Special interest groups have become powerful public advocate

March 21, 2012

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Many special interest groups aren't so specialized at all, but have become powerful advocates in advancing public interests and ideas, a Michigan State University political scientist argues in a new book.

The advocacy community has been expanding dramatically for several decades and there are now more than 1,600 interest groups, Matt Grossmann, assistant professor of political science, says in "The Not-So-Special Interests: Interest Groups, Public Representation and American Governance."

The book uses original data to explain why certain public groups, such as Jews, lawyers and gun-owners, develop substantially more representation than others, and why certain organizations become the presumed spokespersons for these groups in government and media.

Organizations that mobilize members and create a long-lasting presence in Washington become, in the minds of policymakers and reporters, the taken-for-granted surrogates for these public groups.

"Only the oldest, largest and broadest of these organizations succeed in Washington," Grossmann writes in the book.

In contrast to established theory, Grossmann found that interest groups of all sizes and types generate advocates to speak on their behalf, though with varying levels of success.

Publishers Weekly, which reviewed the book, says, "Tea Partyers and Occupiers alike think of 'special interests' as shadowy cabals that subvert the people's will, but this stimulating academic study finds them a faithful mirror of the body politic."

"Grossmann's clear-eyed analysis of who gets a seat at the table suggests that democracy's faults lie not in our lobbyists but in ourselves," the review says.
The book will published by Stanford University Press.

Michigan State University

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