ORGANIZED interest groups -- sometimes referred to as special interests or factions -- have always played important roles in American politics. Factions weighed heavily on the minds of the Framers of the Constitution. They were a major focus of Populist and Progressive reformers at the turn of the twentieth century. At the dawning of the twenty-first century, individuals and reform groups claiming to be proponents of honest, clean government continue to label organized interest groups as the villains of American politics.
Nevertheless, interest groups play a positive role in the political arena. They organize constituencies affected by what government does -- protecting their rights, defending their interests, and giving them a say in the political process. Without organized interests, many workers, business leaders, and issue advocates living across the United States and abroad would feel that they had no influence on the political process. Interest groups help connect Americans to their government.
Interest groups are pervasive in American political life. They spend money and mobilize voters in elections, lobby Congress and the White House, and attempt to influence the courts. The fortunes of interest groups rise and fall with political trends and events. Election outcomes; spending, regulatory, and redistributive initiatives introduced in Congress; executive orders; and judicial decisions can create or close down opportunities for interest group influence. Reforms specifically targeted at labor, business, and trade associations, and nonprofit group lobbyists who frequent Capitol Hill, can have a profound impact on the connection between American citizens and their government.