The First Amendment to the Constitution affirms the right of the people “to petition the government for a redress of grievances”. It thereby legitimizes lobbying — of Legislatures, Executive agencies, and Courts — by private interests. Business corporations, labour unions, public interest groups, professional associations, single-issue groups, and coalitions of some or all of these, lobby governments in America on behalf of sectional interests, which may or may not coincide with a (or the) public interest. That private groups pose problems for the polity as a whole has been acknowledged since Hamilton, et al. (1987) defended the proposed Constitution to the electors of New York in The Federalist Papers. Penetration of the (structurally weak) American state by many groups also poses the question of to whom elected politicians are in practice accountable, and of how political power is allocated. Not all interests are represented before government; many have no representation at all, while that of others is often poorly-financed or organized.
KeywordsInterest Group National Labor Relation Board Executive Agency Public Interest Group Federal Election Commission
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- Truman’s The Governmental Process (1951) and Latham’s The Group Basis of Politics (1952) are classic pluralist statements; Dahl’s Who Governs? (1961) is social scientific research of the highest quality, and still essential reading. Schattschneider’s The Semi-Sovereign People (1960) is a less sanguine account of the distribution of political power. Dahl and Lindblom’s Politics, Economics, and Welfare (1953) still has the capacity to surprise. Cater’s Power in Washington is an early but excellent interpretation of the power of subgovernments in Washington; Heclo’s later article, “Issue Networks and the Executive Establishment”, in King (ed.), The New American Political System (1978) is a clever interpretation of a more fluid system than that which Cater analysed. Building on the theoretical foundations established in his seminal book The Logic of Collective Action (1965), Olson considered the relationship between interest group activity and economic decline in The Decline of Nations (1982). Walker’s article, “The Origins and Maintenance of Interest Groups in America”, American Political Science Review, vol. 77 no. 2 (1983) addresses himself to the same theoretical problem with which Olson was concerned in 1965. Lindblom’s Politics and Markets (1977) marked a change of view by one of the most distinguished scholars of interest groups, confirmed in his later Presidential address to the American Political Science Association, reprinted as “Another State of Mind”, American Political Science Review, vol. 76 no. 1 (1982). Gaventa’s Power and Powerlessness is an excellent application of Lukes’s theory developed in Power (1974) to a coal-mining community in Appalachia. Wilson’s Unions in American Politics is a good introduction to labour unions in the United States. Among recent articles, Peterson’s “The Presidency and Organized Interests”, American Political Science Review, vol. 86 no. 4 (1992), and Quinn and Shapiro’s “Business Political Power: the Case of Taxation”, American Political Science Review, vol. 85 no. 3 (1991) are excellent.Google Scholar