Special-Interest Politics

September 26, 1980

Report Outline
Spread of Pressure Groups
Group Influence on Government
Impact on the 1980 Elections
Special Focus

Spread of Pressure Groups

New Era of Single-Cause Factionalism

The first amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to petition the government for a redress of grievances. But that venerable precept had the unintended side-effect in later years of opening the door to pressure politics, which today is more visible and probably more extensive than ever. From Alaska lands to zero population growth, every conceivable issue has attracted competing special-interest groups, and across the country they have become a potent force in the political system.

Their ranks include rich and powerful Capitol Hill lobbies, along with many grass-roots coalitions whose power lies in numbers and determination. The goals these groups espouse are diverse and, from their point of view, their causes just. But there is concern about their impact on the legislative process which, traditionally, has relied on the spirit of compromise to achieve consensus. The trend toward single-issue advocacy, it is feared, might permanently transform “the voice of the people” into a cacophony of me-first factionalism. This concern has been brought out from the shadows of academia and political cloakrooms into fuller public view by this year's presidential and congressional elections.

“America is no longer a nation. It is a committee of lobbies,” wrote Charles Peters, editor-in-chief of The Washington Monthly. Although Peters may be overstating the case, there are many who believe that lobbies now effectively control the flow of legislation. However, the special-interest groups that seem to dominate today's political events have little to do with politics in the traditional sense. Their goals are less oriented toward pragmatic political accommodation than waging a high-principled fight against perceived wrongs. In addition, most special interests see any affiliation with party politics as a dilution of their cause-centered crusades. “Though some groups find natural enemies on the right and others on the left, they tend to be bipartisan, or non-partisan, and they tend to be more formidable as opponents of specific measures or projects than supporters,” political commentator Richard Rovere wrote last year shortly before his death.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Lobbying and Special Interests
Sep. 29, 2017  Think Tanks in Transition
Jun. 06, 2014  Regulating Lobbying
Jul. 22, 2005  Lobbying Boom
Dec. 26, 1997  Regulating Nonprofits
Dec. 15, 1989  Getting a Grip on Influence Peddling
Jun. 20, 1986  Think Tanks
Sep. 26, 1980  Special-Interest Politics
Jun. 30, 1978  Corporate Assertiveness
Dec. 13, 1950  Revision of the Lobby Act
May 08, 1946  Congressional Lobbying
Mar. 07, 1928  Regulation of Congressional Lobbies
Jun. 06, 1925  Trade Associations and the Law
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