The number and types of pressure groups in America have grown rapidly in recent years. More and morepressure groups have found it useful to locate their headquarters to Washington DC. Almost half thepressure groups represented in Washington DC are corporations or business trade associations.
This group includes business and trade union groups as well as individual companies which maintain full-time officers and staff in Washington DC.
Trade associations: the number of business and trade associations in the capital are more apparent than ever before. One such group is the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). It represents over 14,000 companies, which are conservative and in recent years have opposed federal legislation connected with environmental protection. The increase in Federal government activity has prompted an increase in business representation in Washington. As new regulatory bodies have been created, many companies have found themselves having to react to the new policies rather than having an input into helping to formulate those policies. Business groups have seen the acquisition of offices in Washington DC as essential if they are to influence the formation of government policy.
Giant private corporations: many large industrial corporations, such as General Motors, also have permanent representation in Washington DC. Each corporation must ensure that their interests are protected, as large Federal contracts are often at stake. The size and subsequent power of these companies can rival that of the government, and they therefore carry enormous political weight. Business pressure groups have one major advantage over other pressure groups as they have the resources to fund their campaigns, whereas others have to rely on voluntary donations. The huge corporations tend to do better under a Republican government as historically Republicans have favoured big businesses. George W Bush has stated his intention to open up Alaska for oil exploration – was this decision influenced by pressure group involvement from the huge oil corporations ? Microsoft faced the potential of being broken up by a decision taken by the Supreme Court under Clinton’s presidency but seems likely to face a lesser fate in Bush’s presidency after the president expressed his belief that Bill Gates and Microsoft represented an American success story.
Trade Unions: the America equivalent to the British Trades Union Congress is the American Federation of Labour – Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL – CIO). In 1984, the AFL – CIO had about 18 million members, about 20% of the workforce, but its numbers have declined since this peak. The lack of effectiveness of this group was illustrated in 1959 when it failed to prevent a Federal law that outlawed secondary picketing. The trade union movement has been furthered weakened by allegations of racketeering, corruption and infiltration by organised crime. Some trade unions have succeeded in improving the standard of living for its members but this has come about because of collective bargaining as opposed to the threat of strike action. The culture of union membership and strike action is relatively rare in America and as a result, the AFL – CIO as an individual body is relatively weak. This weakness is compounded by the fact that within the AFL – CIO are individual trade unions that have their own autonomy.
Professional Organisations: this group has some very powerful members in it but powerful only in the professions that they represent. In this group would be found the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA plays an important role in the selection and nomination of judges and it is an important source of advice and it remains a major interpreter of law within the political system. The AMA has always been involved in politics. Though it was unsuccessful in its campaign not to introduce Medicare, it has used its political clout to stop a major expansion of it. The health reform programme under Clinton was effectively dropped. The AMA remains one of the largest spending pressure groups at election time, providing over $2 million for candidates who support its conservative political stand-point. Those potential election candidates who want major health reforms (i.e. make health a cheaper prospect for Americans by moving to a British form of National Health) would not receive backing from the AMA.
These are groups that represent a section of the public on a particular issue. The growth in public pressure groups can be partially explained by a change in American attitudes towards the Federal government. People have turned to pressure groups because they are seen to be speaking out on issues that touch the heart of certain individuals. These individuals have the belief that these pressure groups might be successful in changing what they find unacceptable – the most obvious current issue would be environmental issues especially as President G W Bush has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on decreasing global warming and has stated his intention to open up Alaska to oil exploration. Prominent public pressure groups are Common Cause and the Nadar Organisation. Whereas the huge corporations, which have bases in Washington DC, are concerned with their own well-being, these groups represent the interests of the consumer i.e. the public.
Sectional Pressure Groups : these work to defend and promote the interest of specific social groups in American society. In recent years the civil rights movement and the right of equality for women have been brought to the forefront by pressure groups.
The NAACP was founded in 1909 and stated that the only way forward for Black Americans was via legal methods and through Congress. In the 1950’s the NAACP lost some of its support which went to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference lead by Martin Luther King. This organisation was popular in the Southern states but was less so in the northern and north-eastern industrial city ghettos where more aggressive groups developed which openly called for Black Americans to fight or what they wanted – such as the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers.
Equal rights for women has been discussed in Congress since the 1920’s but the issue only really took off in the 1970’s. Two organisations – the National Women’s Political Caucus and the National Organisation for Women (NOW) – have campaigned extensively for greater women’s rights particularly on issues such the right to abortion, an extension of the legal rights of lesbians and the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendments by all the states in the Union.
These are the fastest growing group in America with regards to putting pressure on government. Some political analysts also believe that they are one of the most powerful political groups in America.
They share common beliefs and objectives on one issue and they believe that their major role, apart from lobbying Congress, is to mobilise support in the country for what they believe in and to support for political office those who share their beliefs.
One of the most prominent of these groups is the Christian fundamentalist organisation lead by Jerry Falwell – the Moral Majority Inc. This is now part of the Liberty Federation. The Christian Coalition is a similar body. Both believe that life should be lead along Biblical lines and it is against the teaching of Darwinian theory of evolution in schools. These Christian groups have the ability to raise substantial sums of money through their television broadcasts and some own their own television channels/studios.
Those politicians who represent their views are likely to gain their financial support at election time. These pressure groups were at their strongest during the 1980’s but have suffered from a number of very public leadership scandals which have diluted their impact nationally. However, the Christian pressure groups remain powerful in the so-called ‘Bible Belt of America’. The more cosmopolitan east and west coast cities/states have tended to reject these organisations as they are seen as being too conservative. The very public statements by President G W Bush about his belief in the importance of a Christian upbringing may once again establish these groups in Washington DC as they lost a lot of influence in the capital in the eight years of President Clinton.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is considered one of America’s most powerful and successful pressure groups. Its sole aim is to ensure that the Constitution is upheld in that it grants people the right to bear arms. In the 2000 election campaign, both candidates were pressed about their opinions regarding the right of gun ownership. Bush was very specific – no change in the law but concealment of a gun and the possession of assault weapons to be made illegal to the public. This would not have angered the NRA. Gore wanted compulsory child locks on guns, the registration of new guns and a ban on ‘junk’ guns. In view of the Columbine massacre, these were hardly extensive reforms which would have angered the NRA. The diluted approach to gun ownership and new gun controls by both candidates in 2000 possibly gives an indication of the potential political clout of the NRA. That Bush’s Interior Secretary, Gale Norton, addressed the NRA in May 2001, is a possible indication of the relationship the new Republican government wants to maintain with the NRA.
The growth in Federal programmes in the last two decades and the vast sums of money involved, has lead to an expanded role in the part played by state and city governments as administrative agents for the Federal government. This has lead to a greater degree of freedom for state and city governments but also given rise to what is known as “intergovernmental lobbying”. It is common for states and individual cities to have their own offices in Washington DC to be at the heart of federal decision making so that they can represent their beliefs with speed and effectiveness when the needs arise. As the largest spender by far in America is the Federal government, states and cities wish to be near this source of revenue should they need to put in a bid for extra resources.