Matthew Sandoval 1
Interest Groups and Politics
The “interest industry” or Interest Groups is often pointed out as one of the unusual features of the American political system. A structurally weak state is seen as being penetrated by wealthy and vigorous lobbying groups, raising the questions of to whom. Elected politicians are in practice accountable, and how real political power is allocated. While these interest groups are sometimes effective in achieving their own aims, the bias towards business groups suggests that, far from improving policymaking, the influence of interest groups actually worsens it.
The strong presence of interest ...view middle of the document...
This pluralist view suggests that the public interest, which is what policymaking should seek the satisfy, is no more than of transparency in the executive branch of government, the USA is on the whole a very open state, with congress especially easily lobbied (Whitney, 12). Most public policy is both legitimated and implemented in public. However, liber critics who are concerned about the excessive influence of interest groups have argued that openness is a necessary but not sufficient condition for pluralism and that two other conditions need to be satisfied (Applemen). Firstly, there must be no single dominate group, and all interested groups must be represented. Secondly, it is essential that the leaders of interest groups accurately represent their members’ views and the intensity with which those views are held. It will be argued that neither of these conditions is satisfied.
Critics of the “interest industry” often focus on its dominance by business interests at the expense of the poor and the broader public interest. Schattschneider argues that the representation of latent interests is no way automatic, and that the interest of the poor and broad publics remains unorganized (Opensecrets, 16).The post-1960’s increase in the number
of public interest groups and those representing the “political have-nots” has gone some way towards redressing this balance, but businesses still dominate to a massive extent (Los Angeles Times, 32). Large corporations often meet their lobbying needs via contractors, or through in-house Political Action Committees (PACs), which exist in over half of the five hundred largest companies in the USA. Generally those companies most affected by Federal government rulings and those which routinely bid for Federal contracts are most likely to have such committees. In total they spend twice as much as trade unions and vastly more than all other participants, for example consumer, environmental and ‘public interest’ groups. In 1984, 45.7% of all interest groups with a Washington presence were representing business interests, and similar representations remains today (Los Angeles Times, 33) In contrast, fewer than 5% of such organizations represented the political have-nots, even in the broadest reasonable definition, and only 4% of organizations were “public interest” or consumer groups (Los Angeles Times, 33). At an individual level, research by Schlozman suggested that the number of people represented by business and professional groups was overstated, while the number represented by homemakers and students was understated, suggesting an even stronger bias towards business that the above figures suggest. The class bias in the system is unambiguous; professionals and managers, at only 16% of the population, were represented by 86% of all organizations with a Washington presence. Add to this the fact that business interests are often represented at many different levels, and the bias becomes even clearer. It is...