Many issue groups have come under criticism for being undemocratic for adopting ‘covert’ tactics. This means that they stood for their position and then once they are elected in they use their newfound position to promote something else. In particular the Christian Coalition have been condemned and criticised because members have stood as candidates of local school boards of education as ‘concerned parents’ or independents. However though once elected, they have used their positions to argue for the teaching of ‘creationalism’.
Pressure Groups And Democracy
This is basically the belief that God made the world in 7 days and how the human race owes its origins to divine creation. These types of tactics demonstrate why pressure groups are not good for democracy and is not surprising that people on the Left have frowned them upon. Social movements are often extended to or taken up by pressure groups and usually use non-institutional methods of campaigning that go beyond formal political channels, including, for example, organised assertions of identity such as street protests.
The women’s movement is an example of a social movement and called for free availability of abortion, equal pay, an opening up of traditionally male occupations, and new attitudes to domestic labour. However social movements could be deemed to be undemocratic also as the Christian Coalition came about from a social movement and as I have explained have used ‘covert’ tactics to affect the democratic process. Pressure groups are generally unrepresentative of the public because they are led by elitists and because companies dominate the lobbying process.
Furthermore their boards are self appointed not elected and they are not normal working class people so they could be out of touch with public opinion and will be representing the more affluent American society. Those groupings that do have an open, democratic structure are dominated by the wealthiest sections of American society even college students and recent graduates dominate the groupings that champion the interests of the poor.
This is essentially a ‘alienation’ of politics as it means pressure groups are increasingly less democratic because they are so unrepresentative of the public and are dictated by wealthy sections of the American society. The Lobbying process has been largely responsible for foreign countries buying influence in the US, which of course is certainly not democratic and gives them an unfair advantage over rivals and competitors. Foreign countries or their subsidiaries have used the lobbying process to gain a competitive advantage and this can be seen in particular with Japanese businesses that have ‘bought’ influence on Capitol Hill.
Japanese businesses have acquired 125 law and public relation firms showing that the lobbying process helps competitors gain an unfair advantage over competition by simply buying it confirming money is the deciding factor with pressure groups, as you have to ‘pay to play’. Congressmen in recent years have become more obliged to listen to Political Action Committees (PACs) in search for funds and re-election subjecting pressure group activity to criticism.
This is because helping financing campaigns undermines and weakens political parties, which perform important functions in a democracy. It is no secret that PACs now represent a primary source of finance for election candidates and therefore helps to reinforce incumbency. Many believe it is undemocratic because of this and the fact only their funds are distributed to sitting members; these are the legislators who already occupy a position in Congress.
Incumbents already have a built in advantage because of the media attention that they attract and are able to deliver ‘rewards’ and benefits to those they represent and their chances of winning re-election are therefore disproportionately high. The PACs will usually only support the winners and if they allocate all their funds to the incumbents then it increases the chance of the incumbent getting re-elected. Pressure groups play an important role in US politics as they attempt to influence all three branches of government.
Many commentators will stress that pressure groups are good for democracy and that they benefit the political process through giving information to members of Congress, the formulation of policy and allowing members of the members of the public to have more political participation, especially between elections and on specific issues. These undoubtedly help the political process; however because of the institutionalising of the lobbying process resulting in bribes and corruption combined with how unrepresentative the pressure groups are to the public prove that pressure groups are not good for democracy.