The Politics of Interest Groups

CMC Government 106, Fall 2015
Tuesday and Thursday 11AM-12:15 PM  Classroom Roberts South 102


J. Pitney Office:  Kravis 232   Telephone:  909/607-4224

Office Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday 1-2 PM, and by appointment

If regular hours are inconvenient, please make an appointment.  



This courses examines the role of interest groups in American politics, with special attention to their influence on public policy.  It asks these questions:


Classes will include lecture and discussion.  Finish the readings before class because our discussions will involve those readings.  We shall also talk about breaking news, so you must read a good news source such as Politico, RealClearPolitics or the New York Times. 


Our class blog is at  I shall post videos, graphs, news stories, and other material there.  We shall use some of this material in class, and you may review the rest at your convenience.   You will all receive invitations to post to the blog.  (Please let me know if you do not get such an invitation.)  I strongly encourage you to use the blog in these ways:


The following will make up your course grade: 


Required Books

Schedule (subject to change, with advance notice).

In addition to the readings below, I may also supply you with various handouts and Internet links.

Sept 1, 3:  Introduction

"The canal trustees quickly secured the expert services of Abraham Lincoln to lobby against the Havens' proposal for an act. This action tells us that lawyer Lincoln still had great influence in the House of Representatives, even though he had not sat there since 1842. And it is the first known proof that he ever acted as a lobbyist. " -- Wayne C. Temple, "A. Lincoln, Lobbyist," Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 21 (Summer 2000): 35-43.

Is everyone part of a special interest?  What is the proper role of organized interests in a democracy?

Sept 8, 10: Movements, Groups, Factions

"The more government takes the place of associations, the more will individuals lose the idea of forming associations and need the government to come to their help" -- Alexis deTocqueville

We hear of "movements," "interest groups" and "factions." Do these terms mean different things, or are they variations of the same thing?

Sept 15, 17:  Lobbying and Lobbyists

"It's always a good time to be Heather Podesta." -- Lobbyist Heather Podesta

Who are lobbyists?  How do they work?


Sept 22, 24: Lobbying Congress and the Executive

"[Tom] Daschle, a `policy adviser' to a range of corporate interests and a close confidant of many top Democrats, has become one of the most famous unregistered lobbyists in the city. In fact, his activities as a consigliere and go-between for business leaders and politicians, including President Obama, are so well known that among ethics watchdogs, the technicality in the law that allows lobbyists to evade registration has become known as the `Daschle Loophole.'" -- Lee Fang, The Nation, February 19, 2014.

How do lobbyists try to influence lawmakers, political appointees, and career civil servants? What is the difference between the inside game and the outside game?
Sept 29, Oct 1: Lobbying, Coalitions, and Litigation

“`In the final analysis,' Stevens concluded, his argument boiled down to `who should decide”' whether affirmative action should continue — `the nine of us sitting in the chambers of the Supreme Court,' as he put it, or `the accumulated wisdom of the country’s leaders.' That wisdom, he said, was convincingly shown by `the powerful consensus of the dark green briefs.' -- Legal Times, October 6, 2003.

How do interest groups form coalitions?  How do they use the legal process?
Oct 6, 8: Political Money I

"How about putting limits on malpractice awards?"
"Well, you tell me."
"Well, if you're for them, I got money from the doctors and the insurance companies. If you're against them, I got money from the trial lawyers. Let's put you down as `against.'"
"Terry, tell me something. With all this money coming in from both sides, how could anything possibly ever get done?"
"It doesn't. That's the genius of the system."  -- Kevin McCarthy and Eddie Murphy in The Distinguished Gentleman

Why do interest groups make contributions and independent expenditures in campaigns?
Oct 13, 15:  Political Money II

"This fundraising avenue is almost completely shut off for outsiders. It’s not that I didn’t try. Several times I was told by third house leaders I met with that I presented an `interesting campaign,' but because the organization `had a piece of legislation before my opponent’s committee the next day,' they could not be seen supporting my run with a donation." -- Pete Peterson

How does political money affect political outcomes?
Oct 22: Political Money III

"Jack Abramoff liked to slip into dialogue from The Godfather as he led his lobbying colleagues in planning their next conquest on Capitol Hill. In a favorite bit, he would mimic an ice-cold Michael Corleone facing down a crooked politician's demand for a cut of Mafia gambling profits: `Senator, you can have my answer now if you like. My offer is this: nothing.'" -- Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi, Washington Post, December 29, 2005.

How are campaign finance rules and practices changing?

October 27, 29:  Business and Professions

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless." -- Not Abraham Lincoln.

How did corporations and trade associations become players?  When do they seek public and private goods?

November 3, 5:  Labor 

"Despite what some among us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas; it is not because of the merit of our positions; it is not because we care about children; and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power. And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year..." NEA General  Counsel Bob Chanin

How has change in the workforce changed the composition and strategy of organized labor?

November 10, 12: Government Lobbies

“If someone takes something from me, I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers!” -- Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

How do government employees and lobbyists for government agencies affect public policy?
November 17, 19: Social Issues

"I have observed with profound sorrow the role that many religious leaders have played in urging passage of this bill, because I cannot make their activities jibe with my concept of the proper place of religious leaders in our national life … This is the second time in my lifetime an effort has been made by the clergy to make a moral question of a political issue. The other was prohibition.  We know something of the results of that." -- Senator Richard Russell, arguing against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Congressional Record, June 10, 1964, p. 13309.

How do "citizen movements" take shape?
November 24:  The Special Case of Disability

"This may sound like the old Monty Python’s Life of Brian bit where two obviously like-minded religious groups — the People’s Judean Front and the People’s Front of Judea — were fighting to the death against each other. Or like the Menshiviks versus the Bolsheviks. You’re all crazy, a curse on all your heads, my great-grandmother would have said. But in the autism community, the rift among advocates is serious.  And far from being funny, it is causing me a lot of pain." -- Susan Senator
December 1, 3: Foreign Policy and National Security

Jerry:        So you're saying UNICEF is a scam?
Kramer:    It's the perfect cover for a money laundering operation . No one can keep track of all those kids with the little orange boxes of change.

Who influences foreign and military policy? What is the role of foreign governments and interests? What economic and ethnic groups have a stake in foreign affairs?

December 8, 10:  Reform and Reconsiderations

"Money, like water, will always find an outlet." -- Justices Stevens and O'Connor in McConnell v. FEC

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