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Interest groups represent a significant and extremely controversial phenomena in the political system of the United States. The end product of their activity is the subject of numerous debates. The adherents argue that these associations serve a legitimate representative purpose. Competing with each other, they develop democratic values (McKeever & Davies,2006, p.171). The opponents claim that interest groups cause a great variety of problems in the U.S. policy-making process (McKeever & Davies,2006, p.169).

An interest group can be defined as “an organization whose members share common concerns and try to influence government policies affecting those concerns” (Types of Interest Groups, n.d.). Journalists and some researchers name such groups as “lobbies” and “umbrella groups”.

Nowadays 23,000 associations exist and develop in the United States. A great number of them can be regarded as interest groups (Types of Interest Groups, n.d.).

Classifications of Interest Groups

The classification of interest groups in the United States is broad and polyhedral. Some researchers distinguish seven major types: business groups, the unions, the groups of agricultural sector, professional associations, the advocacy groups from single states and cities, ethnic interest groups, and single-issue lobbying groups (Hammer,2011, p.1). Other scientists differ the U.S. interest groups dealing with business, labor, identity. They study professional, environmental and other interest groups (Bardes, Shelley,& Scmidt, 2012, p.225).  Some political scientists classify interest groups as economic, public, government, religious, civil rights, ideological, and single-issue (Types of Interest Groups, n.d.).  The most suitable way to classify the major lobbies is the distinguishing of economic, public, government, religious, and civil rights interest groups.

Economic Interest Groups

Economic interest groups are the most numerous and influential category. They include “business, agriculture, labor unions, government workers, and professionals”(Bardes, et al, 2012, p.225). 

Business interest groups. The most powerful representatives of business interest groups are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Defending the interests of over 3 million companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce made a significant impact on members of Congress (Bardes, et al, 2012, p.225). The National Association of Manufacturers consists of 11,000 manufacturing companies “in every industrial sector and in all 50 states” (About the NAM-Manufacturing in America, 2013). This group also includes the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, speaking for manufacturers of pet food and toys, and the Better Business Bureaus. Many other groups enter this category.

Agricultural interest groups. Agricultural interest groups defends the interests of American farmers. Though they make less than 1 percent of the country’s population, their effect on Congress is significant. Being spread over a wide area, this group has many representatives and senators to protect their activities. The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), the American Dairy Association, the Peanut Growers Group, the National Soybean Association, the American Farmland Trust, and other organizations compile the agricultural business group. The American Farm Bureau Federation is regarded as conservative structure. Being founded in1919, it defends over 6 million families. In fact, the larger part of them is not farmers. During the Great Depression, it was the major tool in receiving government privileges. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) takes more liberal position.

The American Farmland Trust makes policies protecting farmland and conserving nature. The rest of the above-mentioned groups provide interests of farmers in the related fields. Nowadays, agricultural interest groups develop a wide variety of activities. Searching new sales markets, they lobby the abolition of immigration limits. In fact, agricultural interest groups make a significant influence on Congress. They receive more than $20 million a year from the government. Moreover, the additional $12 billion a year are allocated in higher food prices. To illustrate, the agricultural program of 2008 appeared to be the most expensive of the previous ones. The influence of the group was great enough to  make the favorable bill overcome the President’s veto. As a result, “it had a price tag of about $100 billion over a five-year period, not counting food stamps and other food aid (Bardes, et al, 2012, p.226).

This legislation defended the interests of racehorse owners, farmers growing fruit and vegetables, and making domestic sugar. In fact, organic farmers dealt with this program as well, receiving research funding. Despite extremely high prices for agricultural products, this legislation defended the interests of “corn. Wheat, cotton, rice, and soybean growers” (Bardes, et al, 2012, p.226).

Labor interest groups. Labor interest groups include the AFL-CIO, a labor  union organization, defending interests of approximately 10 million workers. Being founded in 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) united with the Congress of Industrial organizations (CIO) in 1955. In 2008, four major union separated and founded the Change to Win Coalition representing 6 million workers. Nowadays, the impact of unions on the political processes in the United States has been decreasing because of the decline in their structure.  The scientific progress has led to the reduction of percentage of workers in key industries. Therefore, labor unions have to search new categories of their potential members. In the 21st century, they protect interests of various range of members, such as “migrant farm workers, service workers, and especially public employees” (Bardes, et al, 2012, p.226). Having a significant political power, the AFL-CIO supports Democratic candidates during the election campaign. For instance, it successfully promoted Barack Obama in 2008. “A massive turnout by labor union members in critical elections can significantly increase the final vote total for democratic candidates” (Bardes, et al, 2012, p.226). Nowadays, labor unions lobby the legislation providing easier joining to the unions.

Professional interest groups include American Association for Justice, American Medical Association(AMA), National Association of Realtors.

Public Interest Groups

Public interest groups  represent interests of over 300 million Americans. During the latest decades, a great number of “umbrella groups” were founded as  public interest groups. For instance, Nader organizations started in1965, Common Cause founded in 1970, the League of Women voters, the Consumer Federation of America are among them. The public interest groups do not pursue the getting of profit. Consumer activist Ralph Nader criticized General Motors for the concealing information about the detrimental effect of its rear-engine. This event  led to consideration of an automobile safety legislation by Congress. General Motors had to pay $425,000 compensation. Common Cause has an aim to shift the state priorities towards the common people. Some participants of the Common Cause took part in the providing the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, supported the withdrawal of the U.S.  forces from South Vietnam in 1970s. The League of Women voters promoted the Equal Right Amendment and government reform. The Consumer Federation unites approximately three hundred non-profit organizations.

Government Interest Groups. Government interest groups promote the simplification of state and local authorities reception of federal grants. These category includes the National League of Cities, the National Conference of Mayors, and the National Governors Association(Types of Interest Groups, n.d.)

Religious Interest Groups

Despite of the separation of church and state, the great majority of religious interest groups take certain part in the political process in the United States. For instance, the Christian Coalition, united conservative Protestants, “has an agenda that includes support for school prayer, opposition to homosexual rights, and a constitutional banning abortion” (Types of Interest Groups, n.d.)

Civil Rights Interest Groups

Civil rights interest groups are represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education fund (MALDEF), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.  They undertake issues of “social welfare, immigration policy, affirmative action, a variety of gender issues, and political action” (Types of Interest Groups, n.d.). The civil rights groups do not enjoy equal opportunity.

Discussion

Interest groups deal with a great variety of activities. They collect information, discuss key problems with government officials, make statements before committees and boards, take an active part in campaigns and elections, lobby the favorable legislation and build coalitions (Jillson, 2009, p.145).  Though, in certain cases, “umbrella groups” use forms of pressure, such as marches, rallies, or demonstrations. Being guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the peaceful actions of protest are allowed. To illustrate, action of civil disobedience took place in 1950s and 1960s, organizing by African American civil rights movement (Bardes, et al, 2012, p.237).

The role of interest groups in the U.S. political system is the subject to numerous debates. In fact, “umbrella groups” make a profound impact on the policy-making. Being a powerful representative force, interest groups provide the interaction between the authorities and the representatives of different social levels. Therefore, “umbrella groups” are beneficial for  the U.S. political system. On the other hand, the opponents of U.S. interest groups accuse lobbyists of the expectation ”something for their money, but categorically deny that they are engaged in simple vote-buying” (McKeever & Davies,2006, p.168). Having formed so called “iron triangles”, lobbies are the major causes of severe problems in the U.S. policy-making. The example if the detrimental effect of lobbying policy is the “iron triangle” dealing with the national defense.  In 1961, President Eisenhower warranted the nation warned the nation about the danger of so called “military-industrial complex” consisting of “arms manufacturers, the government defense establishment, including the armed forces and Defense Department, and members of Congress” (McKeever & Davies, 2006, p.169).

All the three sides of the “triangle” profited from their cooperation, the only national interest failed. The researches argue that the  interaction lacks an equality and emerges between privileged “umbrella groups”.  They have no true equality both in resources and in the inner structure. Making crucial decisions, the leaders of the interest groups do not pursue the goals of the common members.

Conclusions

To sum up, interest groups represent a significant and extremely controversial phenomena in the political system of the United States. The result of their activity is the subject of numerous debates. The classification of interest groups in the United States is vast and polyhedral. The most suitable way to classify the  major lobbies is  the distinguishing of economic, public, government, religious, and civil rights interest groups. Interest groups deal with a great variety of activities. They gather information, discuss key problems with government officials, make statements before committees and boards, take an active part in campaigns and elections, promote the favorable legislation and build coalitions. In fact, “umbrella groups” make a significant impact on the policy-making. “Lobbies” provide the interaction between the authorities and the representatives of different social levels. Therefore, “umbrella groups” are beneficial for  the U.S. political system. On the other hand, having formed so called “iron triangles”, lobbies are the major causes of severe problems in the U.S. policy-making. Making crucial decisions, the leaders of the interest groups do not pursue the goals of the common members. Having regarded all the above-mentioned arguments, one comes to the conclusion that interest groups in the USA  are extremely controversial issue. The only fact is doubtless: the opportunity for lobbies to influence on political processes provides them an extremely powerful role in the U.S. political system.

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