How Interest Groups Influence Policymaking

Often, when we think of special interests, we associate them with lobbying legislators. However, interest groups not only actively lobby in the legislative arena, but they’re also active in efforts to influence state agencies and regulatory activities.

Who and what are these special interests? Arguably, anyone with a point of view on a matter of public policy is a special interest. However, we generally characterize such interest groups as those with specific public policy agendas that they try to advance with the legislative and executive branches of government. They are generally those with vested interests, who are politically active in the lawmaking process.

What makes interest groups effective? The keys are often being politically powerful and socially popular. For example, teachers, labor unions, and public safety groups enjoy public support, in general. These groups raise and spend enormous sums of money for political campaign contributions. In addition, their members walk precincts, telephone voters, and get people to the polls for voting for their selected candidates.

What are some key ways that interest groups utilize to attempt to influence the Legislature and state agencies?

In order to influence policymaking in the legislative arena, interest groups obviously lobby legislators, as well as staff, legislative staff, committee staff, and ultimately, the Governor’s office. They lobby both in person and via written communications, such as: letters, emails, faxes, and even social media – of which Facebook and Twitter have become popular forums for policy discussions. Some interest groups nearly always include a media component to their lobbying efforts by sending out press releases, holding press conferences and rallies, and pitching favorable stories to the news media.

This is just scratching the surface of ways interest groups can influence the policymaking process in the California Legislature and in state agencies. There is an even more robust exploration of this topic in the podcast.