Interest Groups

The Constitutional Right to Petition the Government

The Supreme Court has ruled that petitioning the government by way of lobbying is protected by the Constitution as free speech.

Learning Objectives

Describe the constitutional warrant for lobbying the government

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The ability of individuals, groups, and corporations to lobby the government is protected by the right to petition in the First Amendment.
  • The legality of lobbying took “strong and early root” in the new republic.
  • Lobbying, properly defined, is subject to control by Congress.

Key Terms

  • direct lobbying: Direct lobbying refers to methods used by lobbyists to influence legislative bodies through direct communication with members of the legislative body, or with a government official who formulates legislation.
  • First Amendment: The first of ten amendments to the constitution of the United States, which protects freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and the press.
  • Supreme Court: The highest court in the United States.

The ability of individuals, groups, and corporations to lobby the government is protected by the right to petition in the First Amendment. It is protected by the Constitution as free speech; one accounting was that there were three Constitutional provisions which protect the freedom of interest groups to “present their causes to government”, and various decisions by the Supreme Court have upheld these freedoms over the course of two centuries. Corporations have been considered in some court decisions to have many of the same rights as citizens, including their right to lobby officials for what they want. As a result, the legality of lobbying took “strong and early root” in the new republic.

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Value or Price

In 1953, after a lawsuit involving a congressional resolution authorizing a committee to investigate “all lobbying activities intended to influence, encourage, promote, or retard legislation,” the Supreme Court narrowly construed “lobbying activities” to mean only “direct” lobbying–which the Court described as “representations made directly to the Congress, its members, or its committees”. It contrasted it with indirect lobbying: efforts to influence Congress indirectly by trying to change public opinion. The Court rejected a broader interpretation of “lobbying” out of First Amendment concerns, and thereby affirmed the earlier decision of the appeals court. The Supreme Court ruling was:

In support of the power of Congress it is argued that lobbying is within the regulatory power of Congress, that influence upon public opinion is indirect lobbying, since public opinion affects legislation; and that therefore attempts to influence public opinion are subject to regulation by the Congress. Lobbying, properly defined, is subject to control by Congress,… But the term cannot be expanded by mere definition so as to include forbidden subjects. Neither semantics nor syllogisms can break down the barrier which protects the freedom of people to attempt to influence other people by books and other public writings…. It is said that lobbying itself is an evil and a danger. We agree that lobbying by personal contact may be an evil and a potential danger to the best in legislative processes. It is said that indirect lobbying by the pressure of public opinion on the Congress is an evil and a danger. That is not an evil; it is a good, the healthy essence of the democratic process….—Supreme Court decision in Rumely v. United States

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Using the Courts: Drawing on the First Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court has protected lobbying as free speech in numerous rulings since the early republic.

Interest Groups

The term interest group refers to virtually any voluntary association that seeks to publicly promote and create advantages for its cause.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the main actors who work for interest groups and seek to influence policy

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Interest groups include corporations, charitable organizations, civil rights groups, neighborhood associations, professional, and trade associations.
  • Advocacy groups use various forms of advocacy to influence public opinion and/or policy; they have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems.
  • Groups use varied methods to try to achieve their aims including lobbying, media campaigns, publicity stunts, polls, research, and policy briefings. Some groups are supported by powerful business or political interests and exert considerable influence on the political process.
  • Some powerful Lobby groups have been accused of manipulating the democratic system for narrow commercial gain. and in some instances have been found guilty of corruption, fraud, bribery, and other serious crimes; lobbying has become increasingly regulated as a result.

Key Terms

  • advocacy groups: Advocacy groups use various forms of advocacy to influence public opinion and/or policy; they have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems.
  • interest groups: The term interest group refers to virtually any voluntary association that seeks to publicly promote and create advantages for its cause. It applies to a vast array of diverse organizations. This includes corporations, charitable organizations, civil rights groups, neighborhood associations, and professional and trade associations.

Interest Groups

Introduction

The term interest group refers to virtually any voluntary association that seeks to publicly promote and create advantages for its cause. It applies to a vast array of diverse organizations. This includes corporations, charitable organizations, civil rights groups, neighborhood associations, professional, and trade associations. Advocacy groups use various forms of advocacy to influence public opinion and/or policy; they have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems.

Groups vary considerably in size, influence, and motive; some have wide ranging long term social purposes, others are focused and are a response to an immediate issue or concern. Motives for action may be based on a shared political, faith, moral, or commercial position. Groups use varied methods to try to achieve their aims including lobbying, media campaigns, publicity stunts, polls, research, and policy briefings. Some groups are supported by powerful business or political interests and exert considerable influence on the political process, while others have few such resources.

Some interest groups have developed into important social, political institutions or social movements. Some powerful Lobby groups have been accused of manipulating the democratic system for narrow commercial gain. In some instances, they have been found guilty of corruption, fraud, bribery, and other serious crimes; lobbying has become increasingly regulated as a result. Some groups, generally ones with less financial resources, may use direct action and civil disobedience, and in some cases are accused of being domestic extremists or a threat to the social order. Research is beginning to explore how advocacy groups use social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action.

There are many significant advocacy groups throughout history, some of which operate with different dynamics and could better be described as social movements. There are some notable groups operating in different parts of the world. For example, Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over forty countries and with an international coordinating body in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Greenpeace states its goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity” and focuses its campaigning on worldwide issues such as global warming, deforestation, overfishing, commercial whaling, and anti-nuclear issues.

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Greenpeace: Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over forty countries and with an international coordinating body in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Greenpeace states its goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity” and focuses its campaigning on world wide issues such as global warming, deforestation, overfishing, commercial whaling, and anti-nuclear issues. Greenpeace uses direct action, lobbying, and research to achieve its goals.

In some instances, advocacy groups have been convicted of illegal activity. Major examples include: 1) Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal Corrupt and fraudulent lobbying in relation to Native American gambling enterprises; 2) Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement between the Attorneys General of 46 states and the four largest US tobacco companies who agreed to pay $206 billion over the first twenty-five years of the agreement

Organization of Interest Groups

Interest groups can come in varied forms and organize under different methods.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the theories behind interest groups and their effects on government

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • An employers’ organization is an association of employers. The role and position of an employers’ organization differs from country to country, depending on the economic system of a country.
  • Occupational organizations promote the professional and economic interests of workers in a particular occupation, industry, or trade, through interaction with the government, and by preparing advertising and other promotional campaigns to the public.
  • Interest groups can be technical or non technical. Some are dedicated to unions while others to specific interests.
  • Their organization and operations can be based on any of three theories: pluralism, neo-pluralism, and corporatism.

Key Terms

  • employers’ organization: An employers’ organization is an association of employers.
  • occupational organizations: Occupational organizations promote the professional and economic interests of workers in a particular occupation, industry, or trade, through interaction with the government, and by preparing advertising and other promotional campaigns to the public.

Introduction

A Special Interest Group (SIG) is a community with particular interest in advancing a specific area of knowledge, learning or technology.Members cooperate to affect or to produce solutions within their particular field, and may communicate, meet, and organize conferences. They may, in some cases, also advocate or lobby on a particular issue or on a range of issues but they are generally distinct from advocacy and pressure groups which are normally set up for the specific political aim; this distinction is not firm however and some organizations can adapt and change their focus over time. Public policy, in general, is a dynamic interplay of decisions between the President, Congress and interest groups.

Organizations may also have Special Interest Groups which are normally focused on a mutual interest or shared characteristic of a subset of members of the organization. An important example for this are trade unions, educational unions, and labor unions.

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National Educators Association: The NEA is a prominent and powerful interest group

Much work has been undertaken by academics in trying to categorize how pressure groups operate, particularly in relation to governmental policy creation.

The field is dominated by several differing schools of thought:

  1. Pluralism: This is based upon the understanding that pressure groups operate in competition with one another and play a key role in the political system. They do this by acting as a counterweight to undue concentrations of power. However, this pluralist theory (formed primarily by American academics) reflects a more open and fragmented political system similar to that in countries like the United States. Under neo-pluralism, a concept of political communities developed that is more similar to the British form of government
  2. Neo-Pluralism: This is based on the concept of political communities in that pressure groups and other similar bodies are organised around a government department and its network of client groups. The members of this network co-operate during the policy making process.
  3. Corporatism: Some pressure groups are backed by private businesses that have heavy influence on the legislature.

The Characteristics of Members

Membership interests represent individuals for social, business, labor, or charitable purposes to achieve political goals.

Learning Objectives

Explain the benefits and incentives of joining interest groups

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • An interest group is a group of individuals who share common objectives, and whose aim is to influence policymakers.
  • Membership includes a group of people that join an interest group and unite under one cause. They may or may not have an opinion on some of the issues the staff pursues.
  • Similarly, staff are the leaders of this group that heads up the membership. With the membership united under one cause, the staff has the ability to pursue other issues that the membership may disagree on, but will remain members united by the primary cause.
  • Mancur Lloyd Olson sought to understand the logical basis of interest group membership and participation. In his first book, he theorized that “only a separate and ‘selective’ incentive will stimulate a rational individual in a latent group to act in a group-oriented way.

Key Terms

  • interest group: Collections of members with shared knowledge, status, or goals. In many cases, these groups advocate for particular political or social issues.
  • mancur lloyd olson: Mancur Lloyd Olson, a leading American economist, sought to understand the logical basis of interest group membership and participation. In his first book, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (1965), he theorized that “only a separate and ‘selective’ incentive will stimulate a rational individual in a latent group to act in a group-oriented way”; that is, members of a large group will not act in the group’s common interest unless motivated by personal gains.

Introduction

An interest group is a group of individuals who share common objectives, and whose aim is to influence policymakers. Institutional interests are organizations that represent other organizations, whose rules and policies are custom-fit to the needs and wants of the organizations they serve. This includes the American Cotton Manufacturers (which represents the generally congruous southern textile mills) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which represents the multitude of wants of American businesses).

Membership interests are organizations that represent individuals for social, business, labor, or charitable purposes, in order to achieve civil or political goals. This includes the NAACP(represents African-American interests), the Sierra Club (represents environmental interests), the NRA (represents Second Amendment interests, ), and Common Cause (represents interests in an increase in voter turnout and knowledge). Membership includes a group of people that join an interest group and unite under one cause. They may or may not have an opinion on some of the issues the staff pursues. Similarly, staff are the leaders of this group that heads up the membership. With the membership united under one cause, the staff has the ability to pursue other issues that the membership may disagree on, but will remain members united by the primary cause.

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NRA Headquarters: The headquarters of the NRA, an interest group, located in Fairfax Virginia, USA. The NRA represents an interest group advocating for the rights to own weapons under the Second Amendment of the United States.

Benefits and Incentives

The general theory is that individuals must be enticed with some type of benefit to join an interest group. Known as the free rider problem, it refers to the difficulty of obtaining members of a particular interest group when the benefits are already reaped without membership. For instance, an interest group dedicated to improving farming standards will fight for the general goal of improving farming for every farmer, even those who are not members of that particular interest group. Thus, there is no real incentive to join an interest group and pay dues if the farmer will receive that benefit anyway. Interest groups must receive dues and contributions from its members in order to accomplish its agenda. While every individual in the world would benefit from a cleaner environment, an Environmental protection interest group does not, in turn, receive monetary help from every individual in the world.

Selective material benefits are benefits that are usually given in monetary benefits. For instance, if an interest group gives a material benefit to their member, they could give them travel discounts, free meals at certain restaurants, or free subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, or journals. Many trade and professional interest groups tend to give these types of benefits to their members. A selective solidary benefit is another type of benefit offered to members or prospective members of an interest group. These incentives involve benefits like “socializing congeniality, the sense of group membership and identification, the status resulting from membership, fun and conviviality, the maintenance of social distinctions, and so on. A solidary incentive is one in which the rewards for participation are socially derived and created out of the act of association.

An expressive incentive is another basic type of incentive or benefit offered to being a member of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits likely joined to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in. Some include free speech, civil rights, economic justice, or political equality. To obtain these types of benefits, members would simply pay dues, donating their time or money to get a feeling of satisfaction from expressing a political value. Also, it would not matter if the interest group achieved their goal; these members would merely be able to say they helped out in the process of trying to obtain these goals, which is the expressive incentive that they got in the first place. The types of interest groups that rely on expressive benefits or incentives would be environmental groups and groups who claim to be lobbying for the public interest.

Collective Action

Mancur Lloyd Olson, a leading American economist, sought to understand the logical basis of interest group membership and participation. The reigning political theories of his day granted groups an almost primordial status. Some appealed to a natural human instinct for herding, others ascribed the formation of groups that are rooted in kinship to the process of modernization. Olson offered a radically different account of the logical basis of organized collective action. In his first book, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (1965), he theorized that “only a separate and ‘selective’ incentive will stimulate a rational individual in a latent group to act in a group-oriented way”; that is, members of a large group will not act in the group’s common interest unless motivated by personal gains.

Motivations Behind the Formation of Interest Groups

Members comprising interest groups join for solidarity, material, or purposive incentives.

Learning Objectives

Identify the benefits and incentives for individuals to join interest groups

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The free rider problem refers to the difficulty of obtaining members of a particular interest group when the benefits are already reaped without membership.
  • A collective good refers to something of value that cannot be withheld from a nonmember of a group.
  • Selective material benefits are benefits that are usually given in monetary benefits. For instance, if an interest group gives a material benefit to their members, they could give them rewards for their efforts.
  • A selective solidary benefit refers to the benefits of belonging to a community of shared principles and interests. Members join for the benefits of group distinction and the status resulting from membership.
  • An expressive incentive is another basic type of incentive or benefit offered to being a member of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits likely joined to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in.
  • A purposive incentive refers to a benefit that comes from serving a cause or principle; people who join because of these are usually passionate about the cause or principle.

Key Terms

  • collective goods: items and resourcses that benefit everyone, and from which people cannot be excluded
  • purposive incentive: A purposive incentive refers to a benefit that comes from serving a cause or principle; people who join because of these are usually passionate about the cause or principle.
  • free rider: In economics, collective bargaining, psychology and political science, “free riders” are those who consume more than their fair share of a resource, or shoulder less than a fair share of the costs of its production. Free riding is usually considered to be an economic “problem” only when it leads to the non-production or under-production of a public good (and thus to Pareto inefficiency), or when it leads to the excessive use of a common property resource. The free rider problem is the question of how to prevent free riding from taking place (or at least limit its negative effects) in these situations.
  • selective material benefits: Selective material benefits are benefits that are usually given in monetary benefits. For instance, if an interest group gives a material benefit to their member, they could give them travel discounts, free meals at certain restaurants, or free subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, or journals.
  • solidary benefit: A selective solidary benefit is another type of benefit offered to members or prospective members of an interest group. These incentives involve benefits like “socializing congeniality, the sense of group membership and identification, the status resulting from membership, fun and conviviality, the maintenance of social distinctions, and so on.
  • expressive incentive: An expressive incentive is another basic type of incentive or benefit offered to being a member of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits likely joined to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in. Some include free speech, civil rights, economic justice, or political equality.

Why Interest Groups Form

Introduction

The general theory is that individuals must be enticed with some type of benefit to join an interest group. Known as the free rider problem, it refers to the difficulty of obtaining members of a particular interest group when the benefits are already reaped without membership. For instance, an interest group dedicated to improving farming standards will fight for the general goal of improving farming for every farmer, even those who are not members of that particular interest group. Thus, there is no real incentive to join an interest group and pay dues if the farmer will receive that benefit anyway. Interest groups must receive dues and contributions from its members in order to accomplish its agenda. A collective good refers to something of value that cannot be withheld from a nonmember of a group. To illustrate the free rider problem and collective goods, take environmental groups who advocate for a cleaner environment. While every individual in the world would benefit from a cleaner environment, an environmental protection interest group does not, in turn, receive monetary help from every individual in the world.

Types of Benefits and Incentives

Selective material benefits are benefits that are usually given in monetary benefits. For instance, if an interest group gives a material benefit to their member, they could give them travel discounts, free meals at certain restaurants, or free subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, or journals. Many trade and professional interest groups tend to give these types of benefits to their members. A selective solidary benefit is another type of benefit offered to members or prospective members of an interest group. These incentives involve benefits like socializing congeniality, the sense of group membership and identification, the status resulting from membership, fun and conviviality, the maintenance of social distinctions, and so on. A solidary incentive is one in which the rewards for participation are socially derived and created out of the act of association.

An expressive incentive is another basic type of incentive or benefit offered to being a member of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits likely joined to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in. Some include free speech, civil rights, economic justice, or political equality. To obtain these types of benefits, members would simply pay dues, donating their time or money to get a feeling of satisfaction from expressing a political value. Also, it would not matter if the interest group achieved their goal. These members would merely be able to say they helped out in the process of trying to obtain these goals, which is the expressive incentive that they got in the first place. The types of interest groups that rely on expressive benefits or incentives would be environmental groups and groups who claim to be lobbying for the public interest. A purposive incentive refers to a benefit that comes from serving a cause or principle; people who join because of these are usually passionate about the cause or principle.

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Protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention: A purposive incentive refers to a benefit that comes from serving a cause or principle; people who join because of these are usually passionate about the cause or principle.

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Demonstration against Ahmadinejad in Rio: An expressive incentive is another basic type of incentive or benefit offered to being a member of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits likely joined to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in.

The Function of Interest Groups

An advocacy group is a group or an organization that tries to influence the government but does not hold power in the government.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast the function of interest groups

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A single-issue group may form in response to a particular issue area sometimes in response to a single event or threat. In some cases initiatives initially championed by advocacy groups later become institutionalized as important elements of civic life.
  • Anti-defamation organizations issue responses or criticisms to real or supposed slights of any sort by an individual or group against a specific segment of the population that the organization exists to represent.
  • Watchdog groups exist to provide oversight and rating of actions or media by various outlets, both government and corporate. They may also index personalities, organizations, products and activities in databases to provide coverage and rating of the value of such entities.
  • Lobby groups work for a change to the law or the maintenance of a particular law and big businesses fund very considerable lobbying influence on legislators, for example in the U.S. and in the U.K. where lobbying first developed.
  • Legal defense funds provide funding for the legal defense for, or legal action against, individuals or groups related to their specific interests or target demographic by filing Amicus Curiae in court.

Key Terms

  • watchdog groups: Watchdog groups exist to provide oversight and rating of actions or media by various outlets, both government and corporate.
  • advocacy group: An advocacy group is a group or an organization that tries to influence the government but does not hold power in the government.
  • anti-defamation organizations: Anti-defamation organizations issue responses or criticisms to real or supposed slights of any sort by an individual or group against a specific segment of the population that the organization exists to represent.
  • lobby groups: The act of attempting to persuade a group of people that influence decisions made by officials in the government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies.
  • legal defense funds: Legal defense funds provide funding for the legal defense for, or legal action against, individuals or groups related to their specific interests or target demographic.

Introduction

An advocacy group is a group or an organization that tries to influence the government but does not hold power in the government. A single-issue group may form in response to a particular issue area sometimes in response to a single event or threat. In some cases initiatives initially championed by advocacy groups later become institutionalized as important elements of civic life (for example universal education or regulation of doctors). Groups representing broad interests of a group may be formed with the purpose of benefiting the group over an extended period of time and in many ways; examples include Consumer organizations, Professional associations, Trade associations and Trade unions.

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Health News Watchdog: Media watchdogs ensure that media coverage is factually accurate and as objective as possible.

Activities

Advocacy groups exist in a wide variety of genres based upon their most pronounced activities. Anti-defamation organizations issue responses or criticisms to real or supposed slights of any sort by an individual or group against a specific segment of the population that the organization exists to represent. Watchdog groups exist to provide oversight and rating of actions or media by various outlets, both government and corporate. They may also index personalities, organizations, products and activities in databases to provide coverage and rating of the value or viability of such entities to target demographics.

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Support Public Libraries Advocacy: Advocacy groups seek to influence government policy. In cases such as public libraries, advocacy groups have been critical in lobbying for continued funding across the nation.

Lobby groups work for a change to the law or the maintenance of a particular law and big businesses fund very considerable lobbying influence on legislators, for example in the U.S. and in the U.K. where lobbying first developed. Legal defense funds provide funding for the legal defense for, or legal action against, individuals or groups related to their specific interests or target demographic. This is often accompanied by one of the above types of advocacy groups filing Amicus curiae if the cause at stake serves the interests of both the legal defense fund and the other advocacy groups.

Interest Groups vs. Political Parties

Advocacy groups exert influence on political parties, mostly through campaign finance.

Learning Objectives

Explain how competing business interests lobby to influence legislation in Congress

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A party or its leading members may be offered money or gifts-in-kind. These donations are the traditional source of funding for all right-of-center cadre parties.
  • Advocacy groups exert influence on political parties, mostly through campaign finance.
  • Left-wing parties are often funded by organized labor. When the Labor Party was first formed, it was largely funded by trade unions.

Key Terms

  • advocacy groups: Advocacy groups use various forms of advocacy to influence public opinion and/or policy; they have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems.

Political Parties

Political parties are lobbied vigorously by organizations, businesses, and special interest groups such as trades unions. A party or its leading members may be offered money or gifts-in-kind. These donations are the traditional source of funding for all right-of-center cadre parties. Starting in the late 19th century, these parties were opposed by the new founded left-of-center workers’ parties. They started a new party type, the mass membership party, and a new source of political fundraising, membership dues.

Social Movements

Social movements are a type of group action. They are large informal groupings of individuals or organizations which focus on specific political or social issues. In other words, they carry out, resist or undo a social change. Political science and sociology have developed a variety of theories and empirical research on social movements. For example, some research in political science highlights the relation between popular movements and the formation of new political parties as well as discussing the function of social movements in relation to agenda setting and influence on politics.

Advocacy Groups

In most liberal democracies, advocacy groups tend to use the bureaucracy as the main channel of influence. In liberal democracies, bureaucracy is where the decision-making power lies. Advocacy groups can also exert influence on political parties, and have often done so. The main way groups exert their influence is through campaign finance. In the UK, the conservative party’s campaigns are often funded by large corporations, as many of the conservative party’s campaigns reflect the interests of businesses. In the US, George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004 was the most expensive campaign in American history. It was financed mainly by large corporations and industrial interests. In contrast to the conservative right, left-wing parties are often funded by organized labor. When the Labor Party was first formed, it was largely funded by trade unions. Similarly, political parties are often formed as a result of group pressure. For example, the Labour Party in the UK was formed out of the new trade-union movement, which lobbied for the rights of workers.

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George W. Bush: George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004 was largely funded by special interest groups such as financial banks and large industrial corporations.

More often than not, lobbying coalitions enter into conflict with each other. For example, in the issue of free trade, some corporate lobbyists seek to eliminate or dismantle tariffs, promoting free trade and the free movement of goods and services. By contrast, lobbyists representing farmers and rural interests seek to maintain or reinforce existing tariffs. It is in their best interest to preserve the status quo. If tariffs are reduced or eliminated, then American farmers are forced to compete with farmers from other trading countries. As these coalitions enter into conflict, congressmen must choose how to vote in the face of different pressures from different constituencies.