Democracy Under Pressure Chapter 7 Interest Groups
Interest Groups • In 2003, the Congress overhauled the Medicare program, adding a prescription drug benefit. That benefit was controversial. • Analysts estimated that the new law could increase drug company revenues by 9 percent ($13 billion) because more people would buy drugs under the new program. • However, the drug companies were opposed to the importation of drugs from Canada, which are 75 percent cheaper in price.
Interest Groups • In the first six months of 2003, the pharmaceutical industry spent $38 million to shape the legislation to their wishes. Since 2000, they have spent $60 million in political donations. • The millions spent every year raise a basic question about democracy: Do the people really rule, or do powerful groups with deep pockets full of money control government policies and determine what laws get passed? • Public opinion plays an important role, but is not the only influence. Who, then, is really in charge?
Democracy Under Pressure Who Governs?
Who Governs? • The people, through political parties that select leaders elected by the voters. • The "power elite," a "power structure," or an "establishment" really rules. • In his 1950s book The Power Elite, sociologist C. Wright Mills said that the few possessors of power, wealth, and celebrity occupy the key positions in American society. • Richard Rovere calls this group the "American Establishment," a cadre of leaders of finance, business, professions, and the universities, who hold power in the United States, regardless of which administration is in the White House.
Who Governs? • Robert A. Dahl, a political scientist studying power structures in New Haven, Connecticut, concluded that instead of one set of omnipotent elites, there were different elites for different issues. • Dahl saw decisions as being made in a "pluralist system." • Critics of Dahl's view have several complaints: • Those who wield power cannot always be identified by examining key decisions. • Powerful people can keep issues from even getting onto the agenda.
Who Governs? • Pluralism is a system in which many conflicting groups have access to and compete for the ear of the decision makers. • It supposes that people are active in organizations to advance their interests. • Sometimes people can be members of many organizations. • Minorities, the poor, and consumers tend to be underrepresented or even left out in a pluralist system. • Even pluralism falls short of democracy, some argue, because it is competition between groups of elites. • Elites exercise power both in and out of government circles.
Democracy Under Pressure Interest Groups at Work
Interest Groups at Work • Defined as private groups that attempt to influence the government to respond to the shared attitudes of their members. • When one group wins, another often loses. • David B. Truman points out that interest groups may make "certain claims" on other groups in the society by acting through "the institutions of government."
Interest Groups at Work • James Madison warned of the "mischiefs of faction" in Federalist No. 10. He also recognized that reconciling the competing interests of various groups was what legislation was all about. • Woodrow Wilson argued that government should act as a referee among interest groups to protect the public.
Interest Groups at Work • Muckraking journalists like Lincoln Steffens exposed big business barons. This developed the traditional view that these groups are evil plotters against the common man. Today, though, major businesses have well-paid lobbyists acting in their interest. • Many political scientists consider interest groups a normal and vital part of the political process, providing many important inputs into the political system.
Interest Groups at Work • These groups are different from political parties, which seek to influence government by electing candidates. • Interest groups should not be confused with political parties.
Who Belongs? • Alexis de Tocqueville noticed that in no nation in the world has "the principle of association been more successfully used or applied to a greater multitude of objects than in America." • There are more than 100,000 clubs and organizations in America, yet more than one-third of Americans are not involved in any organization. Nearly half who do belong are affiliated with social, fraternal, or church-connected organizations with little relation to politics.
Who Belongs? • One survey reported that only 31 percent of the population belonged to groups that sometimes takes a stand on housing, better government, school problems, or other social issues. • Over one-third of Americans belonging to no groups at all raises the question about pluralist democracy.
How They Operate • In the early 1980s, the FTC proposed a set of rules on the purchase of used cars, requiring that their major defects be made known to the buyer.
How They Operate • The National Automobile Dealers Association mounted a lobbying campaign to have Congress overturn the rules. • According to Ralph Nader's Congress Watch, the group gave members of Congress campaign contributions of $770,000 the previous year. • Consumers lost when Congress voted to kill the rules. • Brewers tried to avoid national regulation of beer-distribution practices, which artificially kept prices high. Big contributions to senators exempted those practices from the federal rules, but consumer activists joined with the states to defeat the exemption.
How They Operate • Lobbying • One of the most powerful techniques interest groups use is lobbying. • Lobbying is defined as communication with legislators or other government officials to try to influence their decisions. • Lobbying dates back to the 1600s in England, and first came into use in this country in Albany, New York. It was used in Washington in the early 1830s.
How They Operate • Although the term "lobbyist" is negative and targeted in campaigns, lobbying is not incompatible with democracy. • Lobbying is often applied to mean direct contact with lawmakers, and is not confined to the legislative branch. The executive branch, regulatory agencies, and the courts are also influenced by lobbyists. • Another effective technique is for lobbyists to form friendships with staff members and bureaucrats so that they can present a personal viewpoint.
How They Operate • The lobbyists' influence is simple: they pay personal visits, attend hearings, and form friendships with staffers. They also provide carefully researched background materials. • President Truman said "We probably wouldn't call these people lobbyists. We would call them citizens appearing in the public interest."
How They Operate • Money: the lobbyist's tool • In 1998, fifty lobbyists posed for a group photo, accompanied by an article entitled, "Show Me the Money!" The phrase serves as a motto for a most affluent group in Washington. • Michael Deaver, Reagan's friend and deputy chief of staff, left the White House and set up his own lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. in 1985. • Foreign governments, defense contractors, and others flocked to hire his firm at fees ranging into the millions.
How They Operate • Federal law prohibits past government workers from appearing before their former agencies to represent clients for a year after leaving government service. • Deaver was convicted for violating this law and was fined $100,000 and sentenced to three years' probation. • In 2003, two top lobbying firms-Cassidy & Associates and Patton Biggs-each earned more than $28 million in revenues. • In 1997, the tobacco industry reached a multi-billion dollar settlement. Six months later, they spent $15.8 million to hired 186 lobbyists to influence Congress.
How They Operate • The tobacco industry also spent $1.9 million to political party committees and $587,000 to candidates in the hopes of modifying the settlement. • In 1998, the Senate modified the settlement in ways the companies opposed. The number of tobacco lobbyists increased. Later, the industry and the states reached a new settlement.
How They Operate • A major milk lobby compromised the Nixon administration with $100,000 in cash and a $2 million contribution to Nixon's 1972 campaign. • The secretary of agriculture decided not to raise price supports, and members of Congress were deluged with letters on the issue. Nixon again met with dairy leaders and the secretary reversed his decision. • The price increase to the dairy industry netted it $300 million.
How They Operate • Since 1962 federal statutes make bribing a member of Congress or taking "anything of value" in exchange for a vote subject to a $20,000 fine and imprisonment of up to 15 years. • Instead of bribes, fund-raising dinners generate money for parties and candidates. • Since so many members of Congress are lawyers (two-fifths in the 1995 House), interest groups can divert insurance, banking, and other legal business to their firms. • Another technique involved offering campaign contributions and helping a candidate raise funds. The American Medical Association's political arm, AMPAC, contributed almost $2.3 million to congressional candidates in 1998.
How They Operate • The AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education gave Congressional candidates $1.1 million in 1998. • When George W. Bush, a former oil businessman, began his 2000 presidential race, he received more than $1.42 million from oil and gas companies. Democratic rival Al Gore received only $84,750 from the same source. • The Center for Public Integrity found examples of large contributions to Al Gore, including improvements to his official residence from Bell Atlantic, Coca-Cola, Time Warner, and others. • Despite the money, most lobbyists contend that most of their work consists of solid research and long hours of committee hearings.
How They Operate • Mass propaganda and grass-roots pressure • Interest groups influence public opinion through mass-publicity campaigns using television and print media. • With the help of public relations firms, an interest group can use all the latest techniques of Madison Avenue. • The American Automobile Association (AAA) fought a bill that would have permitted bigger trucks on American highways. A major newspaper ad blitz began showing damage to highways convinced Congress to abandon their trucking bill. • Lobbyists use grass-roots organizations to put pressure on Washington. Lobbyists may ask Congressional constituents to write, fax, and e-mail their legislators.
How They Operate • In 2000, Pat Robertson and other evangelicals helped when George W. Bush sought the White House. • Liberal groups, such as MoveOn.org, also use grass-roots lobbying techniques by using their websites to register members and raise money. In 2002, MoveOn.org contributed $3.5 million to congressional candidates. • Groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) have successfully used computerized mailing lists to help get contributions and letters to members of the House and Senate.
How They Operate • The NRA has 3.5 million members and a $120 million dollar budget, and contributed $1.6 million to Congressional candidates. • Letter-writing campaigns can still have an impact, despite the fact that only 17 percent of the public writes letters to Congress. • With the Internet, it is easier for lobbyists to organize a grass-roots organization by bombarding legislators with e-mail.
The Washington Lawyers: Access to the Powerful • Members of prestigious Washington law firms are among the capital's most effective lobbyists because of their knowledge of the ropes, the issues, and the people who make decisions. • In 1994, grunge band Pearl Jam, other bands, and consumer groups filed a complaint alleging that Ticketmaster had a monopoly in ticket pricing.
The Washington Lawyers: Access to the Powerful • An antitrust investigation begun by the Justice Department was halted when Ticketmaster hired five powerful lobbyist, public relations, and law firms. Pearl Jam lost when the Department ended their investigation. • The authors examine Clark Clifford as the quintessential Washington lawyer.
Public Interest Groups • These groups often are the major opposition to corporate lawyers and lobbyists in influencing public policy. • They have used class action lawsuits, lobbied Congress via publicity, and added new issues to the public agenda in the areas of environmental issues, consumer protection, health, and minority rights.
Public Interest Groups • Two of the biggest and best-known are Common Cause, and Ralph Nader's network of lobbyists, lawyers, and political analysts. • Nader's groups include Public Citizen, the Critical Mass Energy Project, the Health Research Group, the Center for Study of Responsive Law, the Freedom of Information Clearinghouse, the Center for Auto Safety, and the state-based Public Interest Research Groups.
Public Interest Groups • All of these groups are involved in making reports, writing books, and educating the public on public policy issues. The income from contributions and these efforts helps to run the network of Nader organizations. • In 2000, Nader ran as presidential candidate on the Green Party ticket. Some argue that cost Al Gore the election. • In 2004, Nader announced he would run again as an independent.
Single-Issue Groups • These concentrate on one issue, often with devastating effect. • The authors chose the National Right to Life Committee (opposed to abortion) and the National Rifle Association (opposed to gun control) as examples of the impact these groups can have.
Single-Issue Groups • Sometimes, public opinion counters the most effective lobbying groups. In 2000, President Clinton pushed for trigger locks to prevent children from firing guns. • The NRA president, Charlton Heston, suggested that Clinton was a liar. • The NRA's public relations barrage proved ill-timed: A year earlier, a dozen students and a teacher were shot to death at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. • Smith & Wesson, in response to the Columbine shootings, agreed to install trigger locks in order to end some lawsuits.
Political Action Committees (PACs) • PACs are sometimes independent, but are often political organizations that are an arm of corporations, unions, or interest groups, organized for general political goals and to contribute to candidates.
Political Action Committees (PACs) • The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 permitted unions and corporations to establish PACs to contribute $5,000 to candidates • The law was challenged in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo. Most of the law's provisions were upheld, except for independent expenditures, funds spent for or against candidates by committees not connected to the candidate's campaign. • The Court ruling opened the way for vastly increased expenditures by PACs. • Even though contributions are still limited to $5,000, PAC contributions totaled $220 million in 1998.
Political Action Committees (PACs) • In 1978 the Supreme Court overturned a Massachusetts law prohibiting corporations from spending money to influence public referenda, calling the law a violation of the corporation's First Amendment rights.
Political Action Committees (PACs) • A Harvard study found other reasons for growth. • PACs pick up the slack for laws limiting individual contributions. • Decline in the ability of political parties to raise funds has helped make the PACs more important in fund-raising. • PAC contributions follow an "investment pattern," aimed at strengthening the group's influence in Congress. In 1998, Congress received 78 percent of all PAC contributions. • In 1974 there were 608 PACs; by 2000, that number had increased to about 3,800.
Democracy Under Pressure Regulating Interest Groups
Regulating Interest Groups • The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946 required individuals or groups to register with the clerk of the House and the secretary of the Senate if they solicit or collect anything of value "to be used principally to aid . . . the passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress of the United States." • In 1954, the Supreme Court limited the term "lobbyist" to those who communicate directly with members of Congress, not to grass-roots efforts.
Regulating Interest Groups • According to a 1991 General Accounting Office report, only 3,700 of the estimated 60,000 to 80,000 lobbyists active in Washington had registered. • The 1946 law was ineffective in regulating lobbyists. • The Foreign Agents Registration Act exempted lawyers representing foreign clients.
Regulating Interest Groups • A new, more restrictive law was passed in 1995. • Lobbyists must report who their clients are, what agencies or branches of Congress they lobbied, and how much they were paid. • Lobbyists are defined as people who spend at least 20 percent of their time at that activity. • Lawyers representing foreign clients are no longer exempt. • With several exceptions, senators may only accept gifts worth less than $50. • Law does not apply to grass-roots lobbying.
Democracy Under Pressure Interest Groups and the Policy Process
Interest Groups and the Policy Process • There is a common public perception that interest groups are undemocratic and work for narrow goals and against the general welfare. • Some are that way. But others, like Common Cause and the Nader groups, work for the common interest. • Interest groups compete for government's attention, as do parties, individuals, and the press.
Interest Groups and the Policy Process • Interest groups perform certain functions in the political system. • The kind of representation that interest groups provide supplements the representation provided by Congress. • Interest groups permit the resolution of inter-group conflicts. • They can perform a watchdog function, sounding alarms when government policies might hurt their membership. • They initiate new ideas. Lester Milbrath says "if we had no lobby groups and lobbyists, we would probably have to invent them."
Interest Groups and the Policy Process • There are also criticisms of these groups. • Theodore Lowi questions the assumption that the tug and pull of competing interest groups will produce policy decisions capable of meeting the social and political needs of the nation. • He contends that interest group pluralism has resulted not in "strong, positive government," but "impotent government" that can "neither plan nor achieve justice." • E. E. Schattschneider observed: "The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent."
Interest Groups and the Policy Process • Interest groups are biased against minorities that have neither the knowledge nor the money to organize and are in favor of business organizations and other affluent groups. • Ordinary customers are not as represented as are manufacturers. Compared to business groups, consumer organizations are fewer in number. The reason: The interest of consumers is so general as to not lend itself to an organized expression. • Organized interest groups do not represent all the people in their group. For example, the American Medical Association has 293,000 members, but there are 650,000 physicians in the United States.