Describe the influence of the representatives of special interest groups on the legislative process in the U.S.
A large percentage of special interest groups convey their messages through the use of propaganda and lobbyists. Properly managed, lobbyists can serve a useful purpose in making their wishes known to legislature. Lobbyists are an important means by which groups can make an impact on areas of government concerning them, or areas that should.
For example, AARP (previously American Association of Retired Persons, now just AARP) is a special interest group for people over age 50. Over the years, they have expanded membership to include everybody over age 50, retired or employed, US citizen or not. Now, nearly half of all people in the 50+ age bracket belong to AARP, with 25 percent of US citizens being in this category. AARP’s goals are (to quote AARP.org) “informing members and the public on issues important to [the 50+] age group”; “advocating on legislative, consumer and legal issues”; “promoting community service” and “Offering a wide range of special products and services to members. With roughly 12.5 percent of the voting public under its wings, AARP carries a sizeable influence in whatever it turns its attention to. These interests could range from availability of medication and health care to seniors, to the installation of assistance programs for veterans.
Not only does AARP have a central headquarters in Washington D.C., but there is an office in every state (plus the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico) and 3,500 local chapters. To determine the needs of its members, it conducts polls, examines statistics and consults experts. Volunteers then appear before congress to testify about many issues or work closely with state lawmakers to promote legislation benefiting older people.
Political lobbyists, including AARP, direct the flow of billions of dollars a year spent by state and federal agencies. With this much influence, it is important that lobbyist make their purposes public by reporting them in order to prevent corruption, bribery and “back room games.” For example, although lobbyists in Manhattan have been required for some time to report attempted legislative influence, there are no current regulations applying to agency contracts, worth tens or hundreds of millions. To force a similar regulation on these times of lobbying, Assemblyman Alexander Grannis (D) and State Senator Frank Padavan (R) are currently trying to pass a bill requiring lobbyists to reports contracts entered upon by the state. So far, the bill has failed to make it to the floor of either house. Unfortunately, the lobbying game is so deeply embedded in the political process, every lobbyist out there will fight a bill such as this one. Even Governor George Pataki appears reluctant to pass this bill, as senator-turned-lobbyist Alfonse D’Amato is a longtime political friend. D’Amato was recently brought into the political spotlight when a business deal he arranged with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority netted his firm half a million dollars.
Corruption aside, lobbying can be a very direct means of communication between voters and legislature, at all levels of government. If a group of individuals cares deeply enough about an issue, they can make a tangible difference in the lawmaking process and can dramatically improve the lives of its members.