March 17, 2013
An interest group is an organization whose members share common concerns and try to influence government policies affecting those concerns. Interest groups are also known as lobbies; lobbying is one of the ways in which interest groups shape legislation and bring the views of their constituents to the attention of decision-makers.
Elected officials as well as the public are often critical of the roles of "special interests" in the political process. The activities of lobbyists can taste of vote-buying and influence-marketing. There are so many organized lobbies today, representing numerous segments of society and addressing such a wide range of issues, that the distinction between "special interests" and those of the American people may no longer be valid. In a sense, interest groups are the American people. There are 23,000 entries according to the Encyclopedia of Associations, and a high percentage of them qualify as interest groups. Many have their national headquarters in Washington, D.C., for faster access to legislators and policymakers. Interest groups can be grouped into several broad ranges of categories. Economic interest groups
Certainly the largest category, economic interest groups include organizations that represent big business, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers , as well as big labor, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, for example. Large corporations and individual unions also have offices in the capital. Trade associations represent entire industries. The members of the American Public Power Association, for example, are municipally owned electric utilities, rural electric cooperatives, and state power authorities. Professionals also form interest groups. The American Medical Association (AMA) opposed legislation to create health maintenance organizations (HMOs) for years. Public interest groups
Public interest groups do not usually expect to profit directly from the policy changes they seek. However, the activists who staff these groups gain financially by attracting donations from individuals and foundations that support their activities. As the name implies, public interest groups enjoy an image of non-partisanship, even though some of them engage in clearly political activities. These groups also usually receive disproportionately positive news coverage, even when there is serious disagreement over their policy proposals. A large number of consumer advocacy groups and environmental organizations, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, fall into this category. Perhaps best known is the League of Women Voters, which promotes simplified voting procedures and an informed electorate, and Common Cause, which backs more effective government. Common Cause is a strong critic of other interest groups for their excessive campaign contributions, and it lobbies for campaign finance reform. Government interest groups
Given the structure of our federal system, it is not surprising that there are organizations to bring the issues of local and state government before Congress and the administration. Government interest groups include the National League of Cities, the National Conference of Mayors, and the National Governors Association. One critical task performed by these groups is to help state and local governments get federal grants. These funds are important because they are a central means in which states get back money taken away through federal taxes. As the budget has tightened and as more Republicans have won governorships, these groups have become more likely to seek more local control over policies instead of more cash. Religious interest groups
The separation of church and state does not preclude religious interest groups from lobbying; indeed, it is...