Strategies Used by Interest Groups
Organized groups are more effective than unorganized ones. A well-organized group can wage a coordinated campaign that incorporates many different tactics. Organization can also make up for size: A well-organized small group often has a bigger impact than a large poorly organized one.
Lobbyists employ a number of tactics and offer lawmakers a number of benefits to achieve their goals, including persuasion, information, material incentives, economic leverage, disruption, and litigation.
The key to lobbying is access: To influence an official, one must be able to speak to that official. Given how busy members of Congress and other government officials often are, getting access poses a major challenge. Sometimes a lobbyist can only get two or three minutes of the official’s time, so the lobbyist must be prepared to make the 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.
Persuasion and Information
Lobbyists work to persuade governmental officials. Lobbyists offer arguments, evidence, and research to support their groups’ positions. Many government officials do not have the time to research issues themselves, so they rely on information from trusted interest groups and lobbyists to keep them informed and up to date. Publishing their findings also allows interest groups to influence public opinion, which, in turn, often influences the policy decisions of lawmakers.
Although persuasion is a key part of lobbying, interest groups also provide some material incentives to government officials. Laws limit government officials from taking gifts, but they can still be wined and dined. Also, lobbyists can hold informational seminars for officials, flying them to places such as the Florida Keys or a golf resort to educate them about issues.
Interest groups can use economic power as a weapon to get what they want. In most cases, economic power means money: Rich interest groups can contribute to campaigns, run advertisements, pay for research, and build a strong presence in Washington. Interest groups can leverage their economic power in other ways too, though. Labor unions, for example, often seek change by striking or by threatening to strike. Boycotting, or refusing to buy a particular company’s goods, is another effective method groups use to accomplish their goals.
Interest groups sometimes stage protests in order to disrupt activities, generate publicity, and apply pressure on those they oppose. Disruptions can include strikes, pickets, riots, and sit-ins. In the 1960s, student civil rights groups used sit-ins to peacefully protest the Jim Crow laws and institutions in the South.
In the United States, interest groups often achieve their goals through litigation, by suing groups they oppose. In the 1940s and 1950s, for example, the NAACP brought numerous lawsuits against segregated school systems, culminating in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. Many other groups have used the courts to achieve their goals.