Influencing Government

Interest groups are an important part of our democratic process because their primary goal is to influence public policy, which is the course of action the government cakes in response to an issue or problem. To do this, interest groups focus their efforts on elections, the courts, and lawmakers.

Election Activities

Some groups use political resources to support ccrtain candidates at clcction time. For example, the Sierra Club might back candidates who support laws to protect nature and oppose those who disagree with its beliefs.

Many interest groups, including most labor unions and a large number of corporations and trade associations, have formed political action committees (PACs).


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Analyzing Visuals Lobbyists play an active role on Capitol Hill, where they attempt to persuade lawmakers to support the Interests of specialized groups of voters. Is the cartoonist expressing a favorable or unfavorable opinion of lobbyists? How do you know?

PACs collect money from the members of their groups and use it to support some candidates and oppose others. (Read more about how PACs influence elections in Chapter 10.)

Going to Court

Interest groups also try to influence public policy by bringing cases to court. For example, when a law—in the opinion of an interest group is not being properly enforced, the group may sue the party who is breaking the law7. A group may also use the courts to argue that a law or government policy is unconstitutional. For example, Public Citizen, Inc., a consumer group led by Ralph Nader, has brought suits against various companies for violating consumer protection laws.

Lobbying Lawmakers

Interest groups use lobbyists to help them influence government ofQ-■ cials, especially national and state legislators. Lobbyists are representatives of interest groups who contact lawmakers or other government officials directly to influence their policy making. Lobbyists operate at all levels of government—local, state, and national. Lobbyists may be volunteers or paid employees whose job is to persuade government officials to support their interest group's policies.

The term "lobbyist* dates from the 1830s, when it was applied to people who waited in the lobbies of state-houses to ask politicians for favors. Today lobbyists use a variety of strategics to influence lawmakers. Lobbyists have a good understanding of how the government functions. They know where to go and whom to see. The federal government and each state government have hundreds of departments, rlv</ itlii h:j:: fin'-« i


Biographies offices, and agencies, hut a good lobbyist Knows which department to contact about a particular concern. They are also talented public relations agents who know how to make friends and talk persuasively.

Information is one of the lobbyist's most important resources. Lawmakers need up-to-date information about public issues,The most effective lobbyists are able to supply to lawmakers useful information that helps their own cases. They suggest solutions to problems and issues. Lobbyists sometimes prepare their own drafts of bills for lawmakers to consider and even testify in legislative hearings on bills. All of these activities provide lawmakers with a tremendous amount of information. This is important because lawmakers deal with thousands of bills each year.

The job of lobbyists does not end once a law is enacted. Their interest groups are also conccrncd with making sure the laws arc carried out, enforced, and upheld in court. For example, if an oil exploration bill is approved, environmental groups are likely to watch the whole operation carefully,'They want to make sure the oil companies observe any provisions aimed at protecting the environment. Tf not, lobbyists for the environmental groups will lobby various government departments or agencies to see that the law* is enforced.

Concluding Why might a lawmaker want to interact with a lobbyist?

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