How do PACs and lobbyists work?

Anonymous asked this question on 4/11/2000:

Hey, I have an easy question for ya. In what manner and to what extent do interest groups contribute to the definition and promotion of public interest?? This is sort of confusing and maybe you could help me. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

JesseGordon gave this response on 4/13/2000:

(I just answered this same question the other day, so I'll write you the same answer and make it a FAQ):

"Interest groups" can mean any of the following:

-- Lobbying group or PAC
-- Non-profit organizations
-- Segment of the voting population

Lobbying group or PAC:

Unlike many campaign reform advocates, I like lobbying groups. They present information to legislators and sometimes to voters. They represent the interests of large voting blocs (such as smokers; anti-smokers; tobacco farmers; etc.) Since legislators know their bias, I don't feel that they unduly influence the political process. My only problem with lobbying groups is when they "buy" Senate & House votes by promising campaign assistance.

Non-profit organizations

I feel that NPOs are one of God's gift to the American people. They organize people's viewpoints and fund most of the studies that ultimately are used by legislators to make decisions in the public interest. Since NPOs by definition are privately financed, no one can complain that they are wasting tax money; everyone contributes to the ones they agree with and avoids the ones they don't. Hence NPO membership is a valid measure of public interest. They're legally required to avoid lobbying; although some NPOs have lobbying arms, in which case I still like them per my definition above.

Segment of the voting population

Ultimately, every lobbying group or NPO comes down to representing a particular segment of the voting population. When people complain of the undue influence of the NRA, they're really saying that they don't like that so many Americans believe enough in gun rights that they send money to the NRA. (Same goes for the ACLU, on the other side of the political spectrum).

Everybody in America is a member of numerous segments, and hence of numerous "interest groups." The "public interest" really means balancing each group's desires against other groups' desires. That comes down to balancing each person's desires against other people's desires, since interest groups are made of people.

Anonymous asked this question on 8/1/2000:

What is the differences between pressure groups and lobbyists.

stevehaddock gave this response on 8/1/2000:

Only the distance involved. Lobbyists are literally named after "Lobby", the place where most of them hang out looking to speak to and influence legislators, although many of them could now be called "Hallists" or even "Officeists" instead. Lobbyists work for corporations, pressure groups, and large national organizations and are generally well paid for their work. They deal directly with legislators on an almost daily basis, although many of them use modern conveniences like the telephone rather than hanging out at the Capitol. Lobbyists now have to be registered and certain persons are forbidden from becoming lobbyists (such as persons who have just left the cabinet). However, most lobbyists used to be involved with politics, the military or the government.

Pressure groups don't deal directly with legislators, although the well financed ones do hire lobbyists. Many of them merely organize mailing campaigns, phone campaigns, protests, and circulate petitions in order to influence legislative positions.

Many pressure groups are true "movements of the people", even controversial ones like the pro-life and pro-choice groups, and even the NRA. However, these should be distinguished from "Special Interest Groups". Although they often have wide membership and lots of money, special interests basically exist to press the interests of a few of their members. For example, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is one of the largest special interest groups in the country, and much of the U.S. population over 55 are members. However, most members don't care about the political side of the movement, they join for the discounts and monthly magazine. However, the AARP is by far the most powerful special interest group in the country. However, the AARP supports things like keeping the retirement age at 65, whereas most of its members support raising the retirement age as a method of keeping social security expenditures down.

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