Interest Groups in the PoliticalProcess What is an Interest Group? An interest group (pressure group, special interest group, or lobby) is an organization of like-minded persons designed to influence government. Political Parties and Interest Groups Political parties and interest groups each attempt to influence governmental policy decisions but differ in their methods. Political Parties The main goal of political parties is to increase the numbers of its members who are elected or appointed to public offices in order to gain control of government to achieve party goals.
Interest Groups in the PoliticalProcess Political Parties and Interest Groups Interest Groups The main goal of interest groups is to influence government officials to decide policy to their advantage. They work on behalf of members sharing common views and objectives (trade associations, labor unions, etc.) Functional Representation Interest groups provide representation for people with similar interests but who do not constitute a majority in any one area.
Interest Groups in the PoliticalProcess Reasons for Interest Groups Right of association is protected by the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution Legal and Cultural Reasons In NAACP v. Alabama (1958), the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the right of association as part of the right of assembly granted by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Protects the right of people to organize into groups for political purposes Furthermore, the nation’s political culture has traditionally encouraged individuals to organize themselves into associations.
Interest Groups in the PoliticalProcess Reasons for Interest Groups Decentralized Government Decentralization of government enhances the ability of interest groups to influence the activities of governments at every level. Divided power makes public officials more susceptible to the influence of interest groups Dispersal of power within branches or departments of government enhances an interest group’s chance of success. Strength of the Party System and Political Ideology Party organizations are not cohesive, which further enhances interest group success. However, a united and cohesive party with a concrete agenda and political strength can resist pressure from well-organized interest groups Since ideological objectives are not a high priority in most interest groups, policymakers can afford to pay closer attention to their demands. The growth of the religious right, on the other hand, may increase ideological voting. This influence is especially true for Republicans.
Organization of Interest Groups Interest groups provide members with information. Any group becomes an interest group when it tries to influence government. Some interest groups have centralized organizations, where decision making is concentrated in one office. Example: The NRA Other groups are decentralized, so that every level has authority to make decisions independently. Examples: labor unions (ALF-CIO)
Organization of Interest Groups Membership and Leadership Interest group members are most likely persons of high socioeconomic status. Labor groups are the notable exception to that tendency. One study found that more than two-thirds of all Americans belong to at least one group or association. Most interest group members are passive. Hence, decisions tend to be made by a minority of the interest group membership, people who have worked their way to positions of authority by having time and money to devote to the group.
Types of Interest Groups Interest groups may be classified by function, by organizational structure, by the level of government that they attempt to influence, or by the particular branch of government that they try to influence. Economic Groups Many groups are organized to promote the economic self-interests of their members. Business Groups Business groups were among the first organized because they were most aware of the impact of government policies upon their interests. At the state level, business organizations most often take the form of trade associations (groups that act on behalf of an industry). Goals typically include lower taxes, a lessening or elimination of price and quality controls by government, and minimal concessions to labor unions.
Types of Interest Groups Economic Groups Labor Groups Labor groups are very active but not as cohesive as other groups because of the diversity and limited number of their membership. Goals typically include government intervention to increase wages, obtain adequate health insurance coverage, provide unemployment insurance, and promote safe working conditions. Professional Groups Professional groups are typically concerned with state standards for admission to their profession and the licensing of practitioners. Government Employee Groups Employees and officeholders of state and local government have organized to resist employee cutbacks and other issues that might affect them. Goals typically include better working conditions, higher wages, more fringe benefits, and better retirement
Types of Interest Groups Social Groups Racial and Ethnic Groups Ethnic group organizations have lacked stability but have recently achieved gains. Because Texas now has no ethnic majority, this class of interest groups can be expected to become more aggressive. Goals typically include eliminating racial discrimination in employment, improving public schools, increasing educational opportunities, and obtaining greater representation in state legislatures, city councils, school boards, and other policymaking bodies of government. Women’s Groups Women’s groups typically focus on promoting equal rights and greater participation by women in the political arena.
Types of Interest Groups Social Groups Religious-based Groups These groups, particularly those that are Christian-based, typically focus on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, limits on prayer in public schools, and the decline of the traditional nuclear family. Others have been created in opposition to Christian-based groups. Public Interest Groups Many interest groups claim to represent the broad public interest rather than the narrow private interests. Their objectives are of interest to more than just one segment of society and they pursue a diverse set of goals.
Types of Interest Groups Texas Power Groups The most powerful interest groups in Texas include business- oriented trade associations, professional associations, and labor groups. Example: The Texas Medical Association These groups maintain strong linkages with legislators (whose policy decisions affect group interests) and with bureaucrats (whose regulatory authority controls activities of group members). They often are repeat players in Texas politics, meaning they have been influencing politics in consecutive legislative sessions over a long period of time. They also typically have their headquarters in Austin.
Interest Group Activities Interest group activities often overlap those of political parties and include recruiting officers of government, making governmental decisions, shaping consensus and conflict, and building support for a political system. Having the support or opposition of certain interest groups may determine the success or failure to policy decisions. Categories of interest group techniques: lobbying personal communication favors and gifts grassroots activities electioneering campaign financing by political action committees bribery and other unethical practices.
Interest Group Activities Lobbying Lobbying is directed at a government decision maker and is communication by an agent on behalf of an interest group. Many former legislative members become lobbyists immediately after leaving office. State regulation of lobbyists is the responsibility of the Texas Ethics Commission. Lobbyists concentrate on gaining access to key legislators and on providing them with information, which they otherwise do not have time to obtain. Lobbying takes place in all three branches of government.
Interest Group Activities Personal Communication The goal of lobbyists is to inform the legislators of their group’s position on an issue. Because professional lobbyists are often experts in their field (and in some cases are former state officials), their tools of influence are the information and research they convey to state legislators. Favors and Gifts Common favors include arranging daily or weekly luncheon and dinner gatherings; providing free liquor, wine, or beer; furnishing tickets for entertainment events, air transportation, and athletic contests; and giving miscellaneous gifts. However, there are limits on the value of “travel gifts” for public officials and candidates-soon-to-be elected.
Interest Group Activities Grassroots Activities Interest groups attempt to create an image of broad public support for a group’s goals—mobilizing support when it is needed. These can include direct mailings, television and newspaper advertisements, rallies and demonstrations, and local group action. Electioneering Providing information on persons running for office and participating in the nomination and election process are methods of electioneering. This involvement is an attempt to secure political victories for candidates favorable to their interests or to oppose those who are not.
Interest Group Activities Campaign Financing by Political Action Committees (PACs) Contributions from interest groups constitute a significant form of political participation. Political action committees have become a very important source of funds. Texas law requires disclosure of gifts but does not set limits on amounts. Bribery (and other Unethical Practices) Accusations of bribery, blackmail, and related practices have rocked the state and have contributed to a push for ethics legislation, which has had limited success.
Power and Regulation in InterestGroup Politics Regulation of Interest Group Politics The 72nd Legislature created the Texas Ethics Commission. Interest groups and political candidates are required to file financial statements with this agency. The TX Ethics Commission enforces state standards for lobbyists and public officials The 1991 law creating the commission also tightened lobbying and campaign laws. There is no evidence that the commission has had any effect on reducing PAC activities or campaign spending. In response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2009), the Texas Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion stating that corporations are allowed to make all types of direct campaign expenditures so long as there is no coordination with, or it is otherwise independent of, a campaign.
Interest Group Power and PublicPolicy The influence of interest groups varies. Factors such as number of members, financial resources, leadership, and cohesiveness affect the power of interest groups. Texas is considered a state with strong interest group power and weak political parties Pinpointing Political Power Political power and political influence depend on the issue. However, the unorganized are always at a political disadvantage. Assessing the political power and influence that interest groups have in American government is difficult, and determining the extent of their power in Texas is especially complex. There is no simple top-down or bottom-up arrangement. It is safe to say that organized interest groups in Texas typically put unorganized citizens at a great disadvantage when public issues are at stake