Subject:
Social Science
Material Type:
Module
Provider:
Rice University
Provider Set:
Openstax College
Tags:
Citizens United, Revolving Door Laws, Soft Money
Language:
English

# Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

• Identify the various court cases, policies, and laws that outline what interest groups can and cannot do
• Evaluate the arguments for and against whether contributions are a form of freedom of speech

How are lobbying and interest group activity regulated? As we noted earlier in the chapter, James Madison viewed factions as a necessary evil and thought preventing people from joining together would be worse than any ills groups might cause. The First Amendment guarantees, among other things, freedom of speech, petition, and assembly. However, people have different views on how far this freedom extends. For example, should freedom of speech as afforded to individuals in the U.S. Constitution also apply to corporations and unions? To what extent can and should government restrict the activities of lobbyists and lawmakers, limiting who may lobby and how they may do it?

# INTEREST GROUPS AND FREE SPEECH

Most people would agree that interest groups have a right under the Constitution to promote a particular point of view. What people do not necessarily agree upon, however, is the extent to which certain interest group and lobbying activities are protected under the First Amendment.

In addition to free speech rights, the First Amendment grants people the right to assemble. We saw above that pluralists even argued that assembling in groups is natural and that people will gravitate toward others with similar views. Most people acknowledge the right of others to assemble to voice unpopular positions, but this was not always the case. At various times, groups representing racial and religious minorities, communists, and members of the LGBT community have had their First Amendment rights to speech and assembly curtailed. And as noted above, organizations like the ACLU support free speech rights regardless of whether the speech is popular.

Today, the debate about interest groups often revolves around whether the First Amendment protects the rights of individuals and groups to give money, and whether government can regulate the use of this money. In 1971, the Federal Election Campaign Act was passed, setting limits on how much presidential and vice-presidential candidates and their families could donate to their own campaigns.Wright, Interest Groups and Congress: Lobbying, Contributions, and Influence; Rozell, Wilcox, and Franz, Interest Groups in American Campaigns: The New Face of Electioneering. The law also allowed corporations and unions to form PACs and required public disclosure of campaign contributions and their sources. In 1974, the act was amended in an attempt to limit the amount of money spent on congressional campaigns. The amended law banned the transfer of union, corporate, and trade association money to parties for distribution to campaigns.

In Buckley v. Valeo (1976), the Supreme Court upheld Congress’s right to regulate elections by restricting contributions to campaigns and candidates. However, at the same time, it overturned restrictions on expenditures by candidates and their families, as well as total expenditures by campaigns.Buckley v. Valeo, 75-436, 424 U.S. 1 (1976). In 1979, an exemption was granted to get-out-the vote and grassroots voter registration drives, creating what has become known as the soft-money loophole; soft money was a way in which interests could spend money on behalf of candidates without being restricted by federal law. To close this loophole, Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold sponsored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002 to ban parties from collecting and distributing unregulated money.

Some continued to argue that campaign expenditures are a form of speech, a position with which two recent Supreme Court decisions are consistent. The Citizens United v. Federal Election CommissionCitizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 08-205, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). and the McCutcheon v. Federal Election CommissionMcCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 12-536, 572 U.S. ___ (2014). cases opened the door for a substantially greater flow of money into elections. Citizens United overturned the soft money ban of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. Essentially, the Supreme Court argued in a 5–4 decision that these entities had free speech rights, much like individuals, and that free speech included campaign spending. The McCutcheon decision further extended spending allowances based on the First Amendment by striking down aggregate contribution limits. These limits put caps on the total contributions allowed and some say have contributed to a subsequent increase in groups and lobbying activities (Figure).

Should corporations have the same rights as people?

# Summary

Some argue that contributing to political candidates is a form of free speech. According to this view, the First Amendment protects the right of interest groups to give money to politicians. However, others argue that monetary contributions should not be protected by the First Amendment and that corporations and unions should not be treated as individuals, although the Supreme Court has disagreed. Currently, lobbyist and interest groups are restricted by laws that require them to register with the federal government and abide by a waiting period when moving between lobbying and lawmaking positions. Interest groups and their lobbyists are also prohibited from undertaking certain activities and are required to disclose their lobbying activities. Violation of the law can, and sometimes does, result in prison sentences for lobbyists and lawmakers alike.

Revolving door laws are designed to do which of the following?

1. prevent lawmakers from utilizing their legislative relationships by becoming lobbyists immediately after leaving office
2. help lawmakers find work after they leave office
3. restrict lobbyists from running for public office
4. all the above

In what ways are lobbyists regulated?

1. Certain activities are prohibited.
2. Contributions must be disclosed.
3. Lobbying is prohibited immediately after leaving office.
4. all the above

## Hint:

D

How might disclosure requirements affect lobbying?

How might we get more people engaged in the interest group system?

Why does it matter how we define interest group?

How do collective action problems serve as barriers to group formation, mobilization, and maintenance? If you were a group leader, how might you try to overcome these problems?

Is it possible to balance the pursuit of private goods with the need to promote the public good? Is this balance a desired goal? Why or why not?

How representative are interest groups in the United States? Do you agree that “all active and legitimate groups have the potential to make themselves heard?” Or is this potential an illusion? Explain your answer.

Evaluate the Citizens United decision. Why might the Court have considered campaign contributions a form of speech? Would the Founders have agreed with this decision? Why or why not?

How do we regulate interest groups and lobbying activity? What are the goals of these regulations? Do you think these regulations achieve their objectives? Why or why not? If you could alter the way we regulate interest group activity and lobbying, how might you do so in a way consistent with the Constitution and recent Supreme Court decisions?

Baumgartner, Frank R., and Beth L. Leech. 1998. Basic Interests: The Importance of Groups in Politics and in Political Science. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Baumgartner, Frank R., et al. 2009. Lobbying and Policy Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Clark, Peter B., and James Q. Wilson, “Incentive Systems: A Theory of Organizations,” Administration Science Quarterly 6 (1961): 129–166.

Dahl, Robert A. 1956. A Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

———. 1961. Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Lindblom, Charles E. 1977. Politics and Markets: The World’s Political-Economic Systems. New York: Basic Books.

Olson, Mancur. 1965. The Logic of Collective Action. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Rosenstone, Steven J. and John Mark Hansen. 1993. Mobilization, Participation and Democracy in America. New York: Macmillan.

Salisbury, Robert, “An Exchange Theory of Interest Groups,” Midwest Journal of Political Science 13 (1969): 1–32.

Schattschneider, E. E. 1960. The Semisovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Truman, David. 1951. The Governmental Process. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, chapter 4.

Wright, John R. 1996. Interest Groups and Congress: Lobbying, Contributions, and Influence. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.