High profile and wealthy interest groups have a great influence on ballot initiatives, referendums and varieties of direct legislation. This is usually at the wider expense of public interest. Ironically, this implies that the wealthy interest groups have captured the same direct legislation that was designed to control their power (Baumgartner & Hojnacki, 2009). The high profile interest groups may be in the form of either citizen groups or economic groups. By exerting pressure on politicians, the economic interest groups yield considerable power and influence to considerably impact on direct legislation, even to the extent of blocking initiatives proposed by others. Citizen interest groups, on the other hand, with their considerable organizational resources and wide base of support have shown their effectiveness over time in passing new laws by the use of direct legislation (Baumgartner & Hojnacki, 2009). In the United States, for example, alcohol and tobacco companies have been lobbying against the legalization and taxation of marijuana. This is in a bid to ensure that they make the most out of the American population’s high spending on leisure. This paper will discuss how one such high profile interest group, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors has influence legislation and also include the writer’s thoughts and opinion.
Interest groups are a significant mechanism for citizens and economic organizations to make elected leaders know their views, needs and ideas so that they can influence the process of making legislation in their favour (Hays, 2001). The California Beer & Beverage Distributors (CBBD) opened up a new front in the campaign of what was referred to as Proposition 19 when it contributed $10,000 to a committee, Public Safety first, that was in opposition to the proposition. The proposition aimed at legalizing and subsequent taxing of controlled marijuana. Since CBBD is a organization in an industry that would have to compete with legal marijuana, it was protecting the interests of its members by lobbying against the legalization. Illicit drugs have been a threat to the alcohol and tobacco industries for a long time, hence the participation of CBBD in opposing the proposal. If marijuana is made legal for recreational purposes, then that would make the threat much bigger. Looking at the situation from this perspective, my opinion is that CBBD did not join the campaign solely, or with focus on, the safety of the public that would be compromised by marijuana. On the contrary, when the situation is viewed from a critical perspective, distributors of alcohol in California seem to be self-defeating in their fight against intoxicating substances since it is there core product. Members of the CBBD must be among the many interest groups that make money out of the prohibition of marijuana, because it would otherwise serve as an alternative to their products. It follows, therefore, that they would actively lobby politicians and considerably fund their electoral campaigns in order to maintain the status quo. This capability places special interest groups among the most crucial funders to policy makers and bodies that support their interests. The key to the success of the high profile interest groups is their access to policy makers and legislators (Baumgartner & Hojnacki, 2009). By funding political campaigns, the interest groups are able to confront the policymakers and their staff and present their cases.
The influence of interest groups in the United States is enhanced by a feature in the government system, which is the weakness of political parties. The weakness is caused by the way power is separated between the legislative and executive branches. This means that Congress and presidential elections are distinct events even when conducted at the same time. Therefore, every legislator must come up with a winning coalition, which calls for the critical financial support offered the interest groups (Hays, 2001). Therefore the influence of interest groups is increased by weak party politics both at election time and later when the groups that supported and financed the victorious candidate get involved in making law. This is in contrast to the parliamentary system, like that of Great Britain. The British Prime Minister’s stay in office will be determined by the parliament’s majority support, which implies that parties will considerably control the legislators and, consequently, making of policies (Hays, 2001). Interest groups also have the capability to act as price determinants under specific circumstances, such as when their activities result in policy makers changing political institutions. It can also be as a result of their activities triggering responses from other actors.
In my opinion, CBBD was taking advantage of the fact that citizens hold elected officials accountable for the state and national performance of the economy. With this thought, they believed that the policy makers would hesitate to pass policies that work against businesses and have the potential to harm performance hence, teamed up with government agencies to oppose the proposition. It is also my opinion that the CBBD targeted federal agencies to partner up with mainly because federal agencies write rules that target specific industries. This means that the alcohol industry was working alongside law enforcement agencies to ensure that the prohibition of marijuana remains in place. For instance, both the Association of California Narcotics Officers and that of California Police Chiefs were influenced to give monetary contributions towards groups that fought the legalization. Due to the increasing significance of the role of money in the politics of the United States, special interest groups are gaining more popularity in the nation. Interest groups’ key focus is on persuading policy makers and they, therefore, spend massively to influence the approval of certain decisions and block others. That is also the reason why most of the officials elected into office are hesitant when asked to support changing the current system that will put more restrictions on the way campaigns are funded (Woodstock Theological Center, 2002). If the gaps in the system are filled up, the advantage would be to their opponents who would not serve the interests of the special interest groups. A common strategy used is targeting specific holders of certain offices. At the state level, generally, the interest groups target governors and executive bureaucrats. Being an intensely personal undertaking, state-level lobbying often calls for face-to-face dealing to facilitate critical decisions.
Baumgartner, B., & Hojnacki, K. (2009). Lobbying and policy change: Who wins, who loses and why. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hays, R. A. (2001). Democracy papers: The role of interest groups. Retrieved from http://www.ait.org.tw/infousa/zhtw/docs/demopaper/dmpaper9.html
Woodstock Theological Center. (2002). The ethics of lobbying: Organized interests, political power, and the common good. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.