How do interest groups influence policy? Use examples to illustrate your answer. “Interest groups are no less a threat than they are an expression of freedom” (Berry, 1984). We start this essay with this famous quote from Berry introducing us to what exactly an interest group is. Indeed in general, public opinion and people unaware of an interest group’s actions might regard interest groups in a negative light. The more famous interest groups can tend to generate a lot of negative publicity.
For instance, in the US one of the most famous interest groups is the National Rifle Association, which defends the right to bear weapons. This, of course, has led to controversy especially given the recent high school shootings in places such as Virginia and Columbine; and in international news, the October 2007 high school shootings in Finland. Let us now consider David Truman’s definition of an interest group: “An interest group is any group that is based in one or more shared attitudes and makes certain claims upon other groups or organisation in the society. “
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In other words, an interest group is a like company defending its interests with very precise methods. Interest groups are present in all branches of society. They can concern lots of issues, or even just one. For example there are interest groups in areas such as agriculture, economics and labour to mention just a few. Interest groups have always existed in the US as documented by Alexis de Tocqueville, a French economist of the nineteenth century. He thoroughly analysed the role of interest groups in nineteenth century American Democracy. He stresses their usefulness in a democratic society.
We can quote one sentence taken from his tome one, “Democracy in America”, published between 1835 and 1840 (translated from the French): ” the democracy draws its force from the fact that people have the possibility of organizing themselves, to make known their point of view, to produce results and to tighten social tissue of their community(.. )”. Indeed for centuries they have had a huge importance on government level as well as in the everyday lives of the citizens. Interest groups are the link between the American government and its citizens.
Their actions try to safeguard a certain principle, for example a right in the American Constitution protecting its own specific interest. In order to be useful, interest groups need to be extremely powerful and imposing. Their main objective is the protection of their rights, the defence of their interests, and having a say in the political process, which brings us naturally to think that having a good relationship with the current or future government is one of the best ways of achieving their goals. Their most important asset is influence.
To obtain influence the interest group must be able to convince politicians who initially may not be keen on the ideas of the interest group. Interest groups must find common interests, values, beliefs or objectives with politicians of mutual benefit or self-promotion. Interest groups influence policy through their powers of persuasion. It is these techniques of persuasion that will be analysed in the course of this discussion. In this essay we will firstly examine the direct techniques used by interest groups to influence policy, i. . actions directly engaging the participation of the lobbyists. The fact that sometimes illegal actions are undertaken in order to influence the political process will be underlined in this section. Then the indirect methods used by interest groups will be discussed, actions carried out by outside contributors but under the authorisation of the interest group. Finally, we look at factors other than interest groups that influence policy. All of these will be accompanied by concrete examples. Ronald J.
Hreberna said in his book (Interest group politics in America):”the passage of a particular bill in congress or a state legislature is usually described as a victory or defeat for an interest group. ” We can see that by saying how political actions are very closely related to issues of interest groups, it is as if lobbyists have a real place in congress, and can debate with the other politicians and vote for particular bills to be passed or rejected. But interest groups do not have a real place in congress. For them to affect motions in congress they need to utilise their powers of persuasion to influence the right people.
So what characterises the force of an interest group? Let us examine quantity and quality. It is not so much the number of members that makes an interest group influential, like many generally accepted ideas, but more the quality of those members. To be influential, the members must be combative, certainly rich, and must definitely occupy key offices in society. But the best interest groups should have lot of members, as well as having rich and very active members. If we look at history, particularly the nineteenth century, we can obviously say that bribing was one of the most used tactics.
It was the fastest way to have decisions approved, but nowadays, it is very dangerous for interest groups to use any sort of sinister method. In general, the groups tend to abide by the law to give legitimacy to their claims. Moreover, with the 1995 Reforms, the Lobbying Disclosure Act allows congress to scrutinise the activities of interest groups and the interest groups must report all the information relating to their activities in a very clear and concise manner. But we will see later, that sometimes, lobbyists do influence policymakers illegally.
Bribing scandals still occur concerning lobbyists and politicians. As mentioned earlier interest groups use two methods of lobbying; the first one is the direct strategy, when groups approach public policymakers directly. The direct method can be divided into two parts: (i) the direct contact with bureaucratic actors and (ii) direct contact with politicians and their parties. The direct actions involve two main characters, the lobbyist and the decision maker and it could take the form of a private meeting, establishing contact and formalising a request.
An interest group might, for example, invite policymakers, or other government personalities to an “expedition” or to a “bars’ meeting” or a “conference in [an] exotic destination”, (taken from American Government and politics Today p233). This is one of the best ways to build a good relationship with powerful persons for the long term. For instance, Ronald J. Hrebenar said in his book that “Charles Walker, a famous lobbyist, used to reserve a table in a famous restaurant next to K-Street, the biggest lobbyist street in Washington DC, in order to entice some of the most influential personalities to meet with him”.
Influencing somebody is not a transitory action, the goal here is to build a firm, long-lasting relationship with policymakers, because lobbyist are too aware one policymaker can have a bill rejected one day and another bill safeguarded the following day. Let us take the APAIC as an example and see how they excel in influencing policymakers. This group is one of the most powerful in the United States, with more than $40 million allocated for their annual budget. They represent Israel’s interest in the US since the fifties.
The exploitation of oil by America and strategic help provided by Israel in the Middle East during the Cold War is their main value to the United States and nowadays “current US aid to Israel stands at more than 3 billion dollars/year (which is about $500/year for every Israel citizen). ” (London Review of Books “The Israel Lobby” John J. Mearsheimer, Stephen M. Walt). Their influence originates from their claim that without Israel’s help in the Middle East, the United States would not be the powerful nation it is today.
Actually, the congress is really embarrassed by them because it is now impossible for the US to stop giving them billions of dollars each year; we can say that the US has a “liability forever and ever to Israel. ” So it is an historical reason in this case that is the influencing factor, swaying the US to make some amazing concessions or voting for certain bills directly in Israel’s interests. Mike Gravel, a previous Democratic presidential candidate, stated that the congress is “passing on average 100 resolutions per year favourable to Israel and written by the lobbyists”. Source: Palestine chronicle website) Another method of the interest groups is to supply legislators with studies that they have conducted and their interpretations of the results. Carrying out studies can be long and arduous, therefore the policymaker would be only too happy to lend his support and claim some of the credit. Interest groups are there to define the problems, write the speeches, sometimes even work out the texts of the bills, they can also testify, all that in the hope it will be adopted by the legislative power. ( Source: American Government and politics Today, Bardes, Shelley, Schmitd. p233)
Recruiting members of congress at the expiry of their mandate is a very effective method utilised by interest groups. In the “Roll Call” (Congress Paper), we can read that 25% of former congress members have been recruited by interest groups since the early 1990. The power of an interest group is greatly enhanced by former members of congress, who much more often than not maintain very good relationships with current members. Their inside knowledge of congress and how individual congress members might be influenced is invaluable to interest groups. Interest groups often ally themselves with other groups on certain issues of mutual concern.
In the 1990’s, environmental, labour and consumer groups formed the Citizens Trade Campaign to oppose the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. (Taken from “American Government and Politics Today” p234). The obvious advantage of alliances is the combination of many members, strengthening the significance of their claim. Assisting a candidate during election campaign time is an excellent way for an interest group to influence policies. Interest groups can supply manpower for campaigns and represent the candidate, as if they were actual members of the party. This will have a positive reflection on the public opinion.
In turn, if the candidate is elected, the lobbyists’ interests should be largely applied. Interest group participating in election campaigning doesn’t stop here. They make donations, in the form of a soft money donation for candidates or parties. For instance Business groups gave more than $ 1,233,136,672 for democrat and republican campaign in 2000 (Source: Interest group politics in America p110-115). Let us underline this is only possible in thirty states, it is strictly forbidden in each of the other states. Money has a huge power of attraction, it is crucial to the way that lobbyists work in the USA.
Accounts and transactions of interest groups can on insistence be scrutinised by the authorities and in some cases this proves to damage the image of the interest group nationwide. Let us take, for example, the recent scandals involving the Republican Party and Jack Abramoff, a former lobbyist. A few months ago he was the director of the National Centre for Public Policy Research, for a number of years he used to corrupt policymakers, for instance “he rented lodges in football or baseball stadium for more than $1 million a year”, with free access for policymakers.
He is also the link that brought policymakers and “rich Indian tribes [worried] for the future of their lucrative industry” in Las Vegas. The motives of the Indian tribes were to protect their own businesses from competition. The Abramoff story was uncovered and he was condemned for fraud, tax avoidance and plotting to corrupt the officials (source: le Monde,website, 31. 10. 2006). This example helps us to understand that there are illegal tendencies in the direct influence methods of interest groups. To draw a line under this section we can say in summary that the direct method is defined by actions aimed directly at policymakers.
Persuasive interest groups which have a lot of active members and have good relationships with policymakers should choose this method. It should be stated, however, that sometimes too many contacts and too many policy stakes can lead to illegal actions. Now let’s move on to the indirect method used by interest groups in order to influence policy. The indirect method is frequently used nowadays; particularly because of the rapid growth in use of the internet, satellite and television. They provide information more easily than any other system.
The indirect method includes: advertising in national magazines and newspapers, mass mailing, television, demonstrations, think tanks, public relations, and public opinion. For example, we have this excellent print media advertisement from the Chemical Manufacturers Association, taken from Ronald J. Hrebenar’s book “Interest group politics in America” which is saying: “What’s the most important thing to do after keeping 93% of our toxic chemical waste out of the environment? …Work on the other 7%… ” Lots of examples like this one could be taken.
It is a very good method because the public can see it, can have their own opinion on it, and more importantly, it can increase the pressure on policymakers, who might think that interest groups have the support of public opinion. Nowadays, we know that interest groups used lots of media to communicate their issues, but the most efficient medium remains television. Media have an advantage of scale: they are read, seen and/or listened to. It is also an excellent way of communication for many reasons, the principal being that a large public is reached.
The cost for interest groups is extremely high but they know how important it is to have an effect on the public, in order to influence policy. The author of “How Issues Ads Have Reshaped American Politics” Darell West, explains that around 25% of all political advertisements on television during the campaign of 1996 were paid by interest groups. Another good example of how television is an effective way to influence was the debate on the health insurance reform. Bill Clinton, the then President, with the support of the American Federation, wanted to reform the entire system of health insurance.
In order to justify how this reform would be good, $10 million was spent for a TV spot. The key issue was to reduce the cost of social security cover and redistribute the savings to the security cover of all the population, especially poor people. But the National Federation of Independent Firms and the Association of the National Insurance spent millions of dollars in order to scupper this reform. They argued that this was an extreme expense for nothing and that the government’s power would be increased (example taken from the e-newspaper of the American information agency.
Democratie et Droit de L’Homme p. 4) So yet again we see interest groups influencing policymakers and spending a large sum on television air-time in the process. According to a report of the “Public Annenberg Policy Centre” from the University of Pennsylvania, (taken from the e-newspaper of the American information agency. Democratie et Droit de L’Homme p. 16) “in 1995 and l996, at least thirty one lobbies spent collectively between $135 million and $150 million on advertisements, the majority of which were televised.
This represents approximately a third of the $400 million which the candidates devoted to their publicity in all the federal electoral campaigns during this period. ” The rise of e-mailing hasn’t been overlooked by lobbyists. All members of the lobbies have a format to express their opinions and influence via email, not only the leaders. Members of the lobbies are more easily informed of actions proposed by their leaders. This rapid interaction between members reinforces the unity of the group. Think-tanks have gained in significance in the last ten years.
Sometimes what begins as a think-thank develops into something more like an interest group. To enlighten us, let us look at the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of a Think-tank: “A group or an institution organized for intensive research and solving of problems, especially in the areas of technology, social or political strategy, or armament. ” A number of examples show that think-tanks can act like an interest group in certain ways. In fact, interest groups often finance think-tank researches to analyse the complexities of some issues.
The example of The Heritage Foundation conservative think-tank which during 5 years penned more than 400 hardcover books, monographs, analytical papers, newsletter, a quarterly journal on policymaking and a 3000 page statement entitled Mandate for leadership, which served as a road map for Ronald Reagan’s battle with congress, and it worked. (Source: Interest group politics in America p. 113) Interest groups can use these think-tanks to fulfil some of their own duties, in order to reduce the presence of the interest group in congress, i. e. o make it appear that it is someone else other than the interest group influencing policy. Another type of public interest association which acts like an interest group taken from the e-newspaper of the American information agency. Democratie et Droit de L’Homme p. 19; is the “Citizens for Sensible Control of Acid Rain”, stated by James A. Turber, (director of the lobbying institute study centre). This was financed by the coal and electricity industry in order to put pressure on policymakers not to adopt a bill on the cleanliness of the air.
In this particular example, we can see that some associations, act like an interest groups but are not interest groups. Their actions make the job of the interest groups easier by not being the only ones trying to impact on the political process; it can be seen as another strategy of the interest group. The use of Public Relations is also an excellent way to create favourable public opinion for interest groups. Famous public relation companies in New York are employed by interest groups for a lot of money to promote their issues.
For instance, in the 70’s, when the economic situation in Argentina was not very good, the Argentine government used American lobbyist ability in order to increase foreign investment and U. S government support. A lobbyist PR firm was called in order to do this job, which they completed with much success. (Source: Interest group politics in America). Finally, the use of Opinion Polls influences policymakers greatly. Interest groups use opinion polls because of the fact that they come from those directly affected by anything passed or rejected in congress.
For instance, if the interest groups want to pass a certain bill, and orchestrate an opinion poll to confirm it and if 70% of those polled agree with the bill then how could the policymaker not take care of the citizens. To oppose 70% of the sample could prove very unpopular indeed. The use of the entire media spectrum, from television to opinion polls, is the best indirect method of persuasion. Technologies change very quickly, thus the interest group’s arsenal must be evaluated year in year out, enabling it to grow with the times.
To conclude, for almost two centuries now, from James Madison to George Bush, the power of the interest group has increased a lot. The political process is inextricably linked to interest groups. Interest groups are the true footbridge between citizens and politics. One cannot deny that they use so many processes in order to influence policymakers. Interest groups with good relationships with important figures, plenty of resources, and strong leaders might choose to concentrate on the direct method because the best way to influence a particular bill is the proximity and good relations with the government in place.
Other wealthy interest groups, with very active members might choose the indirect method. The media offer a great format for interest groups to persuade or influence. Every interest group is aware of society’s movement towards new technologies; actually interest groups are extremely performing in the way of using the indirect method, they obtain countless positive results and that is why since ten years, most of the citizen can testify how much they take part in the debate with policymakers.
We have seen most of the interest groups processes in order to influence policies, but we can underlines that there are not alone to influence policies, many others factors must also be taken into account, as Bardes, Shelley and Schmidt write in their book: “The change in technologies, the diversification of the economic bases of the states, the growth of an affluent society, the higher educational system, the mobility of the population (… ). Those demographics and economics transformations, impacts on the political process, and will influence processes in the following years, but obviously, interest groups will integrate those factors, and will permit them to increase their “engine of influence”. Bibliography and reference ???American Government and politics Today, Bardes, Shelley, Schmitd p233-240 ???Interest group politics in America Ronald J. Hrebenar p. 100-120 ???”How Issues Ads Have Reshaped American Politics” Darell West Democracy in America Volume 1 , Alexis de Tocqueville. ???Interest Group Influence on State Administrative Rule Making: http://arp. sagepub. com ???Public Opinion and Interest Group Influence: An Analysis of Policy Variation in the American States: http://polisci. msu. edu/sppc2005/papers/friam/Lewis. SPPC. 05. 06. pdf ???The Question of Interest Group Influence ANDREAS DUR, DIRK DE BIEVRE: http://journals. cambridge. org/download. php? file=%2FPUP%2FPUP27_01%2FS0143814X07000591a. df&code=22512130395d0d37a8274c4fdfabca59 ???Democratie et droits de l’homme, Journal electronique de l’agence d’information des Etats-Unis : e-newspaper of the American information agency http://usinfo. state. gov/journals/itdhr/0698/ijdf/frtoc. htm ???http://www. lemonde. fr/web/article/0,[email protected],[email protected],0. html ???London Review of Books ?? The Israel Lobby ?? Stephen. M Walt. ???http://www. palestinechronicle. com/story-100607161316. htm ???Definition of think tank: http://ask. yahoo. com/20041115. html