What is Direct Lobbying? Where does it take place? Can lobbyists work in the offices of congress? What is grassroots lobbying? Where does it take place? What are the techniques used in grassroots lobbying?

Read this lecture on interest groups using the text  and  video links.                                                                                                                   INTEREST GROUPS AND THE CHALLENGE OF DEMOCRACY

Publicity about the illegal lobbying efforts by Jack Abramoff has tarnished the role of interest groups in U.S. politics. Although lobbying efforts will come under more intense scrutiny for the short run, once the scandal calms down, it will be back to “business as usual.”

The founders anticipated that factions or interest groups would play an important part in politics. James Madison’s writings show that they believed factions would thrive in an atmosphere of freedom: “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire.” The only way to eliminate factions or interest-group politics was to curtail freedom. The founders were certainly not prepared to abandon the very value for which they had fought the Revolutionary War. So they proposed using factions to combat factions, with the government serving as the mediator.

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More recently, pluralist political scientists have resurrected these Madisonian hopes. They have made it clear that American politics is not majoritarian but has interest groups at its center. They also expect interests to counterbalance one another and for the system to provide open access. However, as this chapter indicates, some interests, notably those of business, are much better represented than others. Opportunities for access may often depend on money. The fact that there are no “poor PACs” and no “food stamp PACs” suggests that the interests of the poor may not be adequately represented. Insofar as political equality means “one person, one vote,” Americans are pretty much equal, but if political equality means more than that, then it follows that where contemporary interest group politics are concerned, social inequality leads to political inequality.

So why not limit the activities of interest groups to promote open access and make pluralism function as Madison expected it would? The answer is that limiting interest groups also means limiting the right of the people to petition their government — a fundamental freedom guaranteed under the Constitution.

Chapter 10: Interest Groups 93

Interest Groups and the American Political Tradition

Interest groups, or lobbies—organized bodies of individuals who share some political goals and try to influence policy decisions—have always been a part of American politics. The Constitution itself was designed to preserve freedom by relying on what we now call pluralist politics, or, in Madisonian terms, the use of factions to counteract other factions. But giving people the freedom to organize does not necessarily promote political equality. Thus, the value people place on equality may determine whether they believe that interest groups are bad or good. Interest groups perform a variety of important functions in the American system: they represent their members to the government; they provide channels for citizen participation; they educate their members, government officials, and the public at large; they build the public agenda by putting issues before the government; and they monitor programs important to their members.

How Interest Groups Form

Modern pluralists believe that interest groups further democracy. They believe interest groups form naturally by a process similar to the “invisible hand” in economics. When unorganized people are adversely affected by change, they organize themselves into groups to protect their interests. Yet empirical evidence suggests that this doesn’t always happen—more than a simple disturbance is required. Strong leadership—provided by interest-group entrepreneurs—may be critically important; in addition, social class is also a factor in interest-group formation. Although the poor and less educated do form groups to advance their interests, middle- and upper-class individuals are much more likely to see the value of interest groups and to organize.

Interest Group Resources

An interest group’s strength and effectiveness usually depends on its resources. These resources include members, lobbyists, and money. Interest groups work hard to build their memberships and to combat the “free rider” problem. They also keep their members well informed of group activities. Lobbyists, preferably Washington insiders with previous government experience, present the group’s views to legislators and officials of the executive branch. Currently, an important resource used by interest groups is the political action committee (PAC). This type of organization enables a group to more easily make political campaign contributions in the hope of obtaining better access to officials. PACs may make influence a function of money (thereby reducing political equality), but limiting PACs would amount to a restriction on freedom of expression. Furthermore, PACs also allow small givers to pool their resources to obtain more clout.

Lobbying Tactics

Interest groups may seek help from the legislature, the courts, or the administration. Lobbyists carry out their task in several ways. They may use direct lobbying aimed at policymakers themselves—through legal advocacy, personal presentations, or committee testimony. Alternatively, they may rely on grassroots lobbying by enlisting group members to pressure elected officials through letters or political protests. Lobbyists may also use information campaigns, bringing their views to the attention of the general public through public relations methods. These campaigns may involve publicizing the voting records of legislators or sponsoring research. Lobbyists may exploit a variety of technical innovations, especially the Internet, to organize and communicate with potential supporters. Finally, lobbyists may lobby for each other through coalition building.

Is the System Biased?

Are the decisions made in a pluralist system fair? Perhaps, if all significant interests are represented by lobbying groups and the government listens to the views of all major interests as it makes policy. Yet research shows that interest groups have a membership bias. Some parts of society are better organized than others—namely, the well-educated, the wealthy, and professionals.

In addition to groups motivated by the self-interest of their members, there are also citizen groups or public interest groups motivated for reasons other than economic self-interest; these groups seek to achieve a common good that benefits all citizens. Although only a few of these liberal self-interest groups formed during the early twentieth century, more recently we have seen a distinct rise in their numbers. Organizations pursuing environmental protection, consumer protection, good government, family values, and equality for various groups are all increasing in number and they receive significant coverage in the national press on their issues. Nevertheless, business groups enjoy a substantial advantage in Washington, D.C., especially on broad issues that unite a number of different industries.

Although the First Amendment guarantees the right to organize, interest groups may confer unacceptable advantages on some segments of the community. Thus, some efforts have been made to limit their impact, through federal regulation of lobbying, disclosure laws, gift bans,

Essential Facts for the tests

The definition to learn about interest groups=they are political organizations the come from society that promote a special interest which they further through engaging in politics.

Learn their functions in government and in society= 1. provide a vehicle for participation 2. provide representation in politics, 3. educate congress and the executive department 4. monitor existing programs.

  1. Some basic facts and rights need to be reviewed. The Pluralists state that the main vehicle for getting policy changes is to organize, spend money to finance groups and politicians , develop membership loyalty, retain lobbyists to petition congress and the agencies of government. They insist that this is way to influence congress and the agencies of the national government. Remember, the right to protest and associate with others to get things done is a fundamental right.
  2. We have a diverse society filled with all kinds of people, values, political ideologies, and groups and special interests. We have over 20,000 interest groups and over 13,000 registered lobbyists. some are wealthy and conservative others are liberal. Every sector of our economy has interest groups, including teachers, skilled laborers, professional workers, governments, trade groups, think tanks, manufacturers, consumers, and corporate lobbyists. We can’t outlaw these groups as long as they legally participate. In the last lecture we stated that these groups can give legal contributions.
  3. There are many ways to influence politicians. Some have their own ideologies and values, some are influenced by their constituencies, some are influenced by their party and yes some are influenced by contributions. This is a complex area to study because of the rights we have and because of the competitive nature of these interest groups battling for attention.
  4. There are many negative impacts , look at the Center for Responsive politics website to examine the power and influence of interest groups.Center for Responsive Politics

The negative impacts are the revolving door policy, the close relationship between congress and lobbyists, the increased costs of campaigning, and the increased dependence on PAC money. Let’s examine these factors. First, the revolving door policy means that members of congress when they leave office become lobbyists. They are the perfect candidates for this position because of their former connections in congress. They were on key committees , they met with lobbyists, and developed close friendships in their tenure in congress and in their relationships with regulatory agencies. Second, lobbyists have a close connection with congress. They work on congressional staffs, testify at hearings, and are in offices on a regular basis. This practice is not allowed in many countries. Third, congress persons are constantly fund raising almost 50% of the time. They need fund raisers who will help them set up fund raising events. Lobbyists for these reasons are interconnected with congress and make congress dependent on their legislative agenda. This is the main complaint that congress doesn’t work on Majoritarian concerns because lobbyists sets the agenda. This is the pluralistic side of politics.

  1. Interest Group Types-To simplify things we can divide interest groups into two major categories, economic and public interest groups. Economic interest groups are concerned about trade and manufacturing laws, labor issues, trade groups and professional groups to name a few .The membership of these groups are very dedicated members and stay in these groups for long periods of time. For instance, dentists join the American Dental Association and remain as loyal members. The association will work for them in congress to pass laws that directly benefit them. Their benefits are considered tangible, they see the benefits. Public Interest groups like environmental groups, poverty groups, the Children’s’ Defense Fund, and other groups that work for the general betterment of society, benefit others or the entire society. The perceived benefits to its members are intangible or not noticeable. There are many competing groups in this category so that members don’t stay in these groups very long. Also these members have a bevy of groups to choose from. An example of this would be a member of the Sierra Club who wants to preserve the environment. This altruistic goal is good but many members cancel their membership and join competing organizations. So public interest groups have a variable membership rate and a problem with free riders. Many members don’t see the accomplishments of these groups because they are not evident to members. The economic groups have more resources and a dedicated membership.
  2. What do lobbyists do? Lobbyists as mentioned have experience, connections in government, and expertise, They assist congress in writing bills, testifying before congress as experts, testify about regulations in regulatory hearings, fund raise, and advise clients about how to get benefits from government. This is known as Direct Lobbying when they design bills and attempt to encourage congress to pass favorable legislation. They also work with the public in congressional districts to persuade voters to pressure their congress person to vote for certain bills. This practice is known as grassroots lobbying which is conducting public information campaigns in key districts. They can advertise on behalf of a client, conduct a protest, organize a media event, produce a study to put the spotlight on a policy area.
  3. The main problem with lobbyists is that they can set the legislative agenda. Therefore congress becomes dependent on what they want and sometimes place less attention on matters that pertain to the public in general. They are not corrupt but they do ignore problems because of their focus on what the campaign contributors want.

view at least one of these you tube videos, they are very good in explaining what interest groups do.

Interest Groups


read the chapter, review the lecture and links to answer these questions

  1. Why are interest groups legal?
  2. What model of government fully supports interest groups? Why do they support this model?
  3. Do interest groups represent many diverse interests in society? Explain your answer?
  4. Why do professional workers like teachers become dedicated members of interest groups?
  5. Why do politicians want to become lobbyists? See the center of responsive government link.
  6. What does it mean when we say that congress develops a dependency on Lobbyists? Why does this happen?
  7. Watch one of the U-tube videos on interest groups and summarize the video on interest groups.
  8. What are interest group types? Why do economic interest groups have a steady membership?
  9. As a majoritarian can you be a pluralist at the same time?



Corporate lobbyists have lots of influence in politics. Madison stated that factions can be controlled through federalism and because elected officials come from many different constituencies in a very large and diverse country. Do you think that corporate lobbyists have too much influence in our political system? You need to state specific reasons to support your opinion.


  1. What is the textbook definition of an interest group and what model does it represent?
  2. What does a citizens interest group or public interest group do? Make a statement about their membership tendencies? Name 3 public interest groups?


3.What is Direct Lobbying? Where does it take place? Can lobbyists work in the offices of congress?


  1. What is grassroots lobbying? Where does it take place? What are the techniques used in grassroots lobbying?


  1. Look up your favorite interest group online. What is their mission and goals? How many members do they have? What specific changes in laws do they want to work for? Do they have a lobbyist? How much money do they have?

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