Interest Groups in Texas. GOVT 2306.
Interest Groups in Texas
Along with political parties, interest groups are private organizations that attempt to influence public policies. But they do so without seeking public office, so they do not have to deal with the electoral rules that condition the nature of political parties.
Rather than only having two major political parties, there are thousands of groups in the state that focus on the needs of discreet, isolated groups within the state. In addition, there are national interest groups within the state that tie the interests of state residents with those of the nation as a whole.
“interest group, also called special interest group or pressure group, any association of individuals or organizations, usually formally organized, that, on the basis of one or more shared concerns, attempts to influence public policy in its favor.”
James Madison noted the tendency of people to form groups, as well as the fact that in a free society these groups must exist, and will be clustered around the various interests that exist in society at any moment in time. He called them factions. Here is his definition of factions:
“By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, [adverse] to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”
This is a critical point: Interest groups exist because the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees both the right of people to peacefully assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
One quick point however: Madison doesn’t say anything about what these factions would actually look like. Todays interest groups are organized groups with staffs and funding sources, not ad-hoc groups.
There are a large number of interest groups in Texas. Generally we assume that the number of interest groups that exist in the state corresponds to the number of interests that exist in the state.
Madison warned against the evolution of majority factions since they could turn democracies into tyrannies. He suggested that large number of interests would divide these majority groups into smaller segments and make majority tyranny less likely to occur.
The more interest groups that exist, the less dynamic government can become. A minority group “may clog the administration” and “convulse the society.” Either option is better than tyranny, but it does have consequences.
The principle problem is that connected groups may be able to establish politics that benefit them and make it difficult for those policies to be changed. This can make it difficult for changes to be made since those changes might jeopardize the benefits already received by groups.
Mancur Olson, in a book entitled the Rise and Decline of Nations, argued that as societies develop, strong special interest lobbies evolve that make them less efficient and dynamic.
“The thesis of this brilliant book is that the longer a society enjoys political stability, the more likely it is to develop powerful special-interest lobbies that in turn make it less efficient economically.”
Jonathan Rauch builds on this idea and calls it Demosclerosis.He argues that the rise of interest groups has led to a type of paralysis in government. Demosclerosis is democratic government's progressive loss of the ability to adapt.
Once programs are established, groups that benefit from them coalesce around the programs and do what they can to keep it in place as is. Any change can jeopardize their interests.
As we will see below, interest groups (the good ones) are able to cobble relationships with the principle actors involved in a program that benefits them, and this is the mechanism that enhances and maintains their interests.
There are many ways to categorize interest groups – no one is necessarily better than any other. Its not like our ability to categorize governing institutions into those that are legislative, executive, or judicial in function.
Tannahill’s list is typical, he cites the following: Business Groups and Trade AssociationsProfessional AssociationsOrganized LaborAgricultural GroupsRacial and Ethnic Minority GroupsReligious Groups
The simple difference between the two is that public groups address issues that are common to everyone (like clean air and education) while private groups address issues that benefit their members (like business and professional organizations and labor unions).With that in mind: all groups like to argue that the benefits they receive will at least indirectly benefit the public welfare.
An example of a Texas private interest group:Texas Business AllianceWhich some argue may be the most powerful interest group in the state.
Texans for Lawsuit Reform can be considered to be both a public interest group and a private group. Limits on lawsuits are argued to enhance business opportunities and the jobs that come with it, which benefits the overall economy, but it provides specific benefits for businesses that engage in enterprises that make them subject to lawsuits.
Why does this distinction matter? Because it tells us something about the dynamics of group formation, even though we are a majoritarian democracy, the larger groups may be less powerful than the smaller groups.
1 - Organize individuals with similar interests 2 - Organize electoral competition 3 - Organize government 4 - Link the state and local political system to the national political system.
While people may have a shared interest in some matter, that is seldom enough. Interest do not speak for themselves. There has to be an organized method in place to represent those interests. But this can be difficult to do.
Here’s the basic question presented by the Free Rider Problem:Why work for collectively for a groups’ goals if you will benefit from it even if you don’t do any work? If the benefit can’t be separated between those who contribute and those who do not.
There is little need to join a group, if you will benefit from the group’s efforts even if you do not contribute. But if everyone thinks this way, the group will not form, and its objectives will not be reached.
In order for a group to be formed, there has to be a driving force making it happen. A political entrepreneur has to develop incentives for people to join the group. They have to convince members to avoid the temptation to free rider.
This person has to figure out how best to overcome the free rider problem that prevents individuals that have a common interest from working together to achieve that interest.
Olson pointed out that these individuals provide selective benefits to individuals that they would not be able to get if they were not members of the group and did not participate to further the group’s objectives. A selective benefit is a reward or punishment that fosters cooperation among a group of people who might otherwise free ride.
MaterialMembers are encouraged to join because they will receive material benefits if they do so. Jobs or business opportunities for example.
PurposiveJoining the group helps one advance a grand “purpose” such as cleaner air, greater public morality, or some other intangible reward.
Material interests tend to be the most effective for organizing people. This makes sense if you think about it. People are more likely to be motivated by something that profits them than by other concerns.
Members of groups want to be seen as being central supports of members of Congress and the executive branch because that makes it more likely that they will invited to help craft the legislation and rules that will affect them.
A key goal of interest groups is to establish connections with people in each of the branches of government.Ideally they forge relationships with the various institutions that have some authority around a defined policy area.
According to the table contained here, there are five levels of strength that interest groups have in the states. Interest groups in Texas are dominant complimentary.
Not all groups are equally capable of being organized successfully.Private groups that can provide material incentives to potential members are more likely to form effective groups.
Ironically – given that we live in a majoritarian democracy – larger groups can be less effective. They are more difficult to organize and are more likely to suffer from free ridership.
This helps establish relationships with elected officials and makes it more likely that the group will receive favorable treatment from each branch.
In Texas, the Governor is responsible for appointing the members of approximately 125 multimember boards and commissions. These boards and commissions, some with broad policy mandates, make public policy on the often narrowly defined issues around which organized interests are likely to form. Consequently, organized interests, including businesses, associations, lobbying groups, and law firms, seek policy making appointments for their representatives in these government agencies. – source.