An interest group, or a special interest group, is a group of concerned individuals who share common goals (JB-HDNP, 2012). They connect the public to lawmakers and vice versa. They try to sway public opinion, election, and public policy (JB-HDNP). Special interest groups make strong demands on the government (Magleby et al., 2010). These groups may be economic or occupational, ideological, public interest, foreign policy or ethic and racial. They often organize themselves into movements. They assert their influence through their size, resources, cohesiveness, leadership, and funding, and most importantly, their relationship with the political and governmental environment. Lobbying is their chief activity, although they also connect directly with the public through mass mailings, advertising campaigns and cooperative lobbying. Lobbying is chiefly aimed at public officials, particularly legislators, and the policies they sponsor. Lobbyists may accost legislators to directly influence their vote on a certain issue. Lobbyists fulfill the important role of providing information for legislators' decision-making, educating and forming public opinion, and even contributing to and testifying to certain legislations. Lobbyists are mostly involved in the electoral process through the use of political action committees (Magleby et al.).
Types and Examples
The types of interest groups are business and labor groups, agricultural groups, professional groups, religious groups, specific cause groups, public interest groups, government-interest groups, and general welfare organizations (JB-HDNP, 2012). Examples are business and labor groups -- National Manufacturers Association and AFL-CIO; agricultural groups -- American Farm Bureau federation and National Farmers' Union; professional groups -- American Medical Association and American Bar Association; specific causes groups -- American Civil Liberties Union and Sierra Club; religious groups -- National Council of Churches and Anti-Defamation League of B'nal B'rith; public-interest groups -- Common Cause and Public Citizen; government-cause groups -- National Governors' Association and National Conference of State Legislators; and general welfare organizations -- American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons (JB-HDNP).
Interest Groups vs. Political Parties
These groups may either be allies or opponents but they both work for similar goals (JB-HDNP, 2012; Magleby et al., 2010). Interest groups advance a particular area of concern and bring it to the attention and support of elected officials. Political parties, on the other hand, represent bigger groups of people who nominate candidates for office. Interest groups focus on a particular goal or issue and bring it to the attention and support of elected officials and the public through select methods. One method is hiring lobbyists to meet with these elected officials or their staff. Other methods are planning rallies and communication modes, such as direct mail and social media. Interest group, American Civil Liberties Union, for example, raises issues on the people's side and argues that their rights are being violated or ignored. They assert their influence or power during elections by putting out ads in various media. Their lobbyists also talk with legislators or file lawsuits against them for what they believe as legal or right (JB-HDNP, Magleby et al.).
Political parties collect people who share the same or compatible views on how the government should operate (JB-HDNP, 2012; Magleby et al., 2010). They nominate candidates from the municipal to the national levels. They are quite influential in a republic. If they belong to a majority party, their legislative priorities are acted on easily, as long as the factions within them are agreeable. Administrative positions are often awarded to friends and supporters of the majority party. Those who decide to run as independent candidates find it difficult to win. Every political party is in place to sustain advantage over independent candidates (JB-HDNP, Magleby et al.).
Large numbers of people, frustrated or disconcerted with government policies, band together and form themselves into movements (JB-HDNP, 2012; Magleby et al., 2010). Their power derives from their size, resources, cohesiveness, leadership, and techniques, particularly in assisting specific candidates or political parties and funding lobbyists. But their actual power proceeds from the way these elements relate with the environment where a given interest group operates. Lobbying is their major activity. Lobbyists contact target lawmakers or other government leaders for their cause. Lobbyists work at the federal, State and local levels. Many lobbyists are former government officials who have friends in Congress and the executive branch. Lobbyists supply lawmakers with information, which supports the interest group's position or issue. They help draft bills with their own legal and research personnel. They also extend election support, court action support and public support. In extending election support, they promise and provide campaign contributions to lawmakers who favor and support their policies. They may also threaten to withdraw that support from those who will not favor their position or issue. The contribution assures them access. Interest groups may urge voters to share their views and vote for their candidate. They may even choose members who will seek public office. They extend court action support by taking their cause or concern to court. For example, they may sue the government to protect federal regulations. And they extend public support during campaign periods by gaining public support for their issues or policies. They do this through television, radio, the internet, newspapers and magazines (JB-HNDP, Magleby et al.).
Lobbying and lobbyists were coined from "lobby" or hallway outside the House and Senate chambers (JB-HNDP, 2012; Magleby et al., 2010). It also refers to hotel lobbies in Washington where petitioners and other influential agents gather. Lobbyists may politely approach a senator or member of Congress to ask for his support for a decision. Despite the negative concept attached to their image, interest groups perform positive and useful functions for government. These include providing pertinent information to decision-making, educating and mobilizing public opinion, and preparing for and testifying about a particular legislation (JB-HNDP, Magleby et al.).
Influence on the President
Interest groups get involved in political campaigns for three purposes (Tichenor & Fechter, 2002). The first is to help those candidates who support their cause to win. These are those winnable candidates who are also sympathetic to the position or cause of interest groups. The second is to help sympathetic and elected leaders stay in office. The elements of interest groups help do this. The elements are volunteers, campaign advice and money. And third is to help those in neutral positions or even somewhat negative in order to gain access to the elected official. This follows the natural human tendency of feeling obliged to at least listen to the urgings of a donor even if there is no complete agreement with the donor. This means that campaign contributions are shared by opposite camps to make sure that interest groups will have access to whoever wins. Because of the prohibitions against corporations and labor unions from giving direct monetary donations to federal offices, interest groups form Political Action Committees or PACs. These collect money from the members of the organizations for candidates. Then they report this to the Federal Election Commission as the law requires. They can also give money donations indirectly as private persons. The amounts spent on campaigns are always growing. Average expenses for winning House candidate is almost $1.5 million and almost $10 million for the average winning Senate candidate. Expenses at presidential elections are expectedly far greater and faster. In 2008, campaign for President Obama exceeded $700 million and $300 million for vice president McCain for an overall total of about $1.5 billion during the election cycle. The top beer companies alone spent over a billion dollars on the 2006 advertising. Spreading the expense for a two-year cycle brings an average of about ae of a billion dollars each year. The 2008 presidential campaign alone shows how outrageously interest groups spend on such a campaign. Most of the money given out came from individuals rather than the PACs. These individuals are members of these groups and they represent their own interests. This reflects the large and important role played by interest groups in presidential campaign financing alone (Tichenor & Fechter).
Influence over Legislators for Public Policy
Interest groups play just as important a role in legislators' policy positions (Wright, 2009). But this is done indirectly rather than directly through advertising campaigns and information dissemination by conducting lobbying at the grassroots and in Washington. Through these initiatives, interest groups can influence the preferences and decisions of citizens and legislators and legislators' perceptions of the direction of their constituents' preferences. Part of this valuable information puts much weight and direction of a legislator's choice of position in a given policy. But influencing their decision is not done by simply putting pressure or making a campaign contribution. The true source of influence in interest groups comes from the acquisition and transmission of information, rather than electoral threats, arm-twisting or other forms of pressure (Wright).
Organized interest groups are the greatest influences in Washington but their interactions with Congress are often viewed in a rather negative light (Saylor, 2012). Their very useful functions for the…