You have assembled quite a lot of material here, but I have had to make radical alterations in order to make it flow more smoothly, to clarify a number of points and to bring out comparisons. I have added a good number of examples and further analysis in several places. As yet, you have no conclusion - you essentially need to say that pressure groups are much more influential in the US than in the UK, because of their huge contribution to legislation and their key role in providing finance (through political action committees) and in mobilising members to vote in elections. In the UK, even the more 'insider' groups have been marginalised - for example, the present government doesn't take much notice of either the CBI or the TUC, and has often practically ignored the advice of the NFU and the British Medical Association. The key difference is that in the USA the insider groups don't tend to change whoever is in power, while in the UK they need to share the government's political philosophy on issues in order to have any real influence.
I get the impression that you are not so confident on the USA side of this, so the following might be useful, and some of it could be woven into your amended essay.
Interest groups engage in a very broad range of activities. This is perhaps best demonstrated by referring to specialist surveys in this area. The following information summarises the work of Nownes and Freeman (1998). It refers to a survey of interest groups with Washington offices. The bracketed figure denotes the proportion of such groups that regularly engage in the activity listed.
Testifying at legislative hearings (99)
Contacting government officials directly (98)
Informal contacts with officials (95)
Entering into coalitions with other groups (90)
Attempting to shape implementation of legislation (89)
Talking to media (86)
Helping to draft legislation (85)
Consulting with officials to plan legislative strategy (85)
Raising new issues/calling attention to previously ignored problems (84)
Inspiring letter-writing campaigns or equivalent (84)
Getting influential constituents to contact legislator’s office (80)
Mounting grassroots lobbying efforts (80)
Helping to draft regulations/rules/guidelines (78)
Serving on advisory commissions/boards (76)
Alerting legislators to the effect of a bill on their districts (75)
Filing suits/engaging in litigation (72)
Making contributions to candidates (58)
Attempting to influence appointment to public office (53)
Running ads in media about position (31)
Working in election campaigns (24)
Endorsing candidates (22)
Protests or demonstrations (20)
Lobbying involves direct contact between a lobbyist and a government official. A lobbyist (or ‘consultant’) is an organisation or individual attempting to influence the passage, content or defeat of legislation, or the administrative decisions of government. Modern lobbying is not based on bribery and corruption of officials, but uses more subtle and sophisticated methods. Most of the top lobbyists are seasoned lawyers or former Congressmen, with offices in Washington (‘the K Street corridor’) and who have built effective working relationships with officials through what is known as the ‘revolving door’. For example, Bob Livingston, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, resigned from Congress in 1999, and started the Livingston Group, which lobbies Congress on behalf of business firms. Such ‘insider’ lobbying is directed at policy makers who are naturally inclined to support the group in question. Money is critical – for example, the American Petroleum Institute can afford a Washington office staffed by lobbyists, petroleum experts and PR specialists who help oil companies maintain access to, and influence with legislative and executive leaders.
Lobbyists aim to cultivate long-term relationships with key decision-makers. The benefits of a close relationship with Congressmen are substantial and symbiotic. Interest groups can offer legislative assistance to achieve their policy goals; Congressmen rely on trusted lobbyists for information and expertise, and to identify bills deserving of their attention and support. Lobbyists’ influence in part depends on their reputation for fair play and on the avoidance of arm-twisting tactics. During the 1993 NAFTA debate, the AFL-CIO threatened retaliation against congressional Democrats who supported the free trade legislation, but the backlash from Democrats in favour of the legislation was so intense that the unions were obliged to withdraw their threat. The lobbying influence of interest groups on the legislature comes about in a number of ways. These include: direct contact with Congressmen and their staff (and especially with the relevant House and Senate committee members, and with the staff serving these committees); testifying at committee hearings and assisting with the drafting of bills; mobilising and applying pressure from ‘the folks back home’, with a view to influencing policy-makers indirectly; providing political information (and thus ‘voting cues’) to legislators; endorsement of, and financial contributions to candidates in election campaigns; and campaigning for and against members of Congress (including issue advocacy, independent expenditures and publicising the voting records of Congressmen).
Lobbying of the executive branch has also increased in importance. By working with executive departments, agencies and regulatory commissions, interest groups, especially in areas such as health and safety, transport, business regulation and the environment, can influence policy decisions at both the planning and implementation stages – many even draft the regulations. Interest groups assist agencies by providing information and lending support when their programmes are reviewed by Congress and by the president. The broadcasting organisations are one example of key players; they are said to have a great deal of influence over the Federal Communications Commission. This is often described as an example of ‘agency capture’. But agency officials are acutely aware that they can lose influence in Congress (which controls their funding and programme authorisation) if they show too much favour towards a particular group. Some groups also attempt to influence political appointments to the bureaucracy.
Court rulings in key areas such as education and civil rights mean that some interest groups focus their attention on the judicial branch, including efforts to influence the appointment of federal judges. For example, right to life groups pressurised the Reagan and George Bush administrations to make opposition to abortion a condition of nomination. Many groups use an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, a written document in which the group brings its position on a particular issue to a court’s attention. For example, in the landmark affirmative action case Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke (1978), 58 such briefs representing the positions of over a hundred groups were filed with the Supreme Court. Such groups typically try to influence public policy through the courts by filing lawsuits, selecting test cases to create a precedent – the NAACP and ACLU are prominent in this field, frequently defending the rights and liberties of minority groups. Litigation is increasingly common – for example, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council have frequently sued oil, timber and mining corporations, while in 1999 five civil rights groups sued the University of California over its admissions policy. Groups also resort to the courts as a means of forcing opponents to negotiate with them, a tactic used frequently by groups opposing property developers and tobacco companies.
There are also examples of ‘iron triangles’ – a small and informal, but relatively stable set of bureaucrats, Congressmen and lobbyists who seek to develop policies beneficial to a particular interest. One example is the close relationship between the Department of Veterans Affairs, the veterans affairs committees of the House and Senate, and veterans’ groups such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. A group in an iron triangle has an inside track to those legislators and bureaucrats who are in the strongest position to promote its cause. In return it provides lobbying support for the agency’s funding and its programmes, and gives campaign contributions to its congressional allies. Other good examples are defense contractors and agricultural interests. Iron triangles are found only in certain policy areas and are less prominent than in the past. A more common pattern of influence today is the ‘issue network’, an informal grouping of officials, lobbyists and policy specialists who come together temporarily through their shared interest in a particular policy issue. Unlike iron triangles, issue networks are built around specialised interests and information. Once the issue is resolved, the network usually disbands. For example, in the case of a decision on whether a forest should be opened to logging, the network consists of logging interests, the US Forest Service, House and Senate Agriculture Committee members, research scientists and environmental groups spokesmen, the housing industry and animal rights groups. Hence, unlike the iron triangle, the network incorporates interests that are in opposition.
Although a group may rely solely on Washington lobbying, this approach is unlikely to succeed unless it can demonstrate convincingly that its concerns reflect those of a vital constituency. Hence many groups engage in ‘outside lobbying’, which involves bringing public pressure to bear on policy makers, both between and during election campaigns. Some groups specialise in grass roots lobbying or ‘climate control’ – i.e. pressure designed to convince officials that their policy position enjoys strong or widespread public support, or opposition; growing use is made of the Internet to provide members with information and advice on contacting legislators. To mobilise support, groups can mount advertising and PR campaigns through the media, and can also encourage members to contact (through letters, faxes, e-mails, computer-generated mail and visits) their elected representatives. The American Association of Retired Persons is the classic example – with 36 million members and a staff of 1600, it is a powerful lobby on a range of issues affecting the elderly, and particularly social security and Medicare. Other examples are the NRA, which is able to generate thousands of calls and letters to Congressmen in a remarkably short time, and the Christian Coalition, with its customised letters and voter guides. Some groups launch high profile campaigns in the media when a significant piece of legislation is coming up for a crucial debate and vote in Congress. Examples in recent years have included health care and welfare reform, gun control, international environmental agreements, federal funding of faith-based groups and of stem-cell research, the outlawing of partial abortion and gay civil unions.
Presidential and congressional elections provide opportunities for interest groups to play a critical and direct political role. In 1996, labour unions backed 27 GOP House candidates who had been supportive of their interests, while the AFL-CIO spent almost $40M in the 2000 election and over $60M in the 2004 election on campaign literature, get-out-the-vote telephone banks, voter registration drives and television issue advertisements, and with a significant input into the victories of both Gore and Kerry in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Sierra Club spent $16M in 1996, $22M in 2000 and $32M in 2004 on targeted congressional races, with a heavy emphasis upon negative advertising. The League of Conservation Voters produces a ‘Dirty Dozen’ list for each election – the twelve public officials with the poorest voting record on environmental conservation. Most are Congressmen, and are targeted with some success in elections. The NRA targeted nearly thirty House Democrats in 1994 who had voted for the Brady Act, helping to defeat some two-thirds of them, including the then House speaker, Foley. This was followed by a concerted effort to defeat Al Gore in 2000, focusing upon membership training and negative advertising in particular states and districts, and most obviously meeting with success in West Virginia.
Many groups played a significant role in the 2004 election, organising voter registration drives in key battleground states, mobilising their members in the campaign ‘on the ground’, providing personnel, equipment, polling data and offices for candidates, and directly funding campaigns to support or oppose Initiatives on state and local ballots, particularly those concerned with same sex marriage, gun control and abortion. The efforts of members of conservative and evangelical groups in particular proved decisive in close congressional races, in raising turnout, and in delivering swing states (such as Florida, Ohio and New Mexico) to George Bush. Some interest groups also have strong connections with the tax-exempt 527 Committees that played such a significant role in the 2004 presidential election. Groups such as Americans Coming Together and the Media Fund were active in voter registration and advertising on behalf of Kerry, while America Votes coordinated the efforts of a number of liberal leaning groups. Similarly, the Bush campaign benefited from the efforts of 527s such as the Progress for America Voters Fund and Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth.
I hope this is helpful.