Topics on this page: Indirect Lobbying -- Direct Lobbying (Judiciary, Legislature, Executive, Parties)
Indirect Lobbying in the United States
Interest groups employ both direct and indirect lobbying in order to achieve their goals. Indirect lobbying consists of detouring around the constituencies in order to gain access to the decision makers in government. The process can be separated into two steps, namely the binding and mobilization of constituencies by interest groups and the exertion of actual constituent pressures upon politicians.
The first step involves public relations campaigns, the stimulation of mass media organizations and of support groups and steady contact to sympathizers in the form of issue interpretation and education. Furthermore, interest groups are involved in electioneering, formation of political action committees, and in organizing strikes and demonstrations (Mahood, 63). These activities help to induce the second step, in which citizen action group protests, public opinion -- for example in news editorials and the like -- and direct contact with legislators in the form of telephone calls, letters or electronic mail exert pressure on decision makers. According to Mahood, Congress today is more open to petitions and public opinion than in the past, on account of increased turnover of legislative personnel and a weak party system (Mahood, 64).
Private interest groups, such as professional associations, with relatively narrow concerns usually work directly through already established access networks, utilizing Congressional hearings and personal contacts. Public interest groups often have to use pressure from constituencies to have an impact on the legislature (Mahood, 80).
Communication with the public is one of the major objectives of many groups. The desire for public relations work has been stressed by Truman (213), and Schlozman and Tierney (185) found that 80 percent of groups utilize grassroots lobbying at times. Some groups, however, namely those which experience little conflict and possess close ties to government agencies, do prefer to work through these direct connections instead of spending efforts on influencing public opinion (Walker, 192).
Those which do rely on this activity are clearly interested in communicating both with the broad public in order to raise support or to influence public opinion, as well as with their members in order to educate them and to mobilize activism by part of their membership (Berry, 235). One has to distinguish between organizations with a relatively small membership base compared to the constituencies they claim to represent, such as the National Organization for Woman and Public Citizen, and organizations which can mobilize a broad membership base, as the access to active sympathizers obviously is crucial for grassroots action. Some of the professional associations, such as teachers and farmers associations, rely on such vital networks, and are successful because of national organizational structures and well-functioning PACs.
Indirect Lobbying in Germany
German interest groups usually do not employ grass-roots lobbying efforts aimed at stimulating letter writing campaigns to members of the Bundestag. In a system in which individual members of parliament are usually obliged to cast votes according to the party will, this approach would not yield promising results. Rather, interest groups try to build up public pressure on the parliament by influencing public opinion. Large membership associations, such as farmers associations and unions, try to affect public opinion through media, and exert pressure through demonstrations, political strikes, and through threatening to withdraw their members' support of a party at election time or financial support of a party in general (Alemann, 172).
Direct Lobbying in the United States vs. Germany
Interest groups can theoretically influence all branches of government. However, interaction between interest groups and the judiciary is regulated by strong ethical codes. Practices that are common within the legislative and executive branch of government are illegal for the judiciary, which in both countries is based on impartiality.
In the United States, there are a few means of approaching the courts which are non-existent in Germany. For example, the American Bar Association is involved in the process of selecting judges, especially for the Supreme Court and the Federal Courts of Appeal. Also the concept of sponsoring so-called test cases is unknown in the German system, where legal representation is granted to citizens with low income, making the need of funding through a third party unnecessary.
The German Bundestag in Berlin
Congress and Parliament are certainly regarded the classic realm of interest group influence. The term 'lobbying' refers to the lobby of these buildings. The practice of addressing members of the legislature in the lobby has lost in relevance in both systems, though, as other places have gained in importance. In Germany, direct lobbying activities are reserved to large associations with access to governmental institutions. These organizations can access parties, parliament, and government directly (Alemann, 172). Direct lobbying includes such activities as providing or withholding exclusive information, financial party contributions, and persuading key politicians directly. This internal form of influence can be utilized particularly efficiently, if both sides share common socialization, interests, and values. Patronage of certain interests depends on the the orientation of the governing power. Under governments of the Christian Democrats, for example traditional agrarian, middle class, and church interests are favored, while Social Democrat governments are usually more open to union interests.
The Capitol in Washington, DC
Interest groups and lobbyists address legislators in several different ways. Hearings are one instrument of interest groups who send their representatives to testify in front of Committees. Very often, before such hearings begin, dialogues between lobbyists and committee members take place in preparation of the testimony. In both systems special interests are involved in the process of devising and discussing planned legislation. The legislature depends on the expertise of those groups that will be affected by future laws (Thaysen, 293).
Another tactic of influence consists in maintaining individual contacts with members of the legislature. Some groups try to lure members of the legislature into adopting their point of view with certain incentives, such as well salaried advising positions, or providing high compensations for politician's speeches and participation in discussions. This approach maintains more importance in the United States, where groups frequently have to rely on individual members of Congress. In the German Bundestag, where the importance of individual members is overshadowed by that of their party, interest groups recognize the need to access key committees and majority leaders in parliament who direct the voting process in parliament.
Consequently, it is only in America where groups can utilize voting records of each Congress member as a pressure tool with the implicit threat of possible withdrawal of support or of motivating the constituencies.
While in the United States Congress members usually refrain from agitating as members of specific interest organizations for the fear of being typecast as a representative only of one specific group, the German Bundestag is filled with members of special interest groups. In 1986, 58.1 % of all members of Bundestag were also members in a political association (Datenhandbuch, 246).
Both in Germany and the US, the tasks of the administrative have been extended over time. Interest groups realize the gains in importance of the government and administration over the parliament. Although the parliament carries the power of last decisions regarding budget and legislation in Germany, new laws are mostly prepared by the ministerial bureaucracy, while the parliament can only exert a correcting function. In a system of limited separation of power, groups choose departments of ministries rather than parliament as a contact (Alemann, 175). Ministries conduct official hearings in course of preparation of new laws in order to involve organized interests in the process. At times, the contact to people in subdivisions of departments who are concerned with detailed question can be more vital for interest groups than the access to heads of ministries. The strategy employed by interest groups for the legislative branch of permeating staff positions with their members is not viable in the administrative bureaucracies. For public servants, there apply restrictions to membership in associations. As a result, interest groups cannot work towards filling key personnel positions in this sector with their members.
In the United States, Congress remains a vital point of access for interest groups. Still groups have discovered the importance of the executive branch as well. The administration has authority in various areas that are not regulated by the legislature or the president as chief executive (Wilson, 121). Based on their expertise, public servants are consulted in the legislative procedures. This led to a rise in significance of executive branch lobbying which today competes with congressional lobbying (Berry, 147). Most interest groups concentrate their efforts on administrative agencies, but a number of influential groups also attempts to influence the White House.
In the executive branch, personal contacts constitute the means of influence. In this area, pragmatic aspects become prominent, since popularity is not a priority as in the legislature. This fact can have both positive and negative effects on the success of interest groups. The success of interest groups depends largely on the attitude they encounter by upper administrative officials. In any case, interest groups face the same problem as in other lobbying areas, which is that they have to compete for access with a large number of group.
Based on their different meanings for the American and the German system, political parties play a marginal role in interest group policy in the US, while they constitute a key factor in German interest group policy.
In the United States, interest groups can influence the process of nomination of candidates, but because of lack of party coherence the groups concentrate on trying to influence individual party members rather than party organizations. Generally, interest groups fulfill some of the traditional functions of parties. But instead of formalizing within the party organizations, they put efforts into maintaining an impartial image.Still, it is obvious that certain groups favor the Democratic or the Republican party, depending on their liberal or conservative tendency, respectively (Brinkmann, 92).
In Germany, parties are the main source for the formation of political will. One could assume that groups could exert major pressure on parties by threatening to provide or withdraw support of the membership base in elections. However, groups generally do not have that kind of power over their members, as individuals are often members of more than one organization at a time, and as individuals are exposed to changing influences in the work and leisure. Hence, groups tend to employ long term strategies to access parties, such as party membership and financial support for parties. Historically, the Social Democratic Party is closely tied to the labor movement, although these ties are not as strong as they used to be. The Christian Democratic Party is intertwined even closer with an array of organizations such as church groups, agrarian, and entrepreneurial associations (Alemann, 176). Along with these cross-relations it becomes harder to distinguish the direction of influence, which certainly is exerted in both ways.
Resulting from the power formation in the German polity, large associations grew beyond the status of pressure groups to autonomous powers that have either been granted to them, as for example in the social welfare policy sector, or which they filled on their own, as in the wage and salary negotiating processes.
Introduction -- Defining Terms -- Types of Interest Groups -- Techniques -- Developments