First, what do you think about interest groups? Are they essential to the operation of our democratic gov?
Besides single-issue interest groups, like the Right-to-Life and Pro-Choice groups, there are multiple-issue interest groups which exists today in the USA, culminating, of course, with political parties which attempt to capture the reigns of government in order to implement their beliefs.
From the Council on Foreign Relations, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Greenpeace, to the National Governors Association, the National Education Association (NEA), and the National League of Cities, to the American Bar Association (ABA), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the Chamber of Commerce, etc., interest groups dominate our political process. Through publicity, mass appeals, mass mailing, litigation, lobbying, and the use of campaign contributions, all of these groups seek to influence governmental leaders one way or another.
Indeed, many have criticized the so-called “revolving door” of certain bureaucrats and lobbyists who move from governmental jobs to interest groups which results in the nefarious “iron triangles” of mutually supporting relationships among interest groups, congressional committees and subcommittees, and the bureaucratic governmental agencies that share a common policy concern. For example, it is not uncommon for retired military officers to go to work for defense contractors after leaving the military and advising the defense companies of what the military is doing, its weapons needs, designs, requirements, etc. thus allowing the companies to bid on specific projects—within just the correct parameters needed by the military services—enabling the companies to beat out competitors for military contracts.
More recently, we have seen quite clear evidence of the “capture theory” of interest groups in action with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Remember that ‘capture theory’ says that regulatory agencies often become allies, protectors, and advocators of the regulated. In the Deepwater Horizon situation, the federal agency charged with overseeing deep water oil drilling, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), part of the US Department of the Interior, was supposed to manage the nation’s natural gas, oil, and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf in the public’s interest. As Wikipedia states: “The agency receives most of its revenue from leasing federal lands and waters to oil and natural gas companies with a profit margin of 98?It is one of the largest revenue sources to the federal government after the IRS” ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minerals_Management_Service). But in 2008, the MMS had numerous charges of ethical impropriety lodged against it, including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use, and sexual misconduct. As The New York Times wrote: “The reports portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch” (September 10, 2008). The corruption was so bad in the MMS that Obama Interior Secretary Ken Salazar described it as “a culture in which oil companies were able to get what they wanted without sufficient oversight and regulation” (The Washington Post, May 29, 2010).
What is negatively affected by the power of interest groups, say critics, is the voice of the people, that is, the voice of those who directly elect their representatives. Indeed, they argue that the power of interest groups is so strong today, that the U.S. government is up for sale to the highest bidder, and that the voice of democracy has been drowned out.
There are two parts to this chapter discussion question. First, what do you think about interest groups? Are they essential to the operation of our democratic government or are they destructive of our democratic process, leaving government up for sale to the highest bidder? Second, submit one example of an interest group you think is destructive of our political process AND one interest group which you believe enhances our democratic process, and explain why. Remember to answer both parts of the question.
Asked By: Dan - 11/17/2011