26 P ractically all social and economic classes of Americans have seen the need to take IT advantage of, or to protect themselves from, the actions of government, especially the national government. To accomplish this, Americans with similar interests have formed special interest groups to more effectively influence the actions of government. These special interest groups are often called “lobbying groups” or “pressure groups.” Although lobbying groups have existed throughout the nation’s history, they have grown significantly in both numbers and power since the late 1900s.
27 The National Rifle Association (mentioned in Chapter 4) is an example of a powerful and effective lobby. Its members are mostly people who own guns for hunting, target practice, and personal protection. The NRA, however, receives a great deal of money from business corporations that manufacture guns. Because of the attitudes and interests of its members, the NRA strongly opposes almost all government restrictions on the sale of both handguns and rifles. Even though most of the general public favors gun control, the NRA is able to block the passage of most gun-control legislation.
28 Although few interest groups have been as successful as the NRA, most well – organized interest groups have achieved a large measure of success. By organizing into groups which put pressure on government officials, people can gain more rewards and avoid more government restrictions than if they tried to do it as individuals.
29 With this principle in mind, business interest groups have multiplied in recent decades so that most major trades, businesses, and even professions have their lobbyists in Washington. There are influential lobbies representing labor unions, farm groups, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and specific industries such as oil and natural gas, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology. Interest groups representing ethnic groups such as African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and Jewish Americans have also expanded. There are also interest groups representing a variety of ideals or causes that want government support. These include groups pressing for a clean environment and those promoting greater protection for consumers. As one congressman exclaimed, “Everybody in America has a lobby!”
30 The political tendency of recent decades is for the size of the government to bring about an increase in the number and size of interest groups, and for the greater demands made on the government by interest groups to increase the size of the government. Groups such as the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) not only demand new government programs, regulations, and benefits for their members, they also strongly resist any attempts to reduce existing programs that they believe protect their interests. The result of this continuing cycle can be referred to as “interest
group government.” No single interest dominates government and politics as business groups did before the Great Depression. Instead, government and politics are based on reaching compromises with a large number of groups and pleasing as many as possible.