Why are pressure groups so powerful in the USA
It is commonly put forward among political scientists that pressure groups are an almost inevitable and necessary function of America??™s political system and that there is a multitude of reasons for their huge influence. At root level they are explained by the fundamental psyche and values of the American public and the nation??™s constitution as well as the valuable contribution of pressure groups towards the political process.
Indeed, James Madison, one of America??™s founding fathers, wrote about ???factions??™ being ???sown into the nature of man??™ which leads one to believe that pressure group activity is inescapable. This is certainly true for the USA. Being borne from the ???tyrannical??™ British Empire, small government and political freedom are essential to the American people and pressure groups have always been under protection of the 1st Amendment which guarantees freedom of speech and assembly. Pressure groups allow average citizens to scrutinise and influence legislation between elections, bringing a form of direct democracy to the public. The nation is also probably the most diverse in the world and the sheer number of its pressure groups illustrates this. Among the most well known are the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and National Organisation for Women (NOW). Albeit, the above factors are probably the greatest explanation for the mass influence of pressure groups in America.Moreover, combined with its political system, the perfect breeding ground is in place for pressure groups and largely explains their influence. The weak, non-ideological, fragmented nature of the two national parties, Republican and Democrat, means that citizens cannot always trust their parties to enforce the issue that are of high concern to them and so pressure groups are generally the only option open to them. Furthermore, due to the principle of federalism inherent in the system, a vast amount of access points to the legislation process are available. Pressure groups can lobby all three branches of government, the executive legislature and judiciary, as well as at the different levels of federal state and local decision making.
However, the above factors explain how pressure groups exist in the USA and only partially explain their tremendous influence in its political system. Pressure groups have been highly successful in fulfilling their aims in the past and their strength and usefulness to policy makers undoubtedly provides the further explanation. A good example of a well-led and successful pressure group in America would be the Christian Coalition, which promotes evangelical interests and played a major role in getting Ronald Reagan elected as president in 1980 by encouraging millions of Christians to register as voters. Another pressure group, the largest in America in fact, easily demonstrates its political clout with the amount of members it possesses. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) boats more than 35 million members over the age of 50. This apparent strength also oils the wheels of the democratic political system. Pressure groups bring expertise and knowledge to the decision making process which policy makers otherwise would not have time to look into, as well as setting important agendas. The Sierra Club, for example, campaigned rigorously and provided useful information to the debate that brought about such acts of Congress as the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. The ability of pressure groups to create representative (though very often unbalanced) and informative debate appears indispensable to politicians and thus the former generates its huge influence from their usefulness and political clout.
Another important factor which solidifies the influence of pressure groups in American politics is the importance of campaign finance in elections. It is not unknown that a great deal of finance is needed for candidates to make it any where in American politics, particularly through advertising, and so pressure groups (in the form of Political Action Committees) provide the finance for their desired candidate. Although some candidates refuse PAC money to prove a point, many are dependent on it and the influence of PACS is growing due to tighter regulation on campaign finance under the ???McCain-Feingold Act??™, where the 2006 mid term elections were the most expensive to date. Pressure groups are considered most powerful it is apparent they are part of an ???iron triangle??™ of power in the decision making process, which creates a ???semi-government??™ of power. These iron triangles, in particular the Military-industrial complex, explain the huge influence of some of the most powerful pressure groups in America. Pressure groups representing industry are usually highly influential due to their comfy position in relations with Congress and the national defence bureaucracy, an example of the latter being the Pentagon. Thus, political financing ties pressure group activity into America??™s political system and can give them vast amount of influence.
To conclude, it is accurate to say that each of the factors mentioned provide a contribution to the influence of pressure groups that allow the next factor to take effect, in a hierarchy of importance. The constitution, political system and psyche of the American public provide the fundamental basis for pressure group activity where their strength and usefulness to the political process take their influence further. Then, campaign finance can take the influence of pressure groups to extreme heights, most notoriously in the form of iron triangles. Each factor has relative importance in making pressure groups the influential political phenomenon they are, but the most important is probably the atmosphere of political freedom echoed by the constitution.
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