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American Government

American Government

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American Government

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  1. American Government Interest Groups

  2. Interest Groups • An interest group (also called an advocacy group, lobbying group, pressure group or special interest) is a group, however loosely or tightly organized, that advocates for public policy. • An interest group can be described as an organized group that does not put up candidates for election, but seeks to influence government policy or legislation

  3. Interest Groups & American Politics • Organized interests have long been a source of fascination for students of American politics • A. many scholars of interest groups have posited that they play a crucial role in American democracy • B. groups help to organize public opinion and participation • -iron law of oligarchy -- leaders call the shots they are paid to be attentive, active, etc. • 1. this is critical because we know that, left to its own devices, the public is uninformed, unconstrained • 2. and that parties have weakened • C. In short: attentive, active groups perform many of the functions that traditional political theory says should be performed by either the people or parties • -makes pluralism possible!

  4. Interest Groups in Context • Interest groups are a ubiquitous part of American politics: • 7,000 represented in Washington, DC • Represent virtually every economic, social, ethnic, ideological, religious interest in the nation • Help with the articulation of these interests

  5. Interest Groups vs. Parties • Interest groups are often lumped together analytically with political parties. But they are very different --- in at least 4 ways • A. First, composition • 1. parties include a wide variety of people, with different concerns and beliefs • -parties seek to aggregate interests • 2. groups are composed of people with specialized concerns, who focus on a few issues • -groups seek to articulate (loudly) • B. Second, function • 1. parties seek, in a comprehensive fashion, to elect a slate of officials and to organize government • 2. groups seek to influence certain public policy decisions on their narrow issues

  6. I.G. v. Parties (con’t) • C. Third, legal status • 1. political parties are treated as parts of the legal machinery of government • -examples: given money for conventions, no "whites only" primaries • 2. groups are considered private associations, outside the formal channels of government, largely protected by 1st amendment • -as we'll see, makes them hard to regulate • D. fourth, status of members • 1. parties treat individuals primarily as citizens • -appeals are based on the common good • 2. groups treat individuals as members • -appeals are based on more limited (or selfish) grounds

  7. Goals: Access & Influence Principal goal of groups is to influence policy decisions A. U.S. system is particularly amenable to groups • 1. constitutional basis - 1st amendment right to redress government • 2. we are a nation of joiners -- organize ourselves into voluntary groups • 3. our federal system of separated powers guarantees numerous access points • -state, local, federal marble cake • (if you lose at one level, move up/down) • -legislative, executive, judicial • (if you lose in one branch, go to others) • -Congress organized into committees/subcommittees - so groups know where to focus • -elections are generally not publicly funded - groups provide money • -weak state tradition -- bureaucrats are more subject to outside pressures than in most other western democracies

  8. Two Activity Types • 1) Public Relations: TV campaigns, appearance on news programs, social appearances, etc. • 2) Electionneering: trying to effect who does and who does not get elected. • Most obvious way: contributing money to candidates that support their issues • Provide labor for campaigns, Mobilize Membership, GOTV • Lobbying: professional representatives of the IG try to convince members of congress to support legislation the IG favors. • Grassroots pressure (stir up people over a salient issue). The IG tries to get its membership to contact the White House or Congress. • -petitions • referenda • -organized mail campaigns (tea bags) • -president uses now, too

  9. More Activities • Agenda setting - incubate ideas • Rate MCs - voting cue for constituents • AFL-CIO's COPE Scores • Chamber of Commerce • NEA (National Education Association) • ADA (Americans for Democratic Action) • ACU (American Conservative Union)

  10. Mancur Olson: Logic of Collective Action • Olson focused on the logical basis of interest group membership and participation. • The reigning political theories of his day granted groups an almost primordial status. • Some appealed to a natural human instinct for herding, others ascribed the formation of groups that are rooted in kinship to the process of modernization. • Olson offered a radically different account of the logical basis of organized collective action.

  11. The Logic of Collective Action • The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups was first published in 1965. It develops a theory of political science and economics of concentrated benefits verses diffuse costs. • The book challenged accepted wisdom in Olson’s day that: • 1) if everyone in a group has interests in common, then they will act collectively to achieve them; and • 2) in a democracy, the greatest concern is that the majority will tyrannize and exploit the minority. • The book argues that individuals in any group attempting collective action will have incentives to “free ride” on the efforts of others if the group is working to provide public goods. Individuals will not “free ride” in groups which provide benefits only to active participants.

  12. Recall the Free Rider Problem

  13. Olson (con’t) • In TLOCA, Olson theorized that “only a separate and ‘selective’ incentive will stimulate a rational individual in a latent group to act in a group-oriented way”. • That is, only a benefit reserved strictly for group members will motivate one to join and contribute to the group. • This means that individuals will act collectively to provide private goods, but not to provide public goods.

  14. Free Rider Problem: Interest Groups

  15. Selective Incentives • Three Types of Selective Incentives • Material • Solidary • Purposive

  16. Material Incentives • Material Incentives: something of tangible value (tote bag, coffee mug, bumper sticker, monthly magazine, discounts etc.) • Ex. Senior Citizen discounts through the AARP. • a. Best Ex. AAA (Triple A is an interest group active on automobile safety issues). People join the AAA b/c they want free towing. • b. Ex. Labor Unions: Closed Shop. In order to work that job, you have to be a member of the union. You join the union (contribute to the ‘public good’), and you get the job. Unions want closed shops because it creates a larger membership and thus more influence.

  17. Solidary Incentives • Solidary Incentives: intangible rewards from the act of association -- sociability, status, identification – a social interaction benefit. • The reason why you join is because you want to hang out with the folks who are members of that organization. • Best ex. VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) – open to anyone who fought overseas, and is primarily a social organization. Veterans wanted to hang out with other veterans. Frats can also be classified as interest groups and they primarily provide social benefits.

  18. Purposive Incentives • Purposive incentives: intangible rewards related to the goals of the organization --- e.g., working on an election of a supported candidate • A person joins a group for ‘purposive’ reasons because they so strongly identify with that group’s mission—they want to be a part of the cause—even when they know their actual contribution is irrelevant to the success of the group. • a. Best ex. Ideologically committed interest groups. Abortion groups (pro-choice, pro-life)

  19. Membership & Stability • Interest groups that offer material benefits tend to be: • The largest groups • Are the longest lasting • Solidary groups tend not to be long lasting and tend to fall apart. • The VFW thing was mostly a WWII thing, and thus as that generation dies out and are not replaced by new blood…they die out. • Purposive IG’s tend to be the smallest…and they tend to be short-lived. • People burn-out on the effort needed to keep it going. Or the issue looses saliency…or they win (or loose) on their issue. • Of course, interest groups can offer a mix of benefits. The NRA doesn’t just rely on material incentives (solidary and purposive benefits are a part of it too).

  20. Do I.G. Leaders Represent Members? Depends on the selective incentives provided by the IG’s • In IG’s that rely on material incentives, there tends to be a low correlation b/w the leaders and the members (leaders don’t tend to represent the attitudes of the members). • If you’ve joined for the towing service, it doesn’t mean you agree with their political objectives…in fact you probably don’t even know what their political agenda is. • Big reason why Labor Union leadership are Liberal Democrats and the Rank & File Union membership is much more diverse (many more conservative Republicans).

  21. Leadership vs. Members • In IG’s that rely primarily on solidary incentives, the leadership is better reflective of membership. Though they may have divergent interests, usually they are from the same social groups (i.e. the leaders of the VFW were veterans). • In IG’s that rely on purposive incentives, there is the highest correlation between leadership and membership views. • If the leadership is supporting political objectives you don’t agree with, then you’ll quit  since the only reason you joined was because of its political objectives. Membership keeps leadership on a ‘short lease’ in these cases.

  22. Types of Interest Groups • Membership Organizations • Nonmembership Organizations

  23. Membership Organizations: BUSINESS ASSOCIATIONS • Peak Business Associations: made up of business associations from a variety of industries • U.S. Chamber of Commerce: made up of a bunch of smaller business associations • Don’t come from just one industry (they can be from the banking industry, medical industry, etc.) • What do they do: Active on issues that broadly affect the American economy (macro-economic issues) the big economic issues. Ex. Tax Rate • Trade Associations: made up of business associations from a single industry • American Bankers Association • Bow Tie Manufactures Association

  24. Membership Organizations:LABOR UNIONS Labor Unions – Made up of either other labor unions or workers • Labor Unions are not nearly as numerous as trade associations, but tend to have larger memberships • American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) : made up of smaller labor unions • United Mine Workers – made up of miners • Union of Journeyman Horeshoers – made up of horeshoers • The UMW & UJH are members of the AFL-CIO • AFL-CIO is active on a broad range of economic / political issues, while the unions based on workers tend to just be concerned with issues related to their workers (UMW is just concerned with mining issues)

  25. Membership Organizations: AGRICULTURAL GROUPS Agriculture Groups • Again, there is the distinction between groups that take on general policy issues and those that concern themselves with specific policy issues. • American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) – big group that deals with general agricultural policy • American Soybean Association – made up of soybean farmers and only deals with soybean political issues

  26. Membership Organizations:Professional Associations • American Medical Association (AMA) – if you are a doctor, you become a member of the AMA. • Numerous professional associations (Lawyer – ABA, Political scientists: APSA). • What do they do? • Keep their professionals up to date on innovations in the profession • Lobby Congress on issues related to their professions (tort reform is an issue for ABA). • Ex. In Texas there is the Political Science Employment Act: passed laws making students have to take 2 political science classes in college • AMA is the most powerful political interest group in the United States. • Lots of money • Large membership (lots of doctors that see a lot of patients) • Good on public relations • AMA was opposed to the Clinton Health Care plan, and that played a big part in why it failed.

  27. Groups in the Federal System: Traditional View • The traditional view of groups and their role in the federal system concerns their interrelationships between 2 other key parts of the governmental system: • -committee/subcommittee • -bureaucratic agency • -interest group

  28. Groups in the Federal System: Iron Triangle

  29. Iron Triangle Politics • At one corner of the triangle are interest groups (constituencies). These are the powerful interests that buy Congressional votes in their favor and which guarantee re-election for supporting their programs. • At another corner sit members of Congress who also seek to align themselves with a constituency for political and electoral support. These congressional members support legislation that advances the interest group's agenda. • Occupying the third corner of the triangle are bureaucrats, who are often captured by those they are designed to regulate. The result is a three-way, stable alliance that is sometimes called a ‘subgovernment’ because of its durability, impregnability, and power to determine policy.

  30. Iron Triangle Politics • Consumers are often left out in the cold by this arrangement. Iron triangles result in the passing of very narrow, "pork barrel" policies that benefit a small segment of the population. • The interests of the bureaucracy's constituency are met, while the needs of consumers (which may be the general public) are passed over. • This "privatization" of public administration may be viewed as problematic for the popular concept of democracy, insofar as the common welfare of all citizens is sacrificed for very specific interests; effectively subverting the purpose for which the agency was established in the first place. • Others maintain that such arrangements are consonant with (and natural outgrowths of) the democratic process, since they frequently involve a majority bloc of voters implementing their will through their representatives in government.

  31. Iron Triangles: Problems in Democracy • Many people have suggested that numerous policies are made in the U.S. in these tight triangles • Notice how stable they are and how each of the "points" benefits the others and is benefited by them • The preferred position of interest groups in these iron triangles bothers some people: • 1. the interest groups involved are almost always producer groups • 2. they are often not counter-balanced by consumer groups • 3. some fear that this endangers the public interest • -tantamount to having Col. Sanders babysit your chicken

  32. Interest Group Bias • All of this points up a general fact about interest group democracy --- some interests are better organized than others • We need to consider why that is so, and • How this organizational bias affects public policy

  33. Recall the Free Rider Problem • The free rider problem is integral to the formation and organization of groups. • Governments do so by the use of compulsory taxation schemes • Interest groups do not have such means at their disposal – rely on selective incentives • Recall: defined as benefits that you get only if you join the group

  34. Group Formation Biases • Upshot = some groups are more likely to form than others • Essentially--those that are best able to identify and deliver selective incentives to their members • Small, concentrated groups easier to organize than large, diffuse groups • -little solidary reward in large groups • -harder in a large group to see the impact of your efforts • Homogenous groups easier to organize than heterogeneous ones • -in homogenous groups, it is easier to develop consensus about what the collective interest is and what it is worth • -easier to provide attractive selective incentives to homogenous groups (e.g., NRA versus anti-gun groups) • Producer groups more likely to form than consumer groups • -producers are fewer in number, more homogenous, more concentrated interest • -consumers are greater in number, heterogeneous, diffused interest

  35. Some Groups More Equal than Others • E. E. Schattschneider has a view similar to Olson's (The Semi-Sovereign People, 1960). • Organized groups are not equally representative of all interests in society • 1. business groups predominate • Gives group politics a strong upper class bias • “The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper class accent” • This suggests that we cannot count on groups to balance each other out • 1. in private disputes, business interests will prevail • 2. the disorganized, poorly organized will usually lose • Government's role is to help restore the balance • 1. government is place where private interests do not always prevail • 2. place where losers in private battles seek redress • 3. counter-acts some of the upper class bias of group politics

  36. Iron Triangle Reconsidered • So let's reconsider the iron triangles • In recent years, some scholars have begun to suggest that the notion of the iron triangle is too restrictive • Too restrictive - in current environment other forces have become important • 1. media (investigative journalism) • 2. dissidents (e.g., Pentagon) - protected by whistle-blowers law • 3. consumer groups better organized now than before (e.g., Common Cause, Nader, etc.) • 4. courts have become far more active in the process • B. better to think of situation now as an "issue network" • 1. composed of interested, informed actors • 2. still favors the organized, but the circle is wider • 3. generally speaking, the smaller the issue, the more likely producer interests are to dominate

  37. Beyond Iron Triangles • These scholars suggest that there are more actors involved now who upset the coziness of the triangle • 1. iron rectangles -- now federal courts get into the act • -often represent less powerful interests • 2. issue networks -- broader participation • acknowledges that other interest groups have formed to try to offset the producer interests • -PIRGs • -environmental groups • -consumer groups • Media: harder to keep decisions within the small group