Interest Group Advocacy


Group members have interests that manifest in how they want to see an issue, like how many hours a trucker can drive, resolved with public policy. But group members vary in just what they think these policy solutions should be, just as they feel more intensely about some issues than others and will be less tolerant of anything that falls short of what they consider an ideal solution. Policy makers also have interests that manifest as ideal solutions to issues, solutions that help them achieve their goals. But there is no reason to believe that members and policy makers all prefer exactly the same policy solutions, or anything even close. Lobbyists may also have personal opinions on how issues should be solved, but that is irrelevant. Never forget about Assumption 1: a lobbyist’s job is to make sure policymaker and group member interests align, or at least appear aligned, or his or her career may be in jeopardy.


From Interest Groups and Lobbying:

… this model will show how lobbyists make decisions based on the motivations of policy members, group members, and their own ambitions. It should help answer the question … about how lobbyists balance competing group member and lawmaker pressures. It should also give some insight into lobbyists’ capacity to meaningfully represent citizen interests before government.

… understanding interest group politics means seeing lobbyists as distinct from the people they represent, even as they pursue these people’s interests … . This is not a pedantic distinction. Senators may act in ways inconsistent with the wishes of their constituents because they have to cope with demands from House members, presidents, bureaucrats, and other senators. So too with lobbyists. Indeed, it may be easier for lobbyists to be swayed by influences other than their own members because, unlike legislators, they do not have to publicly present themselves for validation or rejection in elections.

Assumption 1: Lobbyists want to advance their careers by building and maintaining personal relationships with government officials and by successfully representing member interests.
Like everyone, lobbyists have an interest they strive for; it is just that their interest may not be the same as the interests of the people they represent. They certainly have a professional interest in helping the people they are currently employed to represent, but when the needs of members clash with a lobbyist’s need to maintain good relations with lawmakers, members sometimes fail to come first. Lobbyists believe in Shakespeare’s line “To thy own self be true.”

Assumption 2: Interest group members differ in how they would ideally like to see issues important to them resolved with public policy.

Assumption 3: Some issues are more important to members than others, and they will be more likely to be angry if their ideal positions on these issues are not precisely advocated by their lobbyist.

Assumption 4: Interest group members can quit their organization and are more likely to do so the more dissatisfied they are with the choices of its lobbyist.
… In discussing the internal workings of political groups, economist Albert Hirschman (1970) made a simple but important point. When faced with a leadership that does not appear to have their best interests at heart, members may do one of three things. They may loyally support the group anyway out of regard for the good of the whole, they may try to change the group by pushing out the unresponsive lobbyists and staff, or they may just quit the group entirely and take their dues with them as they exit. Except for some unions and a few professional organizations like bar associations, interest groups do not have compulsory membership. Members may quit at any time.

Assumption 5: Lobbyists have limited resources for pursuing member interest advocacy.
Even when members are happy and pay their dues, there is another crucial limit on what lobbyists can do: money. Members only have so much money to give for group support. … most [group budgets] are not all that large, even when they are supplemented by philanthropies, foundations, wealthy individuals, and the government. The costs of mounting major advocacy campaigns can be enormous, and apart from advocacy, groups also must allocate significant parts of their budgets to the nonpolitical activities and other benefits that members demand (and that may be more important to some members than the advocacy).

Assumption 6: Only elected and appointed government officials may directly influence the government’s policy-making process.

Assumption 7: All government officials seek to achieve professional and policy goals.
Since policy maker support is critical to successful advocacy, lobbyists must find ways to persuade and pressure policy makers into acting on their members’ behalf. … whether by enticements or threats, lobbyists make arguments that are meaningful to policy makers, arguments that convince them that it is in their interests to support a policy proposal that also happens to more or less be what the lobbyist’s members want. Lobbying is the art of pursuing member interests by persuading lawmakers that their interests and member interests are one and the same.
Lobbyists start by understanding what the interests of government officials are. Members of Congress want to be reelected, or to become a senator, governor, or even president (Mayhew 1974). Many also want to make policy consistent with their own ideological beliefs, usually so they have an achievement to advertise when they run for reelection or for election to higher office (Dodd 1977). Appointed officials running administrative agencies that implement the laws Congress passes want larger budgets and less congressional oversight (Downs 1967; Balla 1998). Federal judges, and especially members of the US Supreme Court, with lifetime appointments and largely insulated from political pressures, simply want to advance their ideas of how the Constitution ought to be interpreted and how to make existing law consistent with that ideal (Segal and Spaeth 2002). Is this overly simplistic? Yes. Does this cynically rule out any notion of altruism or a desire to serve the public good? Certainly. But what this stripped-down view of policy maker motivation does provide is stated in the seventh assumption …

See also: Role of Public Opinion in Policy Making.