|1.||How are these groups formed?|
|2.||Who gets to be a member?|
|3.||How do these elite clubs and associations work?|
|4.||Do these groups formulate the priorities that the formal political institutions of American society carry out?|
|5.||If they do formulate priorities should they continue to be permitted to make public policy?|
Elite clubs and associations include groups such as the Foreign Policy Association--a voluntary association representing business, law, and banking interests whose purpose is to formulate and influence foreign policy decisions; Bohemian Grove--a group of extraordinarily wealthy businessmen and politicians who meet at a California resort to renew ties and form new ones. One of the purposes of this overtly social group and other similar ones is to influence and make public policy. An elite club or association can be a highly organized group or a loosely structured social unit. In either case its defining characteristic is that it brings together wielders of great economic and political power.
The conservative position on elite clubs and associations is that they are purely social organizations of like-minded people. These groups exert no disproportionate influence in comparison to any other sector of society. Although their members are often extraordinarily wealthy these individuals do not use their wealth to promote private ends. You and I have as much influence on decision-making in the United States as any member of these elite clubs and associations.
Elite clubs and associations, according to conservatives, generate political influence upon government in the same manner as other organizations. Registered lobbyists represent the interests of their organizations by calling upon congressional representatives and government bureaucrats. Congress members respond to this pressure according to the merits of a lobbyist's argument. Rarely do legislators take bribes or act in the expectation of receiving campaign contributions from wealthy and powerful groups. They act only in the best interest of the nation. Essentially, conservatives see no conflict of interest whatsoever and they feel that critics of elite clubs and associations are raising a false specter in the minds of the public when these critics claim that there are super powerful and secret groups controlling the formation of public policy.
Liberals accept the theory that there are differences in power among groups in American society. They believe that economic elites, if permitted, can exert undue influence on government. This influence can be limited by government legislation. Some of the means liberals advocate to curtail abuses of power are: registration of lobbyists; economic groups submission to Congress of their financial records; and legislation prohibiting gifts, bribes, and favors. Liberals hold that countervailing groups--a number of relatively equal groups each exerting power in op-