Student Reader

Interest Groups

Interest groups are private organizations that try to shape public policy. Examples include American Medical Assoc. (AMA), American Bar Assoc. (ABA) and possibly even the Republican and Democratic parties. Interest groups lobby (attempt to influence) policymakers to adopt policies they endorse. These policymakers include elected and appointed officials at the federal, state and local levels.

Public interest groups lobby to secure policies that serve the general welfare of the community (collective goods) rather than policies that serve the specific interests of a particular group (private goods). Collective goods benefit all people -- including those outside the interest group -- and include clean air and consumer protection. However, an organization such as NRA is a private interest group because not all people support guns.

Public interest groups benefit and privilege everybody. Since even people who are not proactive will benefit, there is less incentive to get involved. This leads to public interest groups suffering from free riders -- a struggle to get people involved due to a lack of material incentive for joining the group.

Conversely, private interest groups work to secure benefits for some fraction of the community. Private interest groups are usually economic groups interested in protecting or advancing the interests of their members. Examples include corporations, businesses, professional organizations and labor unions.

Private interest groups have many advantages over public interest groups, including:

  1. Representational inequalities: private interest groups have more lobbyists.
  2. Resource inequalities: private interest groups have more money.
  3. Informational inequalities: more knowledge of specific industries. A public interest group knows much less about oil than a refinery would.
  4. Familiarity: private interest groups hire former policy makers. Former policy makers have face recognition and know the ins and outs of commerce, policy and administration.
Glossary
Interest GroupAn organization meant to influence policymakers.
LobbyThe process of influencing policymakers.
LobbyistA person who attempts to influence policymakers.
Agenda BuildingBringing a new issue to the national limelight.
Program MonitoringPerformed usually by interest groups, monitoring of government programs.
Interest Group EntrepreneurA leader or organizer of an interest group.
Free Rider ProblemPeople are less incentivized to aid public interest groups because public goods rarely are not direct material benefits.
Trade AssociationsAn organization that represents firms within a particular industry.
Political Action Committee (PAC)An organization pools funds from members for donation to a politician's campaign.
Direct LobbyingDirect involvement with politicians on a one-by-one basis to sway their vote.
Grassroots LobbyingLobbying by people who are not interest group leaders, or who are independent.
Information CampaignAn interest group's effort for public support by bringing its views to the public.
Coalition BuildingA coalition of interest groups for lobbying.
Membership Bias
Citizen GroupsAn interest group not pertinent to its members' vocations.
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