Advocacy group

Advocacy group

Advocacy groups (also pressure groups, lobby groups and some interest groups and special interest groups) use various forms of advocacy to influence public opinion and/or policy; they have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems. Groups vary considerably in size, influence and motive; some have wide ranging long term social purposes, others are focused and are a response to an immediate issue or concern.

Motives for action may be based on a shared political, faith, moral or commercial position. Groups use varied methods to try to achieve their aims including lobbying, media campaigns, publicity stunts, polls, research and policy briefings. Some groups are supported by powerful business or political interests and exert considerable influence on the political process, others have few such resources.

Some have developed into important social, political institutions or social movements. Some powerful Lobby groups have been accused of manipulating the democratic system for narrow commercial gain[1] and in some instances have been found guilty of corruption, fraud, bribery and other serious crimes;[2] lobbying has become increasingly regulated as a result. Some groups, generally ones with less financial resources, may use direct action and civil disobedience and in some cases are accused of being a threat to the social order or 'domestic extremists'.[3]



An advocacy group is a group or an organization which tries to influence the government but does not hold power in the government. A single-issue group may form in response to a particular issue area sometimes in response to a single event or threat. In some cases initiatives initially championed by advocacy groups later become institutionalized as important elements of civic life (for example universal education or regulation of doctors — see below for details). Groups representing broad interests of a group may be formed with the purpose of benefiting the group over an expended period of time and in many ways, example as Consumer organizations, Professional associations, Trade associations and Trade unions.


Advocacy groups exist in a wide variety of genres based upon their most pronounced activities.

  • Anti-defamation organizations issue responses or criticisms to real or supposed slights of any sort (including speech or violence) by an individual or group against a specific segment of the population which the organization exists to represent.
  • Watchdog groups exist to provide oversight and rating of actions or media by various outlets, both government and corporate. They may also index personalities, organizations, products and activities in databases to provide coverage and rating of the value or viability of such entities to target demographics.
  • Lobby groups Lobby for a change to the law or the maintenance of a particular law and big businesses fund very considerable lobbying influence on legislators, for example in the USA and in the UK where lobbying first developed. Some Lobby groups have considerable financial resources at their disposal. Lobbying is regulated to stop the worst abuses which can develop into corruption. In the United States the Internal Revenue Service makes a clear distinction between lobbying and advocacy.[4]
  • Legal defense funds provide funding for the legal defense for, or legal action against, individuals or groups related to their specific interests or target demographic. This is often accompanied by one of the above types of advocacy groups filing an Amicus curiae if the cause at stake serves the interests of both the legal defense fund and the other advocacy groups.


Organizations can be categorized along the lines of the three elements of commerce: business owners, workers, and consumers.

  • Employers' organizations represent the interests of a group of businesses in the same industry.
  • Occupational, or labour organizations promote the professional and economic interests of workers in a particular occupation, industry, or trade, through interaction with the government, and by preparing advertising and other promotional campaigns to the public. Such groups will also provide member services such as career support, training, and organized social activities.[5] These goals are distinct from those of the regulatory body of a self-governing profession, which licenses and supervises its practitioners with the mission of serving the public interest. [6] The advocacy organization does not interact directly with employers in the way a trade union does.
  • Consumer organizations exist to protect people from corporate abuse, promote fair business practices, and enforce consumer rights.

Influential advocacy groups

There are many significant advocacy groups through history, some of which could be considered to operate with different dynamics and could better be described as social movements. Here are some notable groups operating in different parts of the world:-

Corruption and illegal activity

In some instances Advocacy groups are convicted of illegal activity. Major examples include:

Adversarial groupings

On some controversial issues there are a number of competing advocacy groups, sometimes with very different resources available to them:

Benefits and incentives

The general theory is that individuals must be enticed with some type of benefit to join an interest group.[25] Known as the Free Rider Problem, it refers to the difficulty of obtaining members of a particular interest group when the benefits are already reaped without membership. For instance, an interest group dedicated to improving farming standards will fight for the general goal of improving farming for every farmer, even those who are not members of that particular interest group. So there is no real incentive to join an interest group and pay dues if they will receive that benefit anyway.[26] Interest groups must receive dues and contributions from its members in order to accomplish its agenda. While every individual in the world would benefit from a cleaner environment, that Environmental protection interest group does not, in turn, receive monetary help from every individual in the world.[27]

Selective material benefits are benefits that are usually given in monetary benefits. For instance, if an interest group gives a material benefit to their member, they could give them travel discounts, free meals at certain restaurants, or free subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, or journals.[26] Many trade and professional interest groups tend to give these types of benefits to their members. A selective solidary benefit is another type of benefit offered to members or prospective members of an interest group. These incentives involve benefits like "socializing congeniality, the sense of group membership and identification, the status resulting from membership, fun and conviviality, the maintenance of social distinctions, and so on.[28] A solidary incentive is when the rewards for participation are socially derived and created out of the act of association.

An expressive incentive is another basic type of incentive or benefit offered to being a member of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits likely joined to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in. Some include free speech, civil rights, economic justice, or political equality. To obtain these types of benefits, members would simply pay dues, donate their time or money to get a feeling of satisfaction from expressing a political value. Also, it would not matter if the interest group achieved their goal, but these members would be able to say they helped out in the process of trying to obtain these goals, which is the expressive incentive that they got in the first place.[29] The types of interest groups that rely on expressive benefits or incentives would be environmental groups and groups who claim to be lobbying for the public interest.[27]

Some public policy interests are not recognized or addressed by a group at all, and these interests are labeled latent interest.

Theoretical perspectives

Much work has been undertaken by academics in trying to categorise how pressures groups operate, particularly in relation to governmental policy creation.

The field is dominated by numerous differing schools of thought:

1. Pluralism: this is based upon the understanding that pressure groups operate in competition with one another and play a key role in the political system through acting as a counterweight to undue concentrations of power

However this pluralist theory (formed primarily by American academics) reflects a more open and fragmented political system similar to that in countries such as America. Therefore under neo-pluralism the concept of political communities developed that is more similar to the British form of government

2. Neo-Pluralism: this is based on the concept of political communities in that pressure groups and other such bodies are organised around a government department and its network of client groups that then co-operate together to during the policy making process

3. Corporatism

See also


  1. ^ Helm, Toby (2009-01-18). "Fury at airport lobby links to No 10". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  3. ^ Monbiot, George (2009-02-16). "Meet the new Britain: just like the old one where green protesters are spied on". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  4. ^ "Lobbying Versus Advocacy: Legal Definitions". NP Action. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  5. ^ "OSPE Membership". Ontario Society of Professional Engineers. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  6. ^ "History". Ontario Society of Professional Engineers. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  7. ^ "And the winner is ... the Israel lobby". Asia Times. 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2010-10-05. "Former president Bill Clinton defined it as "stunningly effective". Former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich called it "the most effective general-interest group across the entire planet". The New York Times as "the most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel"" 
  8. ^ "BMA History". 
  9. ^ John Minnion and Philip Bolsover (eds.) (1983). The CND Story. Alison and Busby. ISBN 0-85031-487-9. 
  10. ^ "About us". Center for Auto Safety. 
  11. ^ "About the Drug Policy Alliance". Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved 2007-09-02. 
  12. ^ Michael Brown & John May. The Greenpeace Story. ISBN 0-86318-691-2. 
  13. ^ "History". National Rifle Association. 
  14. ^ "history". Oxfam. 
  15. ^ "Founding of Pennsylvania Abolition Society". pbs. 
  16. ^ "History". People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. 
  17. ^ "History of the RSPB". RSPB. Retrieved 2007-02-19. 
  18. ^ "Welcome". Sierra Club. 
  19. ^ "'Million' march against Iraq war". BBC News. 16 February 2003. 
  20. ^ "The campaign for suffrage - a historical background". 
  21. ^ "Robert Raikes and the Sunday School Movement". 
  22. ^ Cooke, Alistair (August 2008). "A Brief History of the Conservatives" (PDF). Conservative Research Department. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  23. ^ "Lobbyist Abramoff Pleads Guilty to Fraud Charges". 
  24. ^ (PDF) Master Settlement Agreement. National Association of Attorneys General. 1998. Archived from the original on 2008-06-25. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  25. ^ John R. Wright. Interest Groups and Congress, Lobbying, Contributions, and Influence. Longman. pp. 19–22. ISBN 0-02-430301-1. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  26. ^ a b Olson, Mancur (1971) [1965]. The Logic of Collective Action : Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Revised edition ed.). Harvard University Press. pp. 111–131. ISBN 0-674-53751-3. 
  27. ^ a b John R. Wright. Interest Groups and Congress, Lobbying, Contributions, and Influence. Longman. pp. 19–21. ISBN 0-02-430301-1. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  28. ^ Peter B. Clark and James Q. Wilson (1961)). Incentive Systems: A Theory of Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly. pp. 134–135. 
  29. ^ Robert H. Salisbury (1969). An Exchange Theory of Interest Groups. pp. 1–32. 

Further reading

External links

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