Why exactly do lobby groups wield so much power?

I just heard a snippet of a speech by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. The NRA [National Rifle Association] is one of the most influential lobby groups in the US, and has been instrumental in sinking every attempt to rein in gun proliferation.

I am strongly anti-guns but this post is not about the rights or wrongs of guns. It’s an attempt to understand the whole phenomenon of lobby groups in general.

We all accept that lobby groups wield enormous power behind the scenes but how on earth do they do it?

I may be very naive but I just don’t get it. What exactly do lobbyists do? Do they bribe elected representatives? Do they threaten them with physical harm? Do they blackmail them? Do they threaten to withhold campaign funds? Or do they just try to sway public opinion?

Here in Australia, the big mining companies fund expensive advertising campaigns to sway public opinion against whatever it is the government is trying to do. Does the same thing happen in the US?

I can understand how advertising campaigns might threaten political parties just before an election, but how effective are they in between elections?

I guess one of the questions that’s puzzling me is why governments pay so much attention to focus groups and campaigns such as these?

Surely the role of government is to present the public with a vision for the future at election time, and then make it happen if they are elected? Why can’t they have the courage of their convictions?

More questions than answers in this post, but I’m hoping  some of you will provide clues to this enigma in comments. If you know something then please tell us because I honestly don’t know.



About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

27 responses to “Why exactly do lobby groups wield so much power?

  • josh

    Just catching up on my blogs so I’m late to weigh in here, and other commenters have pretty much got it all.

    Basically, it’s a combination of all you said, except for threats of physical harm (though with the NRA…well, they wouldn’t make a threat like that directly, but they have some seriously mentally unhinged members…).

    The NRA is kind of a special case. They purport to represent gun owners, and thus have many members. In reality they represent the gun (and ammo) makers and sellers, which is where the real money comes from. But because of their large membership, they hold more sway over public opinion than most lobbies in the U.S. So while they probably also have a lot of money to play with, they can wield a lot of power just by publicly supporting or condemning a lawmaker.

    I’m sure most American lobbyists wish they had the kind of two-prong power the NRA does, but they generally have to make do with just throwing money around. Some do try to influence public opinion–the coal lobby is one that comes to mind, with many “clean coal” commercials on TV–but they are not nearly as successful as the NRA.

    Really, the whole business is sleazy and depressing. The regular people don’t have anyone fighting for us. Politics are broken.


    • acflory

      “The regular people don’t have anyone fighting for us.” God does this ever ring a bell with me. All my life I’ve had a love affair with the concept of democracy, even at the ‘democracy isn’t perfect but it’s better than the alternatives’ level. Now though, we barely even have the shell.

      I’m not as naive as I used to be but I still believe everyone’s vote should count for something. -sigh-


  • frontrangescribbles

    Lobby groups in the US provide money both directly and indirectly to candidates for their campaigns. Running for just about any office in the US cost a lot of money, Once elected, a politician has to start working on raising money for the next election. The NRA raises lots of money for candidates, just like the AFL-CIO union group raises lots of money for candidates


    • acflory

      Ah… I see I think. I remember hearing how expensive Obama’s Presidential Campaign was but I didn’t realise the same thing applied to ordinary politicians as well. So they are bought in a sense and the highest bidder gets the most say?

      That is truly scary. Don’t politicians have to declare campaign funding????


  • candy korman

    The NRA targets (yes there’s a pun in this comment) any politician who dares to speak up for control and regulation of firearms. They will support opponents with tons-o-money and help end their chances of re-election.

    Simple, Crazy and Dangerous!

    Also, FYI, there’s another NRA — the National Restaurant Association. They lobby too, but promoting legislation that looks kindly on the restaurant industry is a whole lot easier to like. A friend of mine has a meeting with the food NRA today. He was very specific about which group when he told me about the meeting.


  • lorddavidprosser

    The NRA has a huge membership in the US and therefore a lot of voting power. They only have to tell their members who they favour and that person is in.Given that once in most Politicians like to stay there it becomes quite easy to manipulate them on gun related issues like gun-control. If they’re pro control they only have to abstain from a vote for the anti group to win. That kins of power is wrong.


    • acflory

      I know the same thing happens here in Australia but I don’t /think/ it’s quite as blatant. Our lobby groups seem to rely on swaying public opinion against legislation they feel is not conducive to their businesses. The spend money on advertising and are quite effective but what people have been saying here is far more Machiavellian.


  • metan

    It all seems like part of the popularity contest politics seems to be doesn’t it? Do your best to keep everyone happy (and your future rosy) instead of doing the right thing.


    • acflory

      Yup. 😦 It’s human nature, but not the bit we should be proud of. No wonder we are all so cynical about politicians.


      • metan

        They don’t give us much cause to have faith do they?


        • acflory

          Nope. Since writing this post I’ve been thinking about politicians a lot, comparing how we view them now with how we used to view them back in the 70’s. Were they really that different back then? The only thing I know for sure is that most of them were lousy at spin. Now it’s as if they’ve all done the same course. :/


          • metan

            Before the arrival of spin pollies seemed more honest, because they were! Now everything is carefully scripted for the best ass-covering angle just in case things go wrong. You don’t have to be a good statesman anymore, just someone who looks sincere while spouting out the words someone else wrote.

            I think Tony and Julia are the most insincere people. You rarely seem to see a flash of their real personalities, they are just projecting the appropriate character for the issue of the day. Julia lied? Look at me I’m honest Tony. Politics is mysoginistic? Look, I’m hard done by Julia.
            They just play a part. I wish they would play Politician with a policy I’m going to stick to! 😉


          • acflory

            lmao – this made me laugh! Between them, Julia and Tony have taken politics to new lows. No wonder we’re all getting so cynical about them [and polies in general].

            And you know what’s the worst of it? We, the public, pay for the spin doctors who come up with those ridiculous lines. Bah…


  • Chris James

    I don’t know so much about the US, but in the UK it’s called the “revolving door”. Politicians, when in office, meet lots of influential people while representing their state. When they get voted out, they then get “jobs” with firms in that sector.
    For example, a UK Defence Minister will meet all kinds of dictators to whom he will sell UK arms. When he leaves office, the arms companies will spend vast sums for his address book, to keep the sales (and profits) flowing. There has been outrage at this shameless use of connections, so they brought in a law which says such politicians (although it applies to civil servants as well) must wait one year. So, the politician spends four or eight years in office, usually screwing the country up, then takes a year’s vacation, then gets maybe half a dozen incredibly well paid positions with firms in the sector that the politician used to be responsible for regulating. It makes a total joke of “democracy”.
    Regarding the NRA, I would imagine it’s something similar. I don’t know what the local US arms market is worth, but I’d imagine it’s billions of dollars. So, when a new congressman/woman is elected, the NRA will want to tag them as “pro” or “anti” gun control. If they’re pro (maybe because they value life above money), the NRA can then smear them in the press, etc. If they’re anti gun control, then the NRA will look after them, including, I should imagine, with nice, one-day-a-week jobs that pay a fortune.
    It’s like this in every sector – you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface. The value of the wealthy enjoying comfortable lives outweighs any number of deaths of little people every time.


    • acflory

      Ungh. I have actually heard the phrase ‘revolving door’ in connection with Monsanto in the US but I had no idea it was so common. 😦

      So essentially a politician will scratch X’s back during office and be coddled once they’re out.

      To put it mildly, that sucks.


  • geooorge

    The mostly say “you give us this, we’ll support you on that.”
    Not to say that most lobbying bodies play on the fears of those not really knowing a particular subject.


  • Carrie Rubin

    It’s very frustrating, is it not? I imagine lobbyists are very good at wining and dining the right politicians. When it comes time to fundraising for campaigns, those politicians want to make sure they pleased the right people. It’s not at all the way it should be, and it makes for unethical bedfellows.


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