The introduction of organized interests is nothing new in American politics. Political scientists, politicians, and scholars alike all agree that interest groups are natural phenomena in a democratic regime. Political interests have played a central role in American politics since James Madison first warned the framers of factionalism. Since then, the last five decades have seen an alarming rise of interest groups, changing fundamentally accounting the ongoing transformation of American politics and the pressures of campaign reform. Modern parties as well as established interest groups have demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability. The 20th century saw an increase in penetration of political and economic interests in the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, leading to the growth of political activity that have opened doors while closing others. With these changes, interest groups have adjusted their strategy and tactics to adapt to the opportunities and constraints among the decision-making arenas. In line with these changes in American politics, it has revolutionized the representation and success of social movements. With the continuing need for more representation, politicians have come to recognize the impact groups can have when they mobilize support. Though they have impacted American politics in various ways, it is important to understand the methods they have used accounting the changing political environment. These strategies however, are not limited to one particular decision-making arena, but are the most commonly used.
Interest groups are involved in American Politics in various ways. This especially is true within the judicial processes. When it comes to strategies used by interest groups, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee has become the most formal strategy pursued by interest group representatives. This process provides opportunity for interest groups to express their opinions directly to the people who have the power to accept or reject a nominee. While the former has been the most popular tactic for groups, it requires a high level of national prestige to acquire an invitation to this committee. In the case of Roberts and Alito nominations, the absence of interest group participation did not reflect their unwillingness to testify. Instead, their influence was mitigated by the committee’s refusal to allow interest group participation. While the former method has been one of the most effective ways to be represented, it requires prestigious interest groups which often require abundant human and financial capital. Position taking on the other hand, is a low-cost alternative tactic used to support a judicial nominee. These actions serve to mobilize members and help generate contributions. Advertisements, on the other hand, have been the most common tool used in all decision-making arenas. As a result, interest groups have used television, radio, and billboards to support or oppose a judicial nominee’s. The growth in communication technologies has increased the number of strategic opportunities for interest groups. In fact, during the Bush administration, nearly all ads for or against Bush nominees were aired on cable new programs, which appealed to audiences who are more likely to be engaged in political affairs. Interests groups are also likely to also participate in mass mailings containing nominee information to fundraising support. More recently however, with the ongoing changes and development of technology, interest groups have begun using technology as a tool in electoral campaigns. Technological advancements have complemented traditional strategies. Websites, e-mails, and blogs, have become a cheap and effective approach over the last decade.
When it comes to Interest group influence in elections such as the presidency, parties and candidates must have enough money to communicate and mobilize properly. Candidates seeking funds have found organized interests willing to contribute to those who share their political view. Interest groups involved in campaign contribution have seen the most constraints. Fortunately, federal campaign finance laws have been largely ineffective in limiting the role of special-interest money. Following the federal regulations after 1971, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has administered and enforced numerous federal campaign laws. By setting “hard money” contribution limits, it subsequently led to the rise of political action committees. Since hard money was defined as “money contributed directly to a candidate of a political party” (Loomis, 285), it was opportunity for interest groups to donate unregulated (soft) money to the political party as a whole. Subsequently, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002, prohibited unregulated contributions to national party committees. With the ongoing constraints by the FEC, PAC’s have become vey creative in allocating their resources. One strategy they have used is bundling, “when PAC’s collect checks made out to a particular candidate and then send each candidate the checks all at once” (Loomis, 191). Morgan Stanley, for example, bundled nearly $600,000 to the reelection campaign for Bush. In addition, PAC’s have also “funneled” money by giving contributions to other PAC’s or organizations that support their interests. “527” groups which refer to the groups that are not regulated by the FEC found various methods for advocating issues. As a right to free speech, groups were allowed to spent unlimited amount of “independent” money. They are able to do this by avoiding the use of specific words that include: vote for, elect, support, oppose.
As special interest seek to influence government policy and members of Congress, two main strategies are commonly used; electoral and access. Most elected officials want to be reelected therefore they listen to people who can help or hinder that reelection. Interest groups take advantage of this situation by rallying voters to their cause and contributing money to reelection campaigns. Most interest groups cannot legally encourage their members to vote for or against a particular candidate, but they can achieve the same effect by informing their members of candidates’ stances on issues. For example, for years the Christian Coalition have issued voter pamphlets which describe the candidates’ positions on issues that are particularly important to group members, such as abortion. Other groups play the ratings game by publishing the positions of all members of Congress on key issues with the hope of swaying voters. Unfortunately, Electoral strategies are highly ambitious and risky which can often backfire in future elections. Access strategies however, are known as “risk-averse” strategies. These are techniques in which interest groups work to get access to directly influence an official. Unfortunately, given how busy members of Congress and other government officials often are, getting access pose major challenges. Sometimes a lobbyist can only get a few minutes of the official’s time, so the lobbyist must be prepared to make a pitch very quickly. Some types of people have an easier time getting access than others. Some lobbying organizations use these types of people to help gain access. Actor Michael J. Fox, for example, has lobbied for increased funding for Parkinson’s disease research. Both Angelina Jolie and Bono have also successfully lobbied Congress for their causes.
When looking at social movements in the 21st century, one of the most successful has been the contemporary environmental movement. While interest groups have had more success in American decision-making institutions in the past, social movements have utilized similar tools to get their voices heard. Through coalitions with interest groups, private funding, technological advancements, the environmental movement has become a formidable force in American politics.