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The Role of Special Interest Groups in American Politics

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Like political parties, pressure groups can be considered another system that connects the citizen more directly to government. However, at the same instant there are marked differences in both composition and function that define interest groups as different entities from larger political parties. According to V.O. Key Jr. in a composition appropriately entitled Pressure Groups; pressure groups "Ordinarily... concern themselves with only a narrow range of policies;" and unlike the goals of political parties, their intentions are to "influence the content of public policy rather than the results of elections." Nevertheless, it is a realized fact that special interest groups with a mass membership are considered to be congregations with enough power to affect election results and "pressure party leaders, legislators, and others in official position to act in accord with their wishes..."

Although it is accepted that pressure groups indeed pressure politics in certain directions, it is quite a different task to describe how pressure groups link public opinion to government action. Apparently the driving force behind action is not as cut and dry as the image of "the lobbyist who speaks for a united following, determined in its aims and prepared to reward its friends and punish its enemies at the polls." In reality, it may appear that spokesmen of mass-membership pressure groups are "unrepresentative of the opinions of their members." This perception, however, does not take into account the wide potential for variability in policy opinion that can occur within large groups. On the contrary, it is not a "wicked betrayal" or a "deliberate departure from the mass mandate;" it is more likely that there are other theorems with which to explain this phenomenon. Alike to all other human groups, " not fall into blacks and whites." In Keys' essay, he attempts to hypothesize that there are naturally stratified layers of activism and pacifism within group membership. "It may be nature of mass groups that attachment to the positions voiced by the peak spokesmen varies with the attachment to and involvement in the group." When the functioning of these groups are looked upon in this manner, it is logical to assume that special interest groups "invariably...receive something less than universal acquiescence" on issues. With this lens of scrutiny, "the world of pressure politics becomes more a politics among the activists than a politics that involves many people." However, it is not to be totally lost that the public primarily "colors the mode of action."

When the sentiments of the activists are brought outside the bounds of the special interest group and into deliberation areas known as "arenas of decision," there are "many questions of policy that are fought out within vaguely bounded arenas in which the activists concerned are clustered." It is during these times that members of the House and Senate with jurisdiction for these matters can have a shopping period in the marketplace of special interest policies where they can either ignore or assume the role of crusader. As for the struggle for opinions to be heard during these periods, it is as "if there were no elections or no concern about the nature of public opinion;" whether views of the groups are valued or not is dependent on the balance of party control within each arena.

In addition, there are also public corybantics by pressure organizations that run parallel to the efforts in the congressional arenas of decision. "The belief often seems to be that Congressmen will be impressed by a demonstration that public opinion demands the proposed line of action or inaction." Therefore, special interest groups "organize publicity campaigns and turn up sheaves of editorials in support of their position." Often these efforts to electrify Congressmen into action escalate into unsavory acts such as "writing or wiring" legislatures telegrams emblazoned with "names chosen randomly from the telephone directory." "Fraudulent organizations with impressive letterheads" also frequently arise overnight to buttress their cause.

The real result of such frenzies for publicity almost justifies and accounts for the willingness of special interest groups to campaign in morally corrupt ways. "The data makes it fairly clear that most of these campaigns do not affect the opinion of many people and even clearer that they have small effect by way of punitive or approbative feedback in the vote." The fact that organizations engage in these practices, "is in itself a tribute to the importance of public opinion."

Previously discussed were some of the dark deeds that some special interest groups commit, and the Keysian hypothesis that group organizations have an intrinsically stunted ability to effectively link their constituents with the government. Walter Isaacson's essay, Running with the PACs, describes the changes that have occurred in special-interest representation since the 1970s. According to Isaacson, "there is nothing inherently evil about PACs...they are merely established by organizations of like-minded individuals to raise money for political purposes." In reaction to the Watergate scandal, election



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