The political system of the United States is distinct from other world democracies and has been recognized by many as the best form of representation. The American voting system, election cycle, and presidential elections are always a high-stakes affair, replete of lobbyists and power brokers. In such a political environment, interest groups play a significant role in shaping policy. By definition, an interest group is an organized body of individuals who share some goals and who try to influence public policy. In a political contest dominated by two major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, the influence that interest groups wield in the U.S. politics cannot be underestimated. More so, with money being a defining factor in the American political landscape in general, many people are beginning to question the moral ground that defines the association between lobbyists and politicians. During the campaigns, candidates and their supporters will articulate, outline, and debate the issues that their candidate stands for. Ideally, the issues that candidates, political parties, and supporters ought to give the rise to the lobbying for special group interests. However, interest groups characterized by big multinational and corporate in general spend many millions of dollars to influence and shape the outcome of a representation in their favor. Consequently, the system always takes care of interests of businesses at the experience of the larger Americans. Already, in the just concluded Democratic primaries, the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders accused fellow Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, of being compromised by huge cash donations from businesses. In essence, interest group politics in the U.S. democracy holds a key factor in the elections at all the tiers and arms of the government. The groups operate in an environment where they will employ all tactics to ensure they achieve their special interests. These can be a preferred candidate, either for an elective position, a cabinet secretary or a nominee for the federal office, for instance, a nominee for the attorney general. An interest group will lobby leaders and spend huge sums of money to urge voters to ultimately elect or get the requisite backing of their preferred choice. The different interest groups will always advance a course that is only of benefit to their ideals and what the group stands for. The groups draw their support financially and morally from likeminded people with similar interest. While the American democracy is heralded by many as the best form of representation, the influence of interest groups and the give and take culture that characterizes the Washington politics is an affront to Americans’ aspirations and a betrayal of the basic democratic ideals.
How Interest Groups Compete for Influence
Interest groups on the American political scene are advanced through lobbies. These are organizations either public or private through which different groups channel their material, ideas and enormous resources to influence the final outcome of an idea that is relevant to them. Through lobby groups, different ideas with different impact advanced to cater for the individual groups’ interest. The weakness of political parties in the American democracy exposes the political class to the pressure of lobbyists and representatives of interest groups (Heaney & Lorenz, 2013). This is to mean that a governor, seeking for election, and the president do not necessarily need the input from the other. By contrast, this is a situation in which a presidential candidate is elected and, ironically, he or she ends up having fewer senators from his or her political party and fails to advance the agenda for the country. In order for the administration to implement the agenda, it will have to lobby for support for the respective figures from the opposition. The weakness of political parties has resulted in formation of lobby groups to advance the special interests of different groups and/or corporations. Unlike in other democracies, for instance, in the United Kingdom, the party with majority representation forms the government, and it is easier to control the party, thus, implementing the government ideas is easier (Heaney & Lorenz, 2013).
Interest group politics are advanced through the lobby groups because of decentralization or federalism. This is a case where core functions of the federal government are decentralized to the state governments that, in turn, render services to the people. People with the same interest in these states come together to form an organization to agitate and champion their local interests. It is through these organizations that end up forming a national organization with broader mandates than the state lobbies can. It is also a result of freedom of speech enjoyed by an active civil society. In this freedom, the interests of groups are advanced in that the groups’ interest are catered for by enjoying freedom of assembly, speech, and the press (Dincer, 2012). This gives lobbyists an upper hand in articulating and advancing issues affecting them with the hope of realizing their specific interests in return. Interest group politics in the United States is also enhanced because of separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary means that there are rulings that embolden the lobbying thus maintaining the status quo in the system.
Incidentally, the main points that interest groups focus on oscillate between business, labor, public interest, intergovernmental groups among others. These are the areas of a great interest to the being in business or existence of lobby groups, advancing the interests of political class. However, business or corporate interests always supersede any other ambitions because of the money factor. Corporate lobbyists are always trying to apply all possible means to ensure they get the attention desired and drive their points (Calfano, 2010). Interest groups compete for interest in many ways. For instance, groups will use the strength in membership numbers to express their position regarding a particular issue. With decentralization in the democracy, some of interest groups have also decentralized and formed regional offices. This has necessitated the seamless coordination of group programs from the grassroots up to the national level. Groups set to outdo other competitors in lobbying by offering clear innovative suggestions that are in line with their interests. Groups enjoy the freedom of expression, assembly, and press, thus, they employ them in furthering of the political and any other interest to their cause.
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The Impact of Successful Groups
Successful groups are the ones that are said to be established; they have established physical offices almost in each state, have a well-funded war chest to cater for their operational costs, and are run professionally with all features of a corporate company in place. The intention of an interest group is to advance their ideas and interests, groups have created a platform from where many people are making a living out of it (Hertel-Fernandez & Skocpol, 2015). Groups employ lawyers, accountants, secretaries among others. The impact of a successful interest group is to maintain the status and influence on the national scene.
The established groups have enviable status in the political system. The positions held by groups make political parties weary of their own political implications. Any candidate for whichever position either elected or nominated takes the statuses of groups seriously into consideration. A failure to keep this notion in mind will lead to a clash of ideologies and create a competition between two or more interest groups in the political line. Similarly, successful groups understand the environment in which they operate. This makes them take up any issue that is of interest to them without fear with full knowledge of supporters both financially and in kind. When these groups are raising funds for a particular cause, there will be financers all over the country as they know that by so doing, their interests are well taken care of. As they understand their status on the political scene, they will do everything within their grasp to ensure that they maintain a presence in all departments of the state or federal government. This will ensure that any legislation or nomination or any discussion on a subject of interest gets the best coverage ever envisioned before.
The Assessment of Flaws, Drawbacks, and Benefits of Interest Group Politics
Just like any organization, interest groups in political arena also face a myriad of challenges. The challenges are of different magnanimity depending on the organizational structure, funding for a group operation, membership of a group among others. It is also dependent on the facts such as the ability of an interest group to deliver on the interests of the class it is representing.
These groups have been instrumental in articulating and highlighting pertinent issues affecting the different population in the country. For instance, the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) led to the court ruling in recognition of colored people in the United States (Hertel-Fernandez & Skocpol, 2015). Interest groups have been almost unanimous in fighting for the improved service provision through the respective legislation, marshaling people for demonstration against any perceived deviation from groups’ interest by those in power and authority. The success rate of creating influence on political and nominated leaders have enabled groups to operate in absolute confidence of interests in terms of representation. Groups have enabled the creation, formulation, and legislation of friendly acts in respective states with the federal government offering the best support ever to interest groups. This has seen to the fact that the environment for business is conducive for investments all around the country. Even though it has also been faced with resistance from other interest groups that are different in nature, business interests are not the only benefits accrued from interest groups in politics; there is the fact of labor and money among others. With labor, there are those interest groups that have been agitating for improved labor terms while there are those that are opposed to such arguments. Mostly, labor related legislations and disputes won, and thus, employees or the members of groups are the winners in such. There are many labor proponents all around the country and are represented in each state with state offices being the regional headquarters. With monetary benefits, success in agitating for improved terms in labor disputes resulted in the increase in the minimum wages one can earn while in employment.
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Flaws and Drawbacks
Interest group politics has faced a fair share of flaws and challenges. This is evident in the fact that groups capitalize on the weakness of the political party to advance their interest. Once this is done, and may be contrary to the ideals and beliefs of an individual candidate, the fear of backlash from an interest group will prevail any sound proposal and anticipated legislation or ruling. This negates on free participation in the elections by individuals and thus, advancing the special interests of the groups. The groups may hold the individual candidate at ransom and create an environment that is hostile to him or her, resulting in the electorate or the public missing out on the services (Cammisa & Manuel, 2016). Interest groups operate on the assumption criteria that in everything they do and propose, it is the perfect suit of the entire populace in the country. This limits the power as envisioned in the constitution that the sovereign power belongs to citizens of the country. There are also fears of unscrupulous groups getting a foothold in the representation and advance the interests that are not healthy to the wellbeing of the country. The loopholes that are exploited by the same interest groups in pursuit of their political influence on a particular outcome compound these fears.
One of the drawbacks in the operations of interest groups in political arena is the issue of members’ unity. This is to mean that members of these interest groups are not committed to the true cause in total. A group may boast of having enlisted a large membership to the ranks in the community. The setback for the group is the inability of the members to make a full commitment to the operating and running of a group. They are said to be the free riders in that the results and successes enjoyed by interest groups are for all but not just a few.
Another setback for interest groups is the inability to transform membership into votes. As it is a fact that interest groups advance particular or special interests, politicians normally take advantage of the membership of groups and align themselves in a position that will result in them benefiting politically. It is through these expectations that once a politician supports a groups’ call for a certain subject that drawbacks on politicians after realizing that the large membership of a group does not ultimately turn out to be groups’ votes. It has also been a major setback for groups because of recent legislation on curbing the campaign of financial contributions towards political activities (Cammisa & Manuel, 2016). The limitation has hit interest groups with the inclination of political aspects in their ranks. It has limited groups’ effectiveness in responding to the political environment as their operations are somewhat hampered by financial constraint.
Possible Regulations for the System
In as much as interest groups are both benefits and fears in the political system, they must be regulated just like any other legal entities that run and carry out different activities, for instance, nongovernmental organizations. The regulations are not to stifle their operations guaranteed in the constitution, but rather to streamline and ensure that the activities of a respective interest group are carried out in accordance with the laid down legal parameters (Hertel-Fernandez & Skocpol, 2015). In doing this, the administration will be aiming at ensuring that groups are not infiltrated by the dark elements in a manner to exploit the good intentions of the association or group. This is a true prospect given the volatile environment that the authorities find in the attempts to tame the dark elements, for instance, extremists.
By granting possible regulations to the political scene, it should be taken into consideration that in no way does the legislation grant anybody or agency from the state or federal government the chance to infringe upon basic and fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution that is supreme. For instance, the legislation should protect the basic rights of individuals to freedom of speech, assembly and press among others. A good regulation system for participation of interest groups in politics must limit or create a sealing on the amount of money a candidate can receive in cash donations from organizations. Similarly, the use of money in the U.S. politics in general must be checked to create an equal playing field for all people wishing to pursue political ambitions. Such a regulation will ensure that representatives with the masse’s interest at heart are elected or are not bought out by a corrupt system.
The Winners and Losers in the System
It is fair to say that the system has both winners and losers. The system as outlined earlier takes on the role of highlighting and creating awareness of issues affecting the daily functions of the entire country at large. It is in the system where the population get to know the details of an impending action, for instance, in election, the population will be informed of every individual candidate position on the national and regional issue like the civil liberties, the gun rights among others. In this awareness, there are those who advance the same ideologies that are poised to win the bigger share of the campaign. Mostly as it turns out, the majority of winners are businessmen and corporations (Dincer, 2012). Interest groups politics always plays in the favor of businesses, because of the money that these organizations spend to champion their cause, sponsor candidates and discredit candidates who do not subscribe to the selfish interests. Once a candidate sponsored by a powerful business lobby wins, such a candidate will sponsor bills that are friendly to business and oppose any piece of legislations that may have a negative impact on the status quo of businesses. Companies and corporations advancing and expanding their business interests are mostly the winners
On the contrary, the biggest losers in the culture of interest politics are the larger majority of the American people, whose representatives are bought out by powerful business interests groups. The masses in general constitute losers in a political system that is corrupt and manipulated by interests groups. As such, ordinary Americans continue to lose as their rights are not fully exercised and, thus, forced to endure the worst from the system that ought to cater for their needs first.
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The impact and effects of interest groups in the American society can be said to be an attack on the exercise of democracy. This is very different from the fair practice where the individual candidate sets out to lay his or her bid to exercise the democratic right but is limited in so doing if a candidate does not support groups’ ideas. For instance, in as much as a candidate is opposed to the ownership of a riffle and use of guns in the country, a candidate is assured of not receiving votes from the National Riffles Association members. This is so, despite the well documented information on radicalization and extremism being witnessed across the country resulting in the unfortunate killings and massacres. The practice of interest group politics is to be regulated in terms of financing and campaigning for a specific candidate. This is because a candidate will definitely lead the entire nation or state and not just a few hundred, thousands or millions of members. It is against the rule of justice as it will amount to imposing leaders and making or influencing decisions that are of less importance to citizens but enrich the select few, thus, retaining the power in their hands and not vice versa. The true practice of leadership and democracy should be allowed to be carried out by eligible voters themselves and not due to unhealthy influence from interest groups and lobbyists. The ultimate leaders in influential positions that earned the position not on merit but on the necessary support to interest groups means he or she is not be serving the interests of the electorate, but rather the interests of lobbyists and interest groups that campaigned for him. If left unchecked and control through proper and sober legislation, groups will end up occupying nearly all the arms of the government, something that does not cast the American society in many eyes of the world as a sober and matured democracy in the world. For this reason, there has to be a more concerted effort from both sides of the government in attempts to bridge the gap between true governance and feigned one through the legislation on a bipartisan approach. This will spell gloom for individuals and companies wishing to take the advantage of the system to advance their selfish ideologies.