Interest Groups and the Public Interest
InterestGroups and the Public Interest
Interestgroups have been a fundamental component of the contemporary humansociety. Indeed, it is impossible to talk of the political sphere inthe contemporary human society without mentioning interest groups.This is especially considering the increased popularity of democracyas the most preferred method of governance even in states whereautocracy and authoritarian rules seemed to be the most viable.Interest groups are a crucial mechanism that citizens in any countryincluding the United States use to make their needs, views and ideaspertaining to varied aspects of governance known to the electedofficials. Scholars have acknowledged that citizens have the capacityto find an interest group that primarily concentrates on theirconcerns irrespective of their levels of specialization1.Interest groups are defined as the organizations or groups of peoplewho have similar policy goals and who get into the political processin an effort to attain those goals. The key difference betweeninterest groups and political parties rests on the fact that they donot field their own slate of candidates. On the same note, it is wellacknowledged that interest groups are usually policy specialistswhile political parties come as policy generalists2.However, as much as not all interest groups are active politically, alarge number of them attempt to influence public policy.
Asthe epitome or hallmark of democracy, the United States has provideda fertile ground for the growth of interest groups. Indeed, scholarshave underlined the notion that the informal traditions and formalstructures pertaining to American politics offer a fertile ground forthe proliferation of interest groups3.Varied aspects of the American political sphere have allowed for thisgrowth. First, the United States political parties are relativelyweak partly as a result of the separation of powers between thelegislative and executive branches of the government. Inparliamentary systems like that of Great Britain in which thecapacity of the Prime Minister to hold his or her office is dependenton his capacity to obtain majority support from parliament, politicalparties have immense control over legislators and consequently,policymaking. The United States’ case is extremely different as theelection of the congress and the president are distinct or separateevents even in cases where they are conducted at the same time. Everylegislator is required to come up with a winning coalition in his orher district or state, with the nature of these coalitions beingextremely different or distinctive from the majority coalitionassembled by the successful presidential candidate. This may beclearly evidenced by the fact that the presidency and the Congresshave been under the control of opposite parties for the greater partof the period after World War II. This has resulted in a situationwhere neither Republicans nor Democrats are customarily required torender their support to the positions that their party’s presidenttakes or even the electoral platform of their party. Scholars havenoted that weak party loyalty fosters the influence of interestgroups both in the course of elections when it is necessary to havetheir financial support and afterwards when the interest groups thatrendered their support to the winning candidate become intenselyinvolved in the process of making policies.
Secondly,the American system is characterized by an intense decentralizationof political power to localities and states, which is collectivelyknown as federalism or the federal system. This means that theassociations of citizens are usually started at the local and statelevels before blending into national organizations. This underlinesthe fact that decentralization fosters an increased variety ofinterest groups, while also weakening the party system especiallyconsidering that the economic and social diversity pertaining to themore than 50 states makes it difficult to maintain strict partydiscipline.
Thirdly,an autonomous and strong judiciary that is present in the Americansystem enhances the capacity of interest groups to influence policiesand decisions of the political class. It is well noted that courts inthe United States often make rulings on issues that would becontrolled by a bureaucracy or the legislature in a large number ofdemocratic polities. This implies that interest groups have thecapacity and opportunity to use litigation in achieving the policyobjectives that they would otherwise not achieve via legislativeaction. A case in point was the victories of the National Associationfor the Advancement of Colored People in court way back in the 50s,which established the first cracks in the United States segregationway before the Congress under the control of Southerners infundamental positions was able and willing to take action.
Lastly,the proliferation of interest groups in the United States may havebeen fostered by the country’s convention of virtually unrestrictedfreedom of press, assembly and speech, which has allowed for thepublic airing of any perception or point of view that is expressed byany interest group irrespective of how radical it may be. Indeed, theenhanced centralization of the media after the Second World War hasincreased the difficulty of interest groups that have fringe views toobtain any serious hearing. Nevertheless, this trend ofcentralization has been counteracted in part by the open andunrestricted access that interest groups are offered by and in theinternet. Overall, the free press and free speech traditions in theUnited States, which provide a multiplicity of chances for thepublicizing of societal problems, while also laying out positionspertaining to public policy, foster the formation of interest groups.
Interestgroups come in various types and forms depending on their functionsand the structures in which they are governed. They may take the formof a single company where one company takes up and maintains anoffice in a particular location so as to monitor the activities ofthe national government, as well as lobby for the interests that itrepresents. Alternatively, they may come in the form of individualmembership organizations. Such organizations rely on a large numberof members as the foundation of their popularity and influence in thegovernment. It is worth noting that some interest groups are composedof smaller organizations from across the country, which, more oftenthan not, are connected to some form of economic interests. Inaddition, interest groups may take the form of staff organizations.These are small-scale organizations that are operated by professionalstaffs. They usually have a minute membership base and have privatefoundations or a few wealthy contributors that have an interest intheir cause financing their activities. Interest groups may also beseen with respect to the interests that they represent. Thiscategorization is most commonly distinguished by non-economic andeconomic groups. Non-economic interest groups are usually motivatedby the need to have a collection of ideas become the foundation ofpublic policy, bring a particular issue to the attention ofpolicymakers, while also advancing a particular cause.
Whatexactly do interest groups do?
Theexistence of interest groups is based on the need to convey certainviews, as well as defend the interests of a certain sector of thesociety to policymakers and public officials. Interest groups havetheir activities divided into two categories including inside gameand outside game. Inside game activities usually involve the directinteractions of government officials and representatives of interestgroups, while outside game activities come in of indirectinteractions where the interest groups makes efforts to mobilizevoters, public opinion, as well as crucial contributors to increasepressure on policymakers and elected officials4.More often than not, the term “lobbying’ comes with a connotationpertaining to substantial honoraria or even favors that are given toindividuals for making brief appearances, as well as other unsavoryexchanges that are close to bribery. However, such images may blurthe capacity to comprehend intricacies pertaining to inside game.Indeed, it is well noted that lobbying or inside game does not alwaysrevolve around favors and bribery rather it is usually about thepolitics pertaining to insiders. Indeed, these are politicspertaining to one-on-one persuasion where skilled lobbyists makeefforts to persuade strategically placed decision-makers tocomprehend, as well as sympathize with the interest groups’ pointof view or perspective.
Particularimportance to the success of interest groups in inside game is havingaccess to policymakers and an intimate comprehension of theintricacies of the game. The most successful lobbyists areessentially those who have been in different relevant officers for anumber of years, in which case they know the people to approach andare well compensated for the services that they offer. Indeed, theinside game comes as extremely effective in cases where issues aretechnical and narrow and do not stir up counter activity from otherinterest groups and do not command a large proportion to publicpassion and media attention. In addition, the issues have to betechnical and narrow.
Scholarshave also noted that the inside game in the American congress doesrevolve around the cultivation of personal relationships withrelevant individuals be they house leaders or senators, as well asother well-placed and influential legislators, key members ofprofessional staffs and chairpersons of crucial subcommittees andgroups. Indeed, it is imperative that individuals cultivate relationswith members and staff of subcommittees in order to be successful inthe intimate and intricate lobbying game. On the same note,researchers have noted that the legislative process in the Americancongress is not founded on the debates at the floor but theoperations pertaining to specialized subcommittees and committees ofboth the senate and the house. Indeed, skilled lobbyists make effortand spend quite a large proportion of their time fostering personalrelationships with fundamental members of these committees, as wellas their professional staff and exchanging information that deemedcrucial to staff and members.
Underliningthe importance of cultivating relationships with these subcommitteesin influencing public policy is the fact that members of the UnitedStates congress are often busy and have neither the willingness northe time to come up with or develop detailed expertise. In essence,they highly depend on their staff for crucial data and information.In essence, effective lobbyists make contact with staff in thesecommittees and provide information that is passed to the members ofthe congress. On the same note, representatives of interest groupsspend quite a lot of time providing testimonies in subcommittee andcommittee hearings, which are, more often than not used in bringing aparticular issue to the attention of the public. Nevertheless, theymay also be the instruments that are used by legislators to build thesupport of the public for a particular thing that he or she wants topursue.
Inaddition, interest groups try to push for certain goals throughlobbying the executive arm of the government. Appointees to the upperlevel of the executive branch, as well as career civil servantsincorporate immense discretionary authority especially consideringthat the Congress usually composes legislations in a broad mannerleaving the bureaucratic agencies to fill in the details. Consideringthe immense powers that they possess, it is imperative that interestgroups establish friendly and stable relationships with the agenciesin the executive branch that come as extremely relevant to the goalsand interests that they pursue. However, it is always imperative thatinterest groups cultivate personal relationships with individuals inthese branches of government. Once they have established long-termrelationships and personal contact, representatives of interestgroups can convey or transmit crucial technical information, providethe results pertaining to their research, as well as assist publicofficials in deflecting criticism and exhibit the manner in which thegoals of the group are compatible with desirable public policy andthe officials’ political needs.
Inaddition, interest groups may attain their goals and objectivesthrough the courts. This is attained through lobbying the courts in amanner that is different from the way they lobby the executive branchor even the Congress and its agencies. In most cases, interest groupsresort to the courts in instances where they find that neither theexecutive branch nor the congress is favorably disposed to its goalsand interests. In this case, the courts come as an alternative routefor enhancing or influencing changes in the public policy. Scholarshave indeed noted that going to the courts comes as a secondarystrategy for a large number of groups as they must be having aparticular standing. This implies that the interest group must beconsidered a party to the case in court, as well as have the capacityto show that that it will suffer a direct injury. On the same note,resorting to courts is often time consuming and expensive, in whichcase it is way above the means of a large number of interest groups.Nevertheless, once interest groups become involved in court actions,there are varied strategies that they may use. First, they may fileamicus curiae (which means friend of the court) brief especially incases that involve other stakeholders or parties. This brief allowsan organization or individual who is not party to a case or lawsuitto file an argument so as to support one side or the other with theaim of swaying the opinion of the jury or the court. Secondly,interest groups may become involved in or participate in lawsuits viathe process of approval and appointment of federal judges.
Ofparticular note is the fact that government officials have a higherpotential for listening to lobbyists in cases where they areconvinced that they have the support of a large number of politicallyactive individuals. Indeed, the outside game comes as a type ofinterest group activity that allows for the identification, creation,mobilization and bringing to bear support on policy makers in thegovernment. In cases where, for instance, a bill that is crucial andrelevant to a particular interest group is tabled before the Congressor a regulation or ruling comes before a certain agency of theexecutive arm of the government, the lobbyists efforts would beimmensely enhanced if decision makers are clearly aware that thedecision is crucial to and being watched by their constituents ormembers of the electorate. This explains why interest groups thathave a large membership base make attempts to persuade their membersto make calls and send letters to the right officials. Members of thecongress are, undoubtedly, concerned about the individuals who have abearing on their prospects of being reelected. In essence, effectiveinterest groups do not only attempt to convince their own members inthe district and state to pile pressure on the house member but alsomake all efforts to stay connected and in touch with crucial opinionleaders and contributors in those areas. New styles of lobbying havebeen devised where the opinion of the public is shaped by educatingthem on issues that are crucial to the interest group. This style isbased on the need to shape elite and public opinion in such a waythat policymakers and other officials in the government would becomefavorably disposed to the interest group’s views and, consequently,its views. Groups that do not have ready access to offices ofpolicymakers or substantial financial resources sometimes resort topublic demonstrations so as to increase the attentions ofpolicymakers to their cause. A large number of interest groups ratecongress members based on their support for the position of theinterest groups on selected fundamental legislative votes. Theratings would then be distributed to interest group members, as wellas other interested parties in the hope that it would affect theirvoting patterns in the elections.
InterestGroups and Public Interest: Do interest groups represent theinterests of the general public?
Needlesto say, interest groups have played a fundamental role in the UnitedStates’ politics since its very beginning. Indeed, politicalleaders throughout the country’s history have consistently been inagreement that the comprehension of the United States politicsrevolves around the comprehension of the motivations, effectiveness,as well as roles of organized interests. However, there has beencontention over whether interest groups represent the interests ofthe public or whether their views and goals are for the benefit ofthe general public.
However,while a large number of Americans may opine that interest groupsfight for the interests of the public, it is always difficult toplace a finger on exactly what these interests are. Indeed, termssuch as “general good” and “public interest” come with a richpositive emotional association, despite the lack of clarity as towhat they really mean. As much as every other person seems to favorthe public interest or general good, it is extremely difficult forall people to agree on the things or aspects that would be termed orthat are encompassed within the “general good” and “publicinterest” facet, leave alone the policies that have the capacity topromote those values. There has been a tendency for every particularinterest to ride on the claim that a program or activity that seemsto benefit is specific goals and objectives is really what can bedefined as public interest, while other activities or programs thatseem to benefit competing interests as special interests rather thanpublic interest5.Indeed, public interest seems to be subjective, with each partyhaving its own idea or version pertaining to what really is publicinterest. Scholars have noted that few or even no interest group hasa clear idea pertaining to the manner in which public interest has tobe determined.
However,scholars gave come up with a well-developed theory known asutilitarianism that incorporates a carefully worked out program thatallows for the definition of public interest. In this case, publicinterest is seen as revolving around the sum or totality ofindividual interests. This theory sees the state’s function as theprovision of the public good or aggregate welfare, which is conceivedas the greatest good for the highest proportion of individuals.
Twotheories that have been devised in an effort to explain the capacityof interest groups to cater for public interests are elite theory andthe pluralist theory. It is well noted that an interest group may berepresenting a wide range of interests as is the case for acommunity-based Chamber of Commerce, which is the umbrellaorganization catering for local businesses. Interest groups may,alternatively, restrict themselves to an entirely narrower focus asis the case for the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement ofBarbershop Quartet Singing. According to the pluralist theory, it isimperative that a democracy incorporates a large number ofwide-ranging interest groups that represent a multiplicity of views.Pluralists, indeed, see the process of making policies as animportant competition pitting groups whose members try to influencepolicy in a large number of settings including the courts, Congressand even agencies under the executive arm of the government.Pluralists state that interest groups are crucial components of thepolitical arena even in cases where some parties or individualschoose note to take part in their actions.
Inaddition, the pluralist theory states that interest groups offer astructure that allows for or enhances political participation whilealso ensuring that individuals toe the line follow rules pertainingto the participation in civic society. Adherence to these rulesrevolves around the use of positive channels in influencing theactions of the government instead of radical or extreme tactics suchas coups, assassinations and other types of violence.
Elitetheory, on the other hand, states that the decision-making processesof any portion of the society is dominated by elites. The elitetheory underlines the notion that the ruling class made up of wealthyand educated individuals holds the highest proportion of power ingovernment, as well as within other entities such as the military,media outlets, corporations and top academic institutions. Inaddition, they lay emphasis on the fact that the elites are alwaysusing that power to safeguard their own economic interests frequentlythrough ensuring that the status quo continues. Indeed, in spite ofthe apparent accessible nature of the United States’ politicalsystem, elites possess disproportionate power. In essence, as much asnonentities that are represented by interest groups can in someoccasions win political battles, elites still dictate the directionthat major policies take. They lay emphasis on the fact thatindustrious and talented individuals whose background is not reallyelite may attain the elite status in democracies usually throughpursuing academic knowledge. Unfortunately, this element of mobilitycreates the false impression or facade that the political system isaccessible to all and sundry. As much as these theories come up withcompeting explanations pertaining to the motivation and role ofinterest groups, it is evident that they both hold an element oftruth. Indeed, elites incorporate disproportionate influence as faras policymaking is concerned, while interest groups check the mannerin which that power is exercised. There exists no doubt that interestgroups come as an essential feature in the American democracy andoffer a crucial medium via which individuals would exercise a certainlevel of control over the affairs of the government.
Indetermining whether interest groups carter for the public interest,it is imperative that an individual determines why and how they cameinto existence.
Historyof interest groups
Thehistory of interest groups can be traced way back to the times ofJames Madison, who came up with explanations pertaining to the mannerin which government functions. In The federalist Papers essays 10 and51, James Madison made the assumption that politics exhibits theworst aspects or element of an individual, which is theirselfishness. Indeed, he stated that governments were formed on thebases of the fact that men were no angels. Madison underlined thefact that people would always make attempts to enhance their owninterests using politics, in which case they can inevitably formfactions and groups so as to further these interests and secureadvantages for themselves even in cases where these interests are tothe detriments of the overall interests of the public. There willalways exist some factions whose interests are adverse to theaggregate and permanent interests of the community. However, Madisonis recognized as having come up with a genius way of devising asystem that would make use of this self-interest to regulateself-interest. Madison believed that these groups could not be doneaway with as they were founded on human beings’ self-interests. Hereasoned that these interest groups can only be dealt with throughallowing for their proliferation in such a way that no group wouldhave the capacity to dominate all the others. It is well noted thatgroups that have particular interests would, in an enormous republicthat is full of numerous factions have low likelihood of taking overas other groups that have opposing interests would never allow suchthings to happen. For instance, agricultural factions for instancewould not have the capacity to dominate the industrial one. Thismeans that more factions were preferable so that none would have apermanent majority. The basis for this notion was the fact that itwould result in a good government, in the sense that it would givecitizens the capacity to go after their own self-interest. This,therefore, brings across the convergence point for public interestsand the aims and goals of interest groups.
Thevirtue pertaining to governing via competition of interest groups notonly revolved around the fact that it would protect the countryagainst tyranny but that the competition served the common interests.Even in instances where interest groups were primarily concerned onlywith the things that beneficial to them, their competition wouldeventually result in the government carrying out activities that werefor the good of the country6.Madison underlined the fact that the competition of interest groupswas inherently beneficial and that the best interests would alwayswin as underlined by the economic theories of Adam Smith. Smith hadunderlined the notion that an invisible hand would result in asuperior society out of the endeavors pertaining to unregulatedindividual enterprise7.Even in cases where individuals are catering for theirself-interests, they would ultimately be catering for the commongood. He states that no individual intends to enhance or promote theinterests of the public or even have a clear comprehension of thelevel by which he or she may be promoting it. All people intend toenhance their own benefits and are led by the invisible hand tofoster an end that they did not intend to have. The pursuance oftheir own interests regularly encourages meeting the needs of thesociety in a more effectual manner than in instances where theindividuals have a clear intention to promote the same.
Thetheory espoused by Adam Smith came with an immense effect on thegrowth of the democratic theory. Indeed, notions pertaining toself-interested competition were applied to economic and politicalbehavior with political competition being seen as similar tocommercial competition. In this regard, citizens were seen asconsumers who had the role of buying or not buying what the interestgroups had for sale. Conventional wisdom, as a consequence, is thatindividuals have to join interest groups if they have any hope oftaking part in politics as interest groups are the key players in thepolitical market. Through aligning themselves with a region, cause,economic interest, institution and profession, individuals have thecapacity to compete for their objectives via lobbying, the media, aswell as through the ballot. This can be seen as perfectly democraticespecially considering that anyone may supposedly join or become amember of as many interest groups as he may want. On the same note,the elusive public interests would be, eventually defined bypolitical contests thereby underlining the epitome of fairness in thepolitical process.
Indeed,the convergence between interest groups and democracy can never beunderestimated. Democracy revolves around the system of government inwhich decisions and choices are made through majoritarian principleswith varied representatives being elected in periodic elections inwhich political freedom and equality give voters effective optionsbetween competing candidates in ballot. It is evident that pressuregroups or interest groups fit perfectly within this concept. Indeed,the pluralist model of democracy underlines the fact that politicalparties cannot offer sufficient representation for the entirecollection of diverse opinions and interests in contemporary humansociety’s democracy especially considering that their key functionrevolves around the aggregation of their interests into coherentpolitical entities that have the capacity to govern the country.Interest groups, on the other hand, allow for the particular causesand interests to be heard, as well as exert pressure ondecision-making, as well as public decision.
Inaddition, interest groups play a substantial role in enhancing theparticipation of individuals in the governance of the country8.Pluralists have underlined the fact that interest groups overcome oreliminate the democratic deficit that comes up especially consideringthat the political participation of a large number of people revolvesaround casting their votes once every five or four years. This canonly mean that the people have little or no power to determine thedecisions made or actions taken in between the elections, not tomention that there exists very little form of representation ofminority views. Interest groups, however, enhance the access, as wellas participation of individuals in the political system therebyincreasing or improving the quality of a country’s democracy.Scholars have also noted that they supplement and complement theelectoral democracy through offering a crucial mechanism throughwhich citizens may influence the decisions of the government betweenelections, as well as enabling the opinions of minorities andmajorities tobe counted and weighed.Similarly, a large number of people may be turned off by politicalaffairs as they do not fit into either of the major politicalparties. Interest groups, on the other hand, have a considerablynarrower area of focus, with their multiplicity ensuring that almostevery aspect of an individual’s likes and preferences would becatered for. In this case, they fill the void that political partiesleave in their electorate. Moreover, interest groups are known tonurture the involvement of the community through encouraging localchapters pertaining to larger interest groups to be formed. Suchefforts seem to encourage the participation of more “common”people as they cater for issues that are particular to their areas orlocations.
Similarly,interest groups enhance the quality and efficiency of government. Inany society that takes pride in being characterized as free, it isonly rational for decisions to be made through consulting or invitingdebates with affected individuals or groups. Indeed, suchconsultations enhance the efficiency of the government throughimproving the quality of the process of making decisions. It goeswithout saying that the advice and information that interest groupsoffer to the decision makers would enhance the quality oflegislations and policies made by the government.
Further,one may examine the factors that lead to the proliferation ofinterest groups. Scholars have underlined the fact that pressuregroups are a direct result of freedom of association in any country.This freedom comes as a crucial or fundamental principle pertainingto liberal democracy. Indeed, pressure or interest groups that are infree operation are crucial to the efficient and effective operationspertaining to liberal democracy especially considering that theyserve as important intermediary institutions between the society andgovernment, they help in dispersing or spreading political power, aswell as offer crucial counterweights that balance the concentrationof power. Scholars have also underlined the fact that interest groupsallow new issues and concerns to get to the political agenda, which,therefore, facilitates social progress, while also eliminating socialstagnation. Still on this, interest groups have been seen asenhancing the political stability and social cohesion of any countrythrough the provision of what may be seen as a “safety-valve”outlet pertaining to collective and individual demands andgrievances.
Inaddition, it is well noted that enhancing the accountability of thegovernment is to the best interests of the general publicirrespective of the political divide to which an individual belongs.Scholars have noted that interest and pressure groups are ofincredible assistance in the monitoring and surveillance of theactivities of the government, as well as exposing or raising a redflag on any activity or information that policymakers or otherindividuals in government would rather keep under the wraps. Asmentioned earlier, interest groups often concentrate on issuespertaining to their specific field. This means that they have ahigher likelihood of paying more attention to the activities andlegislations that touch on their goals and objectives, which can onlyincrease their possibility of sighting things that may be wrong withparticular legislations. This means that interest groups enhance thetransparency with which government operations are carried out, aswell as the accountability of government agencies to the generalpublic.
Onthe same note, interest groups play a fundamental role in the makingof policies and legislations. It is well acknowledged that interestgroups have access to more enormous resources both financial andinformational resources compared to the public sector, in which casethey can be a source of crucial and meaningful information and datathat policymakers can use in making legislations pertaining topressing social issues. This becomes even more pronounced ininstances where the interest groups are composed of individuals whohave expertise in particular fields.
Furthermore,interest groups carry out electoral functions. As stated earlier,they have a large proportion of resources both financial andinformational, which they can use in rating the stand of a largenumber of candidates with regard to issues that are close to theirhearts. In a large number of instances, interest groups use theinformation at their disposal to determine the stand of certaincandidates with regard to certain issues. More often than not, thegeneral public would be unlikely to have such data or information, oreven think of looking for it, in which case they are highly likely tomake choices of candidates for whom they would regret voting. Inessence, interest groups allow for the making of more informedchoices. This may be complemented by the fact that they usuallymobilize voters and volunteers, which often enhances informed civilparticipation.
However,questions have been raised on whether interest groups always fulfillthe things that James Madison envisaged. As much as interest groupsfulfill a number of valuable functions, there have been certain validcriticisms levied against them. Indeed, some observers note thatinterest groups play an immense role in enhancing the appearance and,in some cases, the reality of, corruption in any political system. Acase in point would be the statements by former president JamesCarter, who felt that interest groups posed the greatest threat tothe appropriate functioning of the American democratic system thanksto their special interests. Ronald Reagan pilled on this criticismstating that interest groups placed the country’s constitutionalbalance out of focus.
Inaddition, critics feel that interest groups alongside their politicalaction committees (PAC) fundraising factions have made financialpowers or money a crucial force in American politics. Through thecontribution of enormous amounts of money to political campaigns, thepolitical Action Committees of interest groups make politicalcampaigns more costly, as well as lopsided. Scholars haveacknowledged that candidates who do not have well-stuffed financialmuscle often have a difficult or even impossible task in offering aformidable challenge to candidates who have large contributions9.On the same note, money often modifies the ultimate nature ofpolitical campaigns as they make them considerably less engaging forindividuals at the grassroots level while relying more on mass media.It is well noted that these concerns become more pronounced by a U.SSupreme Courts in a 2010 ruling that enabled labor unions andcorporations to make use of their finances in placing politicaladverts in support of or while targeting individuals who have offeredtheir candidature for federal office while allowing them to purchaseissue adverts even when the political campaigns are just about tocome to an end10.These changes in rules have been seen by critics as enhancing theimportance of financial wellbeing in political campaigns and asenhancing the capacity of corporations to exert more influence on theelectoral process11.
Moreover,the open capability of all individuals to form an interest group hasbeen seen as working against public interest and democracy. This isespecially considering that elites have a higher likelihood ofestablishing, as well as dominating interest groups compared tonon-elites. This would, undoubtedly, skew the process of makingpolicies in favor of individuals in the elite category. Indeed, theactivism of interest groups may be considerably more prominent amongthe white, wealthy, educated and upper-middle class individuals thanto the working class, less educated, nonwhite and poor individuals12.As much as the advent of the Internet has allowed for the creation ofinterest groups that are based on the internet, which are moreeffective and efficient in attracting youths and individuals who areusually not attracted to such activities, a large number of the mosteffective national interest groups are still under the control oftraditional interest-group populations.
Lastly,interest groups have been further faulted for their tendency toenhance the advantages that incumbents enjoy. A large number ofinterest groups crave for access to policy makers irrespective if theparty with which the elected officials identify13.In cases where interest groups realize that the individuals whooccupy certain offices have a high likelihood of being reelected,they may disproportionately make use of their financial and humanresources in support of the incumbent candidates even when thelatter’s policies are not really beneficial to the general public.Such actions have the effect of enhancing the advantages attributedto incumbency even further through enhancing the odds that achallenger has to face.
Ofcourse, the fundamental question revolves around whether JamesMadison was wrong in insinuating that self interests would alwaysexists and that it is more preferable than controlling the mischiefof factions than to eliminate liberty or make attempts to ascertainthat all individuals have similar opinions14.This, however, does not necessarily have to be the case. It is worthnoting that Madison stated that political competition did not onlyaim at producing winners but rather ensuring all people enjoy civilrights and advance the interests of the general public. Madison alsobelieved that individuals have sufficient virtue or the capacity forself government. In essence, it does not mean that James Madison’stheory was fatally flawed or even that the representative system’sdesign is wrong. Indeed, it may be more apt to examine thecircumstances in contemporary human society that have affected thenature of factions, as well as the nature of conflicts, as well asconsider the effects of these forces to representative governments.The fact that Madison did not have an idea of what would happen inthe future did not prevent the occurrence of a system offaction-driven and representative government that would be vulnerableto control by special interest groups, the influence of financialresources, lobbyist manipulation, as well as commercials or adverts.
Evenif a large proportion of public interests are represented by interestgroups and lobbyists, it may be highly unlikely that individuals willfell that they are appropriately represented15.However, the competition of interest groups does keep the politicalsystem balanced just as James Madison insinuated. On the same note,the politics of interest groups have undoubtedly played a fundamentalrole in enhancing democracy based on two assumptions. First, everyindividual has the capacity to get into or is already in an interestgroup, in which case his or her interests would be represented16.Secondly, every person in an interest group has a clear comprehensionof his interest in a similar manner.
Indeed,claims pertaining to the notion that interest groups enhance publicawareness of a large number of issues have been criticized and becomeopen to question. Of course, it is well acknowledged that interestgroups serve the good of the public through raising the consciousnessor awareness of citizens on fundamental issues. Indeed, they providepolicy options that are well beyond those that politicians offer17.However, critics have underlined the fact that even interest groupsmay be unlikely to provide to provide the public with all validoptions pertaining to any policy question. Indeed, all thealternatives never make it to the shelf for the consideration of thecitizens. Critics have underlined the fact that citizens only get tohear and obtain the options that powerful and dominant interests haveseen as appropriate to them.
Thecurrent scheme of government with the functions that have been givento guardians and interest groups has, to a certain extent, become asubstitute for a significantly complete political theory. Themovement of government to the center or epitome of political universehas made the quintessential political act to change into influencingthe government. Scholars note that this is exactly what pressure orinterest groups have been doing, as well as how the role of citizenshas been defined18.It may be noted that political participation is interpreted in thecontemporary textbooks as an act of affecting or influencing theactions of government through either affecting the selection ofgovernment personnel or through influencing the choices that thegovernment personnel make. This definition comes with far-reachingimplications. It is well acknowledged that citizens are not seen asthe real or legitimate bearers of public interest rather they areseen as supplicants that are making efforts to influence or affectgovernment action on their own behalf, consumers of other people’sprefabricated opinions and recruits for making group pressure.However, the problem in this case does not revolve around the factthat the citizens do not have any role in the redefinition ofpolitics rather it is that their functions and roles have demotedthem to mere conscripts way from first officers. This vision ofpolitics, which is a special status that is under the direction ofprofessionals and governments create the impression that ordinarypeople must be drafted or recruited for political duty. In essence,citizens are enlisted so as to allow their influence to be productivein a wide range of causes, as well as operate as cannon fodder forgroup welfare pertaining to interest group politics.
Naturally,interest groups increase their clout through recruiting a high numberof citizens. They often entice citizens using appealing sound bitesand images so as to sell a particular solution or point of view.This, undoubtedly, alters the nature of political debate. Suchexchanges are not aimed at paying attention to the views of thepeople or even allow for a two-way dialogue, rather it simply aims atpersuading individuals to take a particular stance19.Interest groups, through making influencing the purpose of politicalactivity and giving the central role to the government turn politicaldebars into commercial meetings and establish unusual theory ofrepresentation that is far from what Madison envisaged. Thefundamental unit of politics ceases to be the individual citizen andbecomes a corporate body or an entity of some type. The importance ofindividuals is centered on their being represented or beingrepresentatives of a particular faction, in which case citizens wouldnot have any voice or stand in cases where they are just citizens20.Similarly, elected individuals are not seen as representing anindividual but as representing groups. This, ultimately, makescitizens feel, rightly so, that they are not under anyone’srepresentation. The treatment of citizens as consumers, as is thecase in modern day interest groups is detrimental to the publicinterest as it would essentially not create an awareness of what theyshould fight for or really involve them in making decisionspertaining to the same. This, however, does not undermine theattraction of free competition that is incorporated in open factionalcombat.
Interestgroups have been a fundamental component of the contemporary humansociety. Indeed, it is impossible to talk of the political sphere inthe contemporary human society without mentioning interest groups.This is especially considering the increased popularity of democracyas the most preferred method of governance even in states whereautocracy and authoritarian rules seemed to be the most viable.Interest groups are a crucial mechanism that citizens in any countryincluding the United States use to make their needs, views and ideaspertaining to varied aspects of governance known to the electedofficials. Scholars have acknowledged that citizens have the capacityto find an interest group that primarily concentrates on theirconcerns irrespective of their levels of specialization21.Interest groups are defined as the organizations or groups of peoplewho have similar policy goals and who get into the political processin an effort to attain those goals. The key difference betweeninterest groups and political parties rests on the fact that they donot field their own slate of candidates.
Variedaspects of the American political sphere have allowed for thisgrowth. First, the United States political parties are relativelyweak partly as a result of the separation of powers between thelegislative and executive branches of the government. Secondly, theAmerican system is characterized by an intense decentralization ofpolitical power to localities and states, which is collectively knownas federalism or the federal system22.This means that the associations of citizens are usually started atthe local and state levels before lending into nationalorganizations. Thirdly, an autonomous and strong judiciary that ispresent in the American system enhances the capacity of interestgroups to influence policies and decisions of the political class23.It is well noted that courts in the United States often make rulingson issues that would be controlled by a bureaucracy or thelegislature in a large number of democratic polities. Lastly, theproliferation of interest groups in the United States may have beenfostered by the country’s convention of virtually unrestrictedfreedom of press, assembly and speech, which has allowed for thepublic airing of any perception or point of view that is expressed byany interest group irrespective of how radical it may be.
However,questions have been raised on whether interest groups serve publicinterest. This question has always been shrouded in controversyespecially considering the considerable modification which they haveundergone. The history of interest groups can be traced way back tothe times of James Madison, who came up with explanations pertainingto the manner in which government functions. In The federalist Papersessays 10 and 51, James Madison made the assumption that politicsexhibits the worst aspects or element of an individual, which istheir selfishness24.Indeed, he stated that governments were formed on the bases of thefact that men were no angels. Madison underlined the fact that peoplewould always make attempts to enhance their own interests usingpolitics, in which case they can inevitably form factions and groupsso as to further these interests and secure advantages for themselveseven in cases where these interests are to the detriments of theoverall interests of the public. There will always exist somefactions whose interests are adverse to the aggregate and permanentinterests of the community. However, Madison is recognized as havingcome up with a genius way of devising a system that would make use ofthis self-interest to regulate self-interest. Madison believed thatthese groups could not be done away with as they were founded onhuman beings’ self-interests25.Of course, the contribution of interest groups to democracy cannot beunderstated.
Inaddition, interest groups play a substantial role in enhancing theparticipation of individuals in the governance of the country.Pluralists have underlined the fact that interest groups overcome oreliminate the democratic deficit that comes up especially consideringthat the political participation of a large number of people revolvesaround casting their votes once every five or four years26.Similarly, interest groups enhance the quality and efficiency ofgovernment. In any society that takes pride in being characterized asfree, it is only rational for decisions to be made through consultingor inviting debates with affected individuals or groups. Further, onemay examine the factors that lead to the proliferation of interestgroups. Scholars have underlined the fact that pressure groups are adirect result of freedom of association in any country. This freedomcomes as a crucial or fundamental principle pertaining to liberaldemocracy27.In addition, it is well noted that enhancing the accountability ofthe government is to the best interests of the general publicirrespective of the political divide to which an individual belongs.Scholars have noted that interest and pressure groups are ofincredible assistance in the monitoring and surveillance of theactivities of the government, as well as exposing or raising a redflag on any activity or information that policymakers or otherindividuals in government would rather keep under the wraps.
Alexander,R. M. (2006). Theclassics of interest group behavior.Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.
Baumgartner,Frank R., and Beth L. Leech. 2001. BasicInterests the Importance of Groups in Politics and in PoliticalScience.Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Cigler,Allan J., and Burdett A. Loomis. 2007. Interestgroup politics.Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Dryzek,John S. 2000. Deliberativedemocracy and beyond: liberals, critics, contestations.Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
Goldberg,David Howard. 1990. Foreignpolicy and ethnic interest groups: American and Canadian Jews lobbyfor Israel.New York: Greenwood Press.
Goldstein,Kenneth M. 1999. Interestgroups, lobbying, and participation in America.Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Grossman,Gene M., and Elhanan Helpman. 2001. Specialinterest politics.Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: MIT Press.
Grossmann,Matt, and Matthew Grossmann. 2012. TheNot-So-Special Interests Interest Groups, Public Representation, andAmerican Governance.Palo Alto: Stanford University Press
Grossman,Gene M., and Elhanan Helpman. 2002. Interestgroups and trade policy.Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Halpin,D. (2005). Survivingglobal change?: Agricultural interest groups in comparativeperspective.Aldershot [u.a.: Ashgate.
Herrnson,Paul S., Christopher J. Deering, and Clyde Wilcox. 2013. Interestgroups unleashed.Thousand Oaks, Calif: CQ Press.
Hrebenar,Ronald J., Matthew J. Burbank, and Robert C. Benedict.1999. Politicalparties, interest groups and political campaigns.Boulder, Colo. [u.a.]: Westview Press
Hrebenar,Ronald J. 1997. Interestgroup politics in America.Armonk, NY [u.a.]: Sharpe.
Kollman,Ken. 1998. Outsidelobbying: public opinion and interest group strategies.Princeton, NJ [u.a.]: Princeton Univ. Press.
Lerbinger,Otto. 2006. Corporatepublic affairs: interacting with interest groups, media, andgovernment.Mahwah, N.J. [u.a.]: Erlbaum.
Mahood,H. R. (2000). Interestgroups in American national politics: An overview.Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Petracca,Mark P. 1992. ThePolitics of interests: interest groups transformed.Boulder: Westview Press.
Skinner,Richard M. 2006. Morethan money: interest group action in congressional elections.Lanham, Md. [u.a.]: Rowman & Littlefield.
Stewart,Jenny. 2009. Dilemmasof engagement: the role of consultation in governance.Acton, A.C.T.: ANU E Press.
Thuynsma,Heather A. 2012. Publicopinion and interest group politics: South Africa`s missinglinks? Pretoria,South Africa: Africa Institute of South Africa.
1 Baumgartner, Frank R., and Beth L. Leech. 2001. Basic Interests the Importance of Groups in Politics and in Political Science. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
2 Grossman, Gene M., and Elhanan Helpman. 2001. Special interest politics. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: MIT Press.
3 Baumgartner, Frank R., and Beth L. Leech. 2001. Basic Interests the Importance of Groups in Politics and in Political Science. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
4 Grossmann, Matt, and Matthew Grossmann. 2012. The Not-So-Special Interests Interest Groups, Public Representation, and American Governance. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press
5 Alexander, R. M. (2006). The classics of interest group behavior. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.
6 Alexander, R. M. (2006). The classics of interest group behavior. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.
7 Grossman, Gene M., and Elhanan Helpman. 2002. Interest groups and trade policy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
8 Hrebenar, Ronald J., Matthew J. Burbank, and Robert C. Benedict. 1999. Political parties, interest groups and political campaigns. Boulder, Colo. [u.a.]: Westview Press
9 Thuynsma, Heather A. 2012. Public opinion and interest group politics: South Africa`s missing links? Pretoria, South Africa: Africa Institute of South Africa.
10 Herrnson, Paul S., Christopher J. Deering, and Clyde Wilcox. 2013. Interest groups unleashed. Thousand Oaks, Calif: CQ Press.
11 Thuynsma, Heather A. 2012. Public opinion and interest group politics: South Africa`s missing links? Pretoria, South Africa: Africa Institute of South Africa.
12 Goldstein, Kenneth M. 1999. Interest groups, lobbying, and participation in America. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press.
13 Kollman, Ken. 1998. Outside lobbying: public opinion and interest group strategies. Princeton, NJ [u.a.]: Princeton Univ. Press.
14 Kollman, Ken. 1998. Outside lobbying: public opinion and interest group strategies. Princeton, NJ [u.a.]: Princeton Univ. Press.
15 Petracca, Mark P. 1992. The Politics of interests: interest groups transformed. Boulder: Westview Press.
16 Skinner, Richard M. 2006. More than money: interest group action in congressional elections. Lanham, Md. [u.a.]: Rowman & Littlefield.
17 Goldberg, David Howard. 1990. Foreign policy and ethnic interest groups: American and Canadian Jews lobby for Israel. New York: Greenwood Press.
18 Hrebenar, Ronald J. 1997. Interest group politics in America. Armonk, NY [u.a.]: Sharpe.
19 Halpin, D. (2005). Surviving global change?: Agricultural interest groups in comparative perspective. Aldershot [u.a.: Ashgate.
20 Dryzek, John S. 2000. Deliberative democracy and beyond: liberals, critics, contestations. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
21 Lerbinger, Otto. 2006. Corporate public affairs: interacting with interest groups, media, and government. Mahwah, N.J. [u.a.]: Erlbaum.
22 Mahood, H. R. (2000). Interest groups in American national politics: An overview. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
23 Stewart, Jenny. 2009. Dilemmas of engagement: the role of consultation in governance. Acton, A.C.T.: ANU E Press.
24 Cigler, Allan J., and Burdett A. Loomis. 2007. Interest group politics. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
25 Cigler, Allan J., and Burdett A. Loomis. 2007. Interest group politics. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
26 Goldberg, David Howard. 1990. Foreign policy and ethnic interest groups: American and Canadian Jews lobby for Israel. New York: Greenwood Press.
27 Goldberg, David Howard. 1990. Foreign policy and ethnic interest groups: American and Canadian Jews lobby for Israel. New York: Greenwood Press.