American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 9: Interest Groups"

Read this chapter. Interest groups have long been important in electing and defeating candidates, in providing information to officeholders, and in setting the agenda of American politics. Americans have historically been concerned about the power of what some call special interests, and the tendency of groups to pursue self-interest at the expense of less organized groups or the general public. As this chapter shows, restraining the negative tendencies of interest groups while protecting liberty is not an easy task.

What we call interest groups today, the founders of the Republic called factions. For the framers of the Constitution, the foremost problem was how to establish a stable and orderly constitutional system that would also respect the liberty of free citizens and prevent the tyranny of the majority or a single dominant interest. Today, interest groups exist to make demands on government.

Interest groups vary widely. Some are formal associations or organizations, while others have no formal organization. Some are organized primarily to lobby for limited goals or to broadly influence public opinion by publishing reports and mass mailings. Interest groups can be categorized into several broad types.

For decades, interest groups have engaged in lobbying, but these efforts have become much more significant as groups become more deeply involved in the electoral process – especially through the expanded use of political action committees (PACs), mass mailings, advertising campaigns, and litigation.

Media coverage of interest groups usually focuses on the activities of powerful interest groups in finance, energy, and manufacturing. However, an oft-quoted statement is that "the special interest is us", meaning that we are all beneficiaries of interest-group activity in the form of consumer protection, cleaner air, safer drinking water, and workplace safety. Is it perhaps more accurate to state that interest groups are both good and bad for democracy? Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?