March 15, 2018

“At times the halls of power are so glutted with special pleaders that government itself seems to be gagging.” (Thomas, 1986, p. 26)

This quote brings to mind imagery of lawmakers being so bombarded by special pleaders that they are in essence on a gag order under which they are essentially prohibited from sharing the details and information that go into private deals being made in the halls rather than on the actual voting floor. As special pleading typically involves persuading to do something by only sharing the facts that support their case, the best lobbyists are providing information to lawmakers about the issues that concern only their clients or themselves personally, while they do their best to manipulate lawmakers to vote in their direction and neglect the needs of the population at large.

The pros of interest groups are that they can contribute to a healthy democratic process by being the voice for those who otherwise, may not have the opportunity to be heard. Lobbyists have the ability to motivate our legislators to pass laws that benefit both large groups and smaller, more specific groups across all spectrums.  I think they also have the ability to provide positive solutions for legislators through their inside and expert knowledge in certain areas in which legislators may not be well versed.  This can be helpful in assisting elected officials in making educated decisions respective to passing legislation.  In a pure sense, lobbying and special interest groups are beneficial to our public policy process.  However, when money and power come into play, things become complicated and ripe for corruption.

While special interest groups can be positive, they typically have a negative connotation.  Interest groups are often involved in negative issues like being too specialized in their initiatives; only seeking benefit for themselves and/or for a small subset of the population.  While special pleading and sometimes questionable moral/ethical behavior is a common occurrence in our public policy process; interest groups have also been known to participate in blatantly, more sinister corrupt behavior such as bribery and fraud to serve their own interests.

When elected officials, who have a duty to serve their constituents’ interests and the public good, are allowed to benefit by making policies to serve the interests of specific private parties, conflicts of interest arise.  The process of special pleading for interest groups carries great potential for conflicts of interest, which can quickly lead to an inadvertent or intentional failure of policy makers to adequately represent and serve or to act in the best interest of their constituents. This is the ultimate consequence of special pleading.

The First Amendment right to petition brings another ironic dynamic into play, especially as it relates to lobbyists.  Lobbyists seem to have more access to office holders than ever before.  However, groups that are not aligned with the current government have the freedom to petition but often that falls on deaf ears.  I included info below on the top 10 interest groups and to which members of the 114th Congress they are giving in the 2018 cycle.  I also included the link to the info which shows additional info on the overall biggest interest groups, top groups giving to each of the two major parties, and more.

Top Interest Groups Giving to Members of Congress, 2018 Cycle

Who’s got the most juice on Capitol Hill? Here’s a list of the top interest groups contributing to members of the 114th Congress during the 2017-2018 election cycle. The first list shows the overall 50 biggest interest groups. The other two highlight the top 25 interest groups giving to members of each of the two major parties. In all cases, the Top Recipient listed is the individual member of the 114th Congress who received the most from the interest group. Totals shown here include only the money that went to current incumbents in Congress.

Rank Interest Group Total Dem Pct GOP Pct Top Recipient
1 Retired  $33,935,577 51% 48% Paul Ryan (R-Wis)
2 Lawyers/Law Firms  $31,845,123 73% 27% Claire McCaskill (D-Mo)
3 Securities/Invest  $23,562,602 48% 51% Paul Ryan (R-Wis)
4 Real Estate  $20,905,847 48% 52% Paul Ryan (R-Wis)
5 Health Professionals  $17,853,796 47% 52% Doug Jones (D-Ala)
6 Insurance  $16,617,365 36% 64% Paul Ryan (R-Wis)
7 Leadership PACs  $16,194,498 40% 59% Dean Heller (R-Nev)
8 Democratic/Liberal  $13,313,817 96% 0% Doug Jones (D-Ala)
9 Lobbyists  $10,836,723 41% 59% Paul Ryan (R-Wis)
10 Pharm/Health Prod  $10,083,241 41% 59% Orrin G Hatch (R-Utah)


  • Amber Mann says:

    Knowledge about interest groups and their undue influence on our legislators is absolutely vital for citizens to have, and I applaud you for posting an article about this, Kara. Studies have shown recently that, while the majority opinion on nearly all federal policies goes unnoticed by our lawmakers, the interests of the extremely wealthy (those able to afford to hire lobbyists) align almost perfectly with the policies put forward in Congress. This influence must be checked, and it begins with education.

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