Essay, Research Paper
The Effects of Interest Groups on Politics
Theoretically, politicians are elected based upon the issues by which they stand, and these issues are either supported or undermined by the numerous interest groups that exist today. Interest groups target both major and minor issues, using all of their resources to advocate or defeat the groups concern. Interest groups are composed of a limited cross-section of the electorate who have a great stake in the issues their group advocates. They make conspicuous the issues their group supports. Their resources are used in an attempt to make their issue public policy. Interest groups are consistent, they do not give in until they have succeeded. They lobby congress, litigate, and attempt to influence election results in order to benefit their cause. The AARP monitors local and national legislation of interest to its members. 1 The AARP, an example of a non-PAC interest group, focus their efforts to electioneering and media. They influence the elections through their voter guides, election forums and the large senior voting population. Through television, radio, and periodicals the AARP is able to achieve many of their goals to aid retired persons.
In 1958, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, a retired educator, founded an organization dedicated to helping all persons over the age of 50.2 The organization, called the American Association for Retired Persons, or AARP, has grown over the years and reports to have 30 million and four thousand chapters nationwide.2 The AARP is unlike any other interest groups because it is a non-profit organization. Similarly to other interest groups, the AARP is a policy specialist that has a narrow view. Their three main policy goals are economic security for the elderly, affordable comprehensive health care for all, and improvements in the attitudes about the elderly in the workplace.4 Research on elderly needs and the economy, as well as a large volunteer network help the AARP influence thousands of potential members every year.5 The AARP is the oldest and largest interest group focused completely on senior citizens, using its numbers and resources to persuade policy makers for the benefit of the members of the organization.
The principle thrust of the AARP is to effectuate positive legislative action on the part of congress. The AARP s size and clout make it the key interest groups advocating old-age interests. They concentrate their efforts in five major fields of policy concerns, medicare, social security, tax reform, long term care, and campaign finance reform.7 The group has proposed and lobbied for an initiative that declares war on Medicare fraud.8 The program relies on training seniors across the country to report and identify instances of fraud.9 The AARP has made federal help in buying coverage a demand in the Medicare debate. They, along with other old-age interests, however, have had to shift their role to a defensive one.11 The defeat of President Clinton s health care reform package, which the AARP supported, dealt them a measurable political blow.12 The republican congressional take over of 1994 led to a scaling back of the federal government s role, including programs designed to benefit seniors. The AARP believes big government to be essential to the welfare of seniors. This view comes in direct conflict with the Republican view stated in the Contract With America , that individuals and businesses can make more effective use of funds than the governmental bureaucracy.13 An understanding of this fundamental philosophical distinction provides one with the perspective to understand the AARP s opposition to the privatization of programs important to seniors. These programs include social security, which the AARP describes as its number one issue , and Medicare.14 It also explains their fervent opposition to reductions in the rate of growth of the aforementioned programs. The AARP has made more conservative choices, defending the status quo rather than advocating new social causes. It appears the AARP is now more concerned with maintaining organizational fidelity than pursuing advocacy. The organization is further restricted in its advocacy by the broad diversity of viewpoints it represents.
One of the primary ways the AARP influences policy is through their influence on voters. They do this in the form of election forums and the distribution of voter guides. The AARP continuously holds election forums to discuss and inform voters on candidate s stances on the issues that affect their members. They utilize these election forums to inform their members and enable them to make informed decisions at the polls. A forum is not a debate and does not create any dissention between members but increases the members loyalty through unified ideas. Another tool used by the AARP to inform its members and potential supporters is the distribution of voter guides and pro-AARP propaganda. Voter guides allow them to give a detailed account of each politician s issues and how they affect the seniors.16 The information contained in voter guides enable members to fully understand where each candidate is coming from and what he/she plans to accomplish while in office. Through mass distribution of voter guides, the AARP is able to spread their influence throughout the nation. Further distribution of articles and advertisements in journals, allow the AARP to increase their influence upon the voters of America. The AARP has a contract with America Online offering their members a ten-percent discount. This discount is advertised with America Online Software that is distributed to millions throughout the United States. This practice allows them to contact more voters and members than in previous years. Each practice enables the AARP to influence the decisions of voters, which in turn affects the policy making process in their favor.
In order for the AARP to achieve some of its goals, it is necessary, in such a technological age, for the group to spread their ideas and to influence public opinion by using the media. In the past, the AARP has advertised through political events. They do this by sponsoring nationally televised, politically oriented shows. AARP board member Beatrice Braun mentioned in 1996 that For the first time in the associations history we will be co-sponsoring a presidential debate we believe it is essential to encourage older Americans to become part of the solution to our nation s challenges by becoming educated about the critical issues of the day. 17 Sponsoring political debates allows the AARP to convey their message to the voting populous through the use of advertisements during breaks in the debate. Most of the AARP s influence is conveyed through approximately twenty-second advertisement spots, which sum up the organization s beliefs. For the AARP to achieve any of its policy goals, it is vital that they are able to influence public opinion. The primary way the group goes about this is by producing and airing major television programs that focus on issues such as federal tax reform and social security.18 Because they produce these shows, they are able to relay biased content to the public. Without the media, the AARP would have far less impact on political decision-making.
The AARP has been successful in maintaining current programs for retired citizens, yet it has been unable to get new ideas passed that would drastically change the system. The AARP strongly advocates big government solutions that benefit seniors, however President Bill Clinton said in a state of the union address The era of big government is over. While supporting the general consensus of the public, it opposes the ideals of the AARP. With republicans in control of congress, the AARP has come up against major resistance when attempting to pass legislation in their favor. Older citizens are no longer viewed as they were in the early half of the twentieth century, instead they are viewed as successful members of society that are no longer completely dependant on an outside organization for their welfare. Recently, the AARP has come under the scrutiny of the United States senate, led by Senator Alan K. Simpson, a republican from Wyoming.22 The senator has done this by questioning their status as a non-profit organization benefited by a tax exemption and unlimited lobbying privileges.23 In addition, Senator Simpson questions the non-partisan nature of the group, saying that the organization imposes a policy agenda on an unwilling membership .24 The AARP itself acknowledges that it is difficult to rally its members composed of such a great diversity of viewpoints.25 The AARP must find more innovative methods of reaching the electorate and to place themselves in to a position where they are above reproach.