Inequality and Interest Groups



READ: A Giant Statistical Round-Up of the Income Inequality Crisis in 16 Charts

Larry Bartels on Income Inequality and Social Policy (21:11)


Interest Groups

Public Interest vs. Special Interest

Organized interest groups are a major influence on public policy, and by most measures their numbers and activities have soared since the 1960s (Berry 1997). There are two types of interest groups.

Public Interest Groups:

  • Tend to lobby for activities they believe will benefit the entire population
  • Examples: The Sierra Club, the National Rifle Association, the Christian Coalition, Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Special Interest Groups

  • Support actions that tend to benefit only members of their organization
  • Examples: Groups whose members have a direct economic stake in public policy, such as organized labor, business groups, and professional associations.


Most groups are involved lobbying of some nature. While the unique number of lobbyists has declined from its high point in the mid 00s, the amount of lobby spending has more than doubled since 1998.

REFER: Lobbying Database | OpenSecrets

Some of the Audiences for Lobbyists

The Public: Groups provide information and perspectives on public policy issues. They issue studies, reports, and news releases. They produce advertisements for tv, radio, newspapers and Web pages.

The Legislature: Groups testify in legislative committee hearings. They meet with individual members or their staffs. They urge their members and supporters to write or call legislators.

Executive Branch Agencies: Groups submit studies and recommendations during formal public comment periods on proposed regulations. They frequently and informally communicate with agency officials.

CBS Sunday Morning on Lobbying, ft. Lanny Davis (9:55)

Other Methods of Lobbying

Electioneering: Many groups endorse candidates, contribute money and other resources to their campaigns, and sponsor issue advocacy advertisements that are intended to affect voter opinion on the issues, and the groups hope, their votes.These efforts are aimed at getting people who are sympathetic to the particular group's positions elected and defeating those who oppose its positions.

Litigation: They may file a suit against an agency because of a ruling or regulation and try to get the courts to change the policy. In the late 1990s, for example, the American Trucking Association sued the EPA over its proposed higher standards for ozone and particulate matter, which the association charged would adversely affect the trucking industry. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the justices affirmed the EPA's regulations.

Steve Ansolabehere on Interest Groups and Money in Politics (16:30)



  • Berry, Jeffrey M. 1997. The Interest Group Society 3rd ed. New York: Longman.
  • Kraft, Michael E. and Scott R. Furlong, 2010. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
  • Patterson, Thomas E. 2009. The American Democracy. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

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