HGov: Lobbying

Interest groups seek support through lobbying, which refers to efforts by groups to influence public policy through contact with public officials. The two main lobbying strategies are labeled inside lobbying and outside lobbying. Each strategy involves communication between pubic officials and group lobbyists, but the strategies differ in what is communicated and who does the communicating.

Inside lobbying is based on interest group efforts to develop and maintain close contacts with policymakers. It is designed to give an interest group direct access to officials in order to influence their decisions. Access is not the same as influence, which is the capacity to affect policy decisions. Using an inside strategy, lobbyists develop direct contacts with legislators, government bureaucrats, and members of the judiciary in order to persuade them to accept the interest group’s perspective on policy.

Interest groups use two policy processes – iron triangles and issue networks – to obtain influence. An iron triangle consists of a small and informal but relatively stable set of bureaucrats, legislators, and lobbyists who seek to develop policies beneficial to a particular interest. Iron triangles represent the pattern of influence in only certain policy areas and are less common now than in the past. A more frequent pattern of influence today is the issue network, which is an informal grouping of officials, lobbyists, and policy specialists who are brought together temporarily by their shared interest in a particular policy issue. Unlike an iron triangle, the issue network would dissolve once the issue was resolved.

Although an interest group may rely solely on inside lobbying, this approach is not likely to be successful unless the group can demonstrate that its concern reflect a vital constituency. Interest groups make use of constituency connections when it is advantageous for them to do so. They engage in outside lobbying, which involves bringing public pressure to bear on policymakers.

One form of outside pressure is grassroots lobbying. The pressure is designed to convince government officials that an interest group’s policy position has popular support. Grassroots lobbying encourages members of the public to contact their elected or appointed officials to ask them to take a certain action. The precise impact of grassroots campaign is difficult to assess. Members of Congress  downplay its importance, but all congressional offices monitor letters, email, and phone calls as a way of tracking constituents’ opinions.

An outside strategy can also include election campaigns. Organized interest groups work to elect their supporters and defeat their opponents. The possibility of electoral opposition from a powerful interest group can keep an officeholder from openly obstructing the group’s goals. The principal way interest groups try to gain influence through elections is by contributing money to a candidates’ campaigns. An interest group’s election contributions are given through its political action committee or PAC.

9.2 Inside Lobbying: Seeking Influence through Official Contacts (read pp.288-300)


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