Understanding interest groups requires assessing what these groups do and what factors affect their success. In this chapter we explore in greater detail the varying sizes, shapes and orientations of interest groups, their differential access to political and financial resources, the degree to which the behavior of the interest group system conforms to the pluralist ideal, and the impact of institutional settings on group influence and on policy making.
Such factors clearly affect the involvement and effectiveness of groups at work in almost any public policy debate. The nearly ten-year struggle over deregulation of local telephone service in Texas is a good example to keep in mind. Following the adoption of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which aimed at promoting competition in both long distance and local telephone service, Texans witnessed a wide open brawl between two telecommunications titans operating in the state. From the start, Southwestern Bell and AT&T engaged in a fierce battle for influence on almost every level of politics across the Lone Star State. Ironically, despite the fierce political competition, SBC acquired ATT in a friendly takeover in 2005. The new company was named ATT.
While the two goliaths battled, consumer oriented groups concerned with rates and service delivery were hardly heard, a result of their substantially smaller financial and organizational resources. Their limited public information campaigns and grass roots lobbying efforts were lost amidst the gargantuan efforts of the telecoms.
In pursuit of their interests in protecting their current markets from competitors and opening new markets to competition, the two corporate giants spent enormous sums on state and local electoral campaigns, legislative lobbying, litigation in the courts, and public relations over a protracted period that spanned almost a decade.
The implementation of the new federal framework for the delivery of telecommunication services in Texas would affect both suppliers and consumers of that service for decades to come. The resulting efforts to shape this implementation broach many of the topics explored in this chapter.
This chapter first distinguishes among different types of interest groups, then examines interest groups' roles and functions, and finally discusses the tools and techniques they use in attempting to achieve their goals. Along the way, the chapter discusses how and why groups succeed and fail in their objectives and reviews the ways in which citizens may join in interest groups' efforts to shape politics and government.