An interest group is an organization that pressures elected officials to enact legislation favorable to its causes. Interest groups provide one way for individuals to influence the American government.
There are three major types of interest groups. Public-interest groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claim to work for the best interest of the public. Professional workers may organize into groups such as teachers who belong to the American Federation of Teachers. The most common type of interest group is formed around businesses, corporations, and trade associations such as the tobacco industry. People who criticize interest groups for having too much power in government believe that the business groups get special privileges for people who already have more wealth and power than ordinary citizens.
Interest groups send representatives to state capitals and to Washington, D.C. to pressure members of Congress and other policymakers. They engage in lobbying, which is the organized process of influencing legislation or policy. Interest groups can testify in congressional hearings. Lobbyists also contact government officials directly, present research results and technical information, talk with people from the press and the media, and sometimes even help to draft legislation.
Interest groups are also involved in political campaigns. They work to help elect candidates who favor their positions or to defeat those who oppose them. This activity is generally conducted by political action committees (PACs), which serve as special political arms for the interest groups. PACs make donations to individual campaigns of selected candidates.
Critics believe that interest groups corrupt government because more campaign money comes from businesses than from any other source. This gives them a connection to government that ordinary people do not have.
Everyone is free to set up or join an interest group. These groups give all Americans the opportunity to have access to their government, strengthening American democracy.
Source: Interest Groups
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