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[link] shows contributions by interests from a variety of different sectors. We can draw a few notable observations from the table. First, large sums of money are spent by different interests. Second, many of these interests are business sectors, including the real estate sector, the insurance industry, businesses, and law firms.

An image of a table titled “Business sector total donation to Parties and Candidates, 2015-2016”. The table has three columns and 13 rows. From right to right, the rows read “Defense: $9,923,419, 34.3% Democrat, 65.6% Republican”, “Labor: $13,261,002, 79% Democrat, 21% Republican”, “Construction: $20,136,603, 27.3% Democrat, 72.6% Republican”, “Transportation: $20,775,102, 24.4% Democrat, 75.5% Republican”, “Agribusiness: $21,016,004, 24% Democrat, 75.6% Republican”, “Energy and Natural Resources: $31,759,921, 16.2% Democrat, 83.8% Republican”, “Communications and Electronics: $35,451,470, 58.7% Democrat, 41.2% Republican”, “Health: $49,387,905, 40.9% Democrat, 59% Republican”, “Ideology/Single-Issue: $56,495,412, 47.9% Democrat, 52% Republican”, “Lawyers and Lobbyists: $59,640,486, 61.5% Democrat, 38.4% Republican”, “Misc. Business: $76,255,042, 37.6% Democrat, 62.2% Republican”, “Other: $115,423,081, 47% Democrat, 52.8% Republican”, “Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate: $146,691,259, 33.4% Democrat, 66.6% Republican”. At the bottom of the table, a source is listed: “Center for Responsive Politics. “Sector totals, 2015-2016”. January 31, 2016.”.
The chart above shows the dollar amounts contributed from PACs, soft money (including directly from corporate and union treasuries), and individual donors to Democratic (blue) and Republican (red) federal candidates and political parties during the 2015–2016 election cycle, as reported to the Federal Election Commission.

Interest group politics are often characterized by whether the groups have access to decision-makers and can participate in the policy-making process. The iron triangle    is a hypothetical arrangement among three elements (the corners of the triangle): an interest group, a congressional committee member or chair, and an agency within the bureaucracy.

Frank R. Baumgartner and Beth L. Leech. 1998. Basic Interests: The Importance of Groups in Political Science . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Each element has a symbiotic relationship with the other two, and it is difficult for those outside the triangle to break into it. The congressional committee members, including the chair, rely on the interest group for campaign contributions and policy information, while the interest group needs the committee to consider laws favorable to its view. The interest group and the committee need the agency to implement the law, while the agency needs the interest group for information and the committee for funding and autonomy in implementing the law.
Francis E. Rourke. 1984. Bureaucracy, Politics, and Public Policy , 3rd ed. NY: Harper Collins.

An alternate explanation of the arrangement of duties carried out in a given policy area by interest groups, legislators, and agency bureaucrats is that these actors are the experts in that given policy area. Hence, perhaps they are the ones most qualified to process policy in the given area. Some view the iron triangle idea as outdated. Hugh Heclo of George Mason University has sketched a more open pattern he calls an issue network    that includes a number of different interests and political actors that work together in support of a single issue or policy.

Hugh Heclo. 1984. “Issue Networks and the Executive Establishment.” In The New American Political System , ed. Anthony King. Washington DC: The American Enterprise Institute, 87–124.

Some interest group scholars have studied the relationship among a multitude of interest groups and political actors, including former elected officials, the way some interests form coalitions with other interests, and the way they compete for access to decision-makers.

V. Gray and D. Lowery, “To Lobby Alone or in a Flock: Foraging Behavior among Organized Interests,” American Politics Research 26, No. 1 (1998): 5–34; M. Hojnacki, “Interest Groups’ Decisions to Join Alliances or Work Alone,” American Journal of Political Science 41, No. 1 (1997): 61–87; Kevin W. Hula. 1999. Lobbying Together: Interest Group Coalitions in Legislative Politics . Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.
Some coalitions are long-standing, while others are temporary. Joining coalitions does come with a cost, because it can dilute preferences and split potential benefits that the groups attempt to accrue. Some interest groups will even align themselves with opposing interests if the alliance will achieve their goals. For example, left-leaning groups might oppose a state lottery system because it disproportionately hurts the poor (who participate in this form of gambling at higher rates), while right-leaning groups might oppose it because they view gambling as a sinful activity. These opposing groups might actually join forces in an attempt to defeat the lottery.

While most scholars agree that some interests do have advantages, others have questioned the overwhelming dominance of certain interests. Additionally, neopluralist    scholars argue that certainly some interests are in a privileged position, but these interests do not always get what they want.

Virginia Gray and David Lowery. 1996. The Population Ecology of Interest Representation: Lobbying Communities in the American States . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press; Andrew S. McFarland. 2004. Neopluralism. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.
Instead, their influence depends on a number of factors in the political environment such as public opinion, political culture, competition for access, and the relevance of the issue. Even wealthy interests do not always win if their position is at odds with the wish of an attentive public. And if the public cares about the issue, politicians may be reluctant to defy their constituents. If a prominent manufacturing firm wants fewer regulations on environmental pollutants, and environmental protection is a salient issue to the public, the manufacturing firm may not win in every exchange, despite its resource advantage. We also know that when interests mobilize, opposing interests often counter-mobilize, which can reduce advantages of some interests. Thus, the conclusion that businesses, the wealthy, and elites win in every situation is overstated.
Mark A. Smith. 2000. American Business and Political Power: Public Opinion, Elections, and Democracy . Chicago: University of Chicago Press; F. R. Baumgartner, J. M. Berry, M. Hojnacki, D. C. Kimball, and B. L. Leech. 2009, Lobbying and Policy Change . Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

A good example is the recent dispute between fast food chains and their employees. During the spring of 2015, workers at McDonald’s restaurants across the country went on strike and marched in protest of the low wages the fast food giant paid its employees. Despite the opposition of restaurant chains and claims by the National Restaurant Association that increasing the minimum wage would result in the loss of jobs, in September 2015, the state of New York raised the minimum wage for fast food employees to $15 per hour, an amount to be phased in over time. Buoyed by this success, fast food workers in other cities continued to campaign for a pay increase, and many low-paid workers have promised to vote for politicians who plan to boost the federal minimum wage.

Patrick McGeehan, “New York Plans $15-an-Hour Minimum Wage for Fast Food Workers,” New York Times , 22 July 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/23/nyregion/new-york-minimum-wage-fast-food-workers.html; Paul Davidson, “Fast-Food Workers Strike, Seeing $15 Wage, Political Muscle,” USA Today , 10 November 2015 http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2015/11/10/fast-food-strikes-begin/75482782/.

Summary

Interest groups afford people the opportunity to become more civically engaged. Socioeconomic status is an important predictor of who will likely join groups. The number and types of groups actively lobbying to get what they want from government have been increasing rapidly. Many business and public interest groups have arisen, and many new interests have developed due to technological advances, increased specialization of industry, and fragmentation of interests. Lobbying has also become more sophisticated in recent years, and many interests now hire lobbying firms to represent them.

Some scholars assume that groups will compete for access to decision-makers and that most groups have the potential to be heard. Critics suggest that some groups are advantaged by their access to economic resources. Yet others acknowledge these resource advantages but suggest that the political environment is equally important in determining who gets heard.

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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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