Interest Groups – Text Notes – Week Seven

Interest Groups


1. Explain why the characteristics of American
society and government encourage a multiplicity of interest

2. Indicate the historical conditions under
which interest groups are likely to form and specify the kinds of
organizations Americans are most likely to join.

3. Describe relations between leaders and
rank-and-file members of groups, including why the sentiments of
members may not determine the actions of leaders.

4. Describe several methods that interest
groups use to formulate and carry out their political objectives,
especially the lobbying techniques used to gain public support.
Explain why courts have become an important forum for public interest

5. List the laws regulating conflict of
interest and describe the problems involved with revolving door
government employment. Describe the balance between the First
Amendment’s freedom of expression and the need to prevent corruption
in the political system.

Text Outline

I. Explaining proliferation

A. Why interest groups are common in

1. Many kinds of cleavages in the

2. Constitution makes for many access
points to government

3. Political parties are weak so
interests work directly on government


II. The birth of interest groups

A. Periods of rapid growth

1 . Since 1960, 70 percent
established their D.C. office

2. 1770s-independence groups

3. 1830s, 1840s-religious, antislavery

4. 1860s-trade unions, grange, fraternal

5. 1880s, 1890s-business

6. 1900-1920-business and professional
associations, charitable organizations

7. 1960s environmental, consumer,
political-reform organizations

B. Factors explaining rise of interest

1. Broad economic developments
create new interest

a. Farmers produce cash

b. Mass-production industries

2. Government policy itself

a. Wars create veterans, who
demand benefits

b. Encouraged formation of American
Farm Bureau Federation, professional associations

3. Emergence of strong leaders, usually
at certain times

4. Expanding role of

III. Kinds of organizations

A. Institutional interests

1. Defined: individuals or
organizations representing other organizations

2. Types

a. Business firms: example,
General Motors

b. Trade associations

3. Concerns-bread-and-butter issues of
concern to their clients

a. Clearly defined, with
homogeneous groups

b. Diffuse, with diversified

4. Other interests-governments,
foundations, universities

B. Membership interests

1. Americans join some groups more
frequently than in other nations

a. Social, business,
professional, veterans’, charitable-same rate as

b. Unions-less likely to

c. Religious, political, civic
groups-more likely to join

d. Greater sense of political
efficacy, civic duty explain tendency to join civil

2. Most sympathizers do not join because
benefits flow to nonmembers too

C. Incentives to join

1. Solidary incentives-pleasure,
companionship (League of Women Voters (LWV), NAACP, Rotary,
Parent-Teacher Association, American Legion)

2. Material incentives-money, things,
services (farm organizations, AARP)

3. Purposive incentives-goal /purpose of
the organization itself

a. Though group also benefits
nonmembers, join because:

  • Passionate about goal
  • Strong sense of civic
  • Cost of joining

b. Ideological interest groups-appeal
of controversial principles

c. Public interest groups-purpose
principally benefits nonmembers

d. Engage in research and bring
lawsuits, with liberal or conservative

e. Publicity important because purpose
groups are influenced by mood of the time

D. The influence of the staff on interest
group policy stances

1. Staff influences if solidarity
or material benefits are more important to members

2. National Council of Churches and
unions are examples

IV. Social movements produce groups that rely on
purposive incentives

A. Social movement is a widely shared
demand for change

B . The environmental movement

C. The feminist movement; three

1. Solidary-League of Women Voters
(LWV), Business and Professional Women’s Federation (widest

2. Purposive-NOW, NARAL (National
Abortion Rights Action League) (strong position on divisive

3. Caucus-National Women’s Political
Caucus (NWPQ) – (material benefits)

D. Unions left after social movement


V. Funds for interest groups

A. Foundation grants

1. Ford Foundation and liberal
public interest groups

2. Scaife foundations (conservative
foundation) and conservative public interest groups

B. Federal grants and contracts

1. National Alliance for Business
financed summer youth job programs

2. Jesse Jackson’s PUSH (community
development organization)

C. Direct mail

1. Unique to modern interest groups
through use of computers

2. Common Cause a classic

3. Techniques

a. Teaser

b. Arouses emotions

c. Famous-name endorsement

d. Personalization of


VI. The problem of bias

A. Reasons for belief in upper-class

1. More affluent more likely to

2. Business/professional groups
more numerous; better financed

B. Why these facts do not decide the

1. Describe inputs but
not who eventually wins or loses

2. Business groups often divided among

C. Important to ask what the bias

1. Many conflicts are within
upper-middle class, political elites

2. Resource differentials are clues, not

VII. The activities of interest groups

A. Supplying credible

1. Single most important

2. Detailed, current information at a

3. Most effective on narrow, technical
issues-will see link to client politics

4. Officials also need cues regarding
what values are at stake

5. Rating systems

B . Public support

1. Insider strategy previously most
common-face-to-face contact between lobbyist and member or Hill

2. Increasing use of outsider
strategy-grassroots mobilization of the issue public

3. Politicians dislike controversy, so
work with those they agree with

4. Lobbyists’ key targets: the undecided
legislator or bureaucrat

5. Some groups attack their likely allies
to embarrass them

6. Legislators sometimes buck public
opinion, unless issue important

7. Some groups try for grassroots

a. Saccharin issue

b. Dirty Dozen environmental polluters
– 31 legislators with “Bad voting records” on the
enviornment. Noted by the Interest Group, Enviornmental
Action, only 7 survived in office.

C. Money and PACs

1. According to text, money is
least effective way to influence politicians

2. Campaign finance reform law of 1973
had two effects

a. Restricted amount interests
can give to candidates

b. Made it legal for corporations and
unions to create PACs

3. Rapid growth in PACs has not led to
vote buying

a. More money is available on
all sides

b. Members of Congress take money but
still can decide how to vote

4. Almost any organization can create a

a. Over half of PACs sponsored
by corporations, one-tenth unions, and remainder

b. Recent increase in ideological
PACs; one-third liberal, two-thirds conservative

5. Ideological PACs raise more but spend
less due to cost of raising money

6. In 1992 and 1994, unions and
business/professional organizations gave the most

7. Incumbents get most PAC

a. Labor PACs almost exclusively
give to Democrats

b. Business PACs split money between
Democrats and Republicans

c. Democrats get most PAC money
(Remember, Wilson is a conservative, where is the

8. PAC contributions small

9. Text states that there is no
systematic evidence PAC money influences votes in Congress
(Hmm, not even big tobacco or the NRA??? Well, its not
systematic but I think the influence is clear!)

a . Most members vote their
ideology and with their constituents

b. When issue of little concern to
voters and ideology with little guidance, slight correlation
but may be misleading

c. PAC money may influence in other
ways, like access or committee actions

d. PAC money most likely to influence
client politics

D. The revolving door

1. Promise of future jobs to

2. Few conspicuous examples of

E. Trouble

1. Disruption always part of
American politics

2. Used by groups of varying ideologies,

3. Better accepted since 1960s

4. History of “proper” persons using
disruption-suffrage, civil rights, anti war

5. Officials dread “no-win” situations


VIII. Regulating interest groups

A. Protection by First

1. 1946 Federal Regulation of
Lobbying Act accomplished little in requiring

a. Supreme Court restricted
application to direct contact

b. Grassroots activity not

c. No staff to enforce law

2. 1995 act provided a broader definition
of lobbying

a. Requires reports twice a
year, including client names, expenditures, issues

b. Still exempted grassroots

c. No enforcement agency established,
but Justice Department may take action

d. Tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations
cannot receive federal grants if they lobby

B. Other significant restraints

1. Tax code; nonprofits lose
tax-exempt status

2. Campaign-finance laws limit PAC



cue (political) A signal,
frequently provided by interest groups, that tells a politician what
values are at stake in an issue and how that issue fits into his or
her own set of political beliefs.

direct mail A mailing from an
interest group focused at a specialized audience whose purpose is
both to raise money and mobilize supporters.

Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of
A law which required groups and individuals seeking to
influence legislation to register with the secretary of the Senate
and the clerk of the House of Representatives. Quarterly financial
reports on expenses were also to be filed. Note new reform
legislation (1995) was more stringent.

ideological interest group An
organization that attracts members by appealing to their interests on
a coherent set of controversial principles.

incentive Something of value
offered by mass-membership organizations to get people to join; it is
a benefit exclusive to members.

institutional interests
Individuals or organizations representing other

interest group An organization
that seeks to influence public policy.

lobby A group that attempts to
influence legislation through direct contact with members of the
legislative or executive branches.

lobbyist A person attempting
to influence government policy on behalf of a lobby.

material incentive Something
tangible, such as money or services, which attracts people to join
mass-membership organizations.

membership interests A type of
interest group that represents the interest of its

pluralistic political system A
description of the American political system, once used by scholars,
contending that the policy-making process encompasses the effective
competition of interest groups. This account is generally considered
wrong, or at least incomplete.

political action committee An
organization which finances candidates and may lobby. Such
organizations can contribute no more than $5,000 to a federal
candidate in any election.

public-interest lobby An
interest group whose principal purpose is to benefit

purposive incentive An
incentive to join a mass-membership organization based on the appeal
of the group’s goal.

ratings A type of cue supplied
by some interest groups that ranks legislators on their degree of
support for a particular cause, such as unions or the environment.
These can be helpful sources of information, but are often

social movement A widely
shared demand for change in some aspect of the social or political

solidary incentive An
inducement to join a mass-membership organization based on the sense
of pleasure, status, or companionship derived from membership.

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