Interest groups influence government using variants on one of two strategies, the inside game and the outside game. The inside game refers to attempts to persuade government officials through direct inside contact. Another term for the inside game is lobbying. Washington is filled with thousands of lobbyists, covering every imaginable issue and viewpoint. Lobbyists usually work for interest groups, corporations, or law firms that specialize in professional lobbying.
To lobby successfully, interest groups need a great deal of money. Washington, D.C., is one of the most expensive cities in America, so simply maintaining an office there can be very costly. Interest groups also pay for meals, trips, and other operational expenses, which can be significant. Money alone does not make an interest group influential, but a lack of money is usually crippling. Lobbyists also need to be reputable because a lobbyist who lies to a member of Congress, for instance, could be shunned or lose clients. Therefore, being honest is in the best interest of lobbyists.
Targets of Lobbying
Lobbyists try to influence officials working in all three branches and in the federal bureaucracy.
Lobbying the Legislative Branch
Interest groups spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to lobby members of Congress on a range of issues. These groups try to affect the legislation being generated in Congress. Sometimes lobbyist speak with congresspeople directly, but lobbyists also testify at congressional hearings. The Senate publishes ethics guidelines to explain the complex federal laws that govern the interaction among congresspeople and lobbyists. Many corporations and foreign countries donate money to interest groups and thus help sponsor lobbyists in Washington.
Lobbying the Executive Branch
Although some lobbyists have direct access to the president, most have access only to the lower levels of the executive branch. Interest groups particularly target regulatory agencies, which have the ability to set policy affecting commerce and trade throughout the country. Some scholars have claimed that lobbying of regulatory agencies has resulted in agency capture, effectively handing control of the agency over to the industries it was intended to regulate.
Lobbying the Judicial Branch
Interest groups work to influence the courts in a number of ways. Interest groups often file amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs, presenting an argument in favor of a particular issue. Sometimes interest groups file lawsuits against the government or other parties. For example, the NAACP worked for years to bring civil rights cases to the Supreme Court. The American Civil Liberties Union also makes extensive use of the courts.