbyists’ employment timeline and history. In addition, there are tabs for information on the industries they represent and their expertise. Examine several current lobbyists’ profiles.
What do you see? Did they spend time in government service before their current employment as a lobbyist? If so, explore their time in government. Does it appear related to their expertise and/or their clients? Can you make the case that their past government work constitutes a current asset to their lobbying work!
Visit OpenSecrets.org page to learn more about The Revolving Door.
For Further Reading
Please see Chapter 5 References on pages 131-134 of the textbook for primary sources and readings.
The Road to Riches Is Called K Street by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum.