11.4 The Regulation of Interest Groups
There are differing opinions about interest groups; whether they are as assets or liabilities. Some feel that certain organizations such as big business are becoming too strong and are taking over the country. Further interest groups are also regarded as selfish agencies that try to advance the interests of small parts of the population, at the expense of general welfare. Some interest groups have been criticized as being oligarchies whose group leaders misrepresent their members. Group leaders also tend to ignore many people with related interest, outside their own group. In fact many elements of the population are not represented in formal organizations. For these reasons it has been generally agreed that interest groups should be subjected to some measure of legal control by government.
11.4a Controls over lobbying
The attempt at controlling lobbying is an example
of the efforts being made to regulate interest groups legally. In
1946 the Federal Regulation Lobbying Act was passed. It provided
that every person who received compensation for attempting to influence
the passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress, had to
register with the Clerk of the House of Representatives and
with the secretary of the Senate, giving the name of his employer
and salary received. Quarterly reports on the moneys received and
spent had also to be filed by him. These reports are printed every
three months in the Congressional Record. Further, those
lobbyists who represent foreign governments or corporations need
to register with the Justice Department as agents of the
Attempts to slow down the so-called revolving door used by retired officials to lobby their former colleagues, have also been made. Thus the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, prevents senior executive branch officials from lobbying federal agencies on matters within their scope of responsibility for two years after they have left government service. They are further prohibited from lobbying anyone in their former department for one year on any issue, and forever on any issue they have been involved in.
How well lobbyists get their work done, depends much on the kind of relationship they have with government officials. Therefore, gifts such as tickets to a football game or weekends at resort hotels, may be presented by lobbyist seeking to strengthen these ties. The Congress tries to impose disclosure requirements and also restrictions on the maximum value of gifts, with a view towards final elimination of this practice.
11.4b Controlling Political Action Committees
The amount of money generated and distributed to candidates has given rise to severe criticisms from several quarters such as the public interest group, Common Cause. Hence suggestions have been made seeking a reduction in the amount that Political Action Committees (PACs) can offer or in the amount that a candidate can accept.