An advocacy group is a group or an organization which tries to influence the government but does not hold power in the government. Pressure groups (also known as advocacy groups, lobby groups, campaign groups, interest groups, or special interest groups) use various forms of advocacy in order 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.
Motives for action may be based on a shared political, religious, moral, health 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 or backed by powerful business or political interests and exert considerable influence on the political process, while others have few or no such resources.
Some have developed into important social, political institutions or social movements. Some powerful advocacy groups have been accused of manipulating the democratic system for narrow commercial gain and in some instances have been found guilty of corruption, fraud, bribery, and other serious crimes; 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’. Research is beginning to explore how pressure groups use social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action.
Brief History of Pressure Groups
The early growth of pressure groups was connected to broad economic and political changes in England in the mid-18th century, including political representation, market capitalization, and proletarianization. The first mass social movement catalyzed around the controversial political figure, John Wilkes. Another important advocacy group that emerged in the late 18th century was the British abolitionist movement against slavery. Starting with an organised sugar boycott in 1791, it led the second great petition drive of 1806, which brought about the banning of the slave trade in 1807.
The labor movement and socialist movement of the late 19th century are seen as the prototypical social movements, leading to the formation of communist and social democratic parties and organisations. These tendencies were seen in poorer countries as pressure for reform continued, for example in Russia with the Russian Revolution of 1905 and of 1917, resulting in the collapse of the Czarist regime around the end of the First World War.
In the post-war period, women’s rights, gay rights, peace, civil rights, anti-nuclear and environmental movements emerged, often dubbed the New Social Movements, some of which may be considered “general interest groups” as opposed to special interest groups. They led, among other things, to the formation of green parties and organisations influenced by the new left. Some find in the end of the 1990s the emergence of a new global social movement, the anti-globalization movement. Some social movement scholars posit that with the rapid pace of globalization, the potential for the emergence of new type of social movement is latent—they make the analogy to national movements of the past to describe what has been termed a global citizens movement.
Advocacy can be defined as “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy”. It is a political process by an individual or group which aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions.
Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes. These can include media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research. It can include conducting exit polls or the filing of an amicus brief. Lobbying (often by lobby groups) is a form of advocacy. This is where a direct approach is made to legislators on an issue in modern politics. Professional lobbyists are employed by advocacy groups also called special interest groups.
There are any number of corporations, religious groups, citizen groups, think tanks and foundations who want to make sure their interests are heard by lawmakers. This is both in the United States and the European Union. Advocacy groups also use their influence in the election and appointing of judges.
Some Activities of Pressure Groups
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.
- Lobby groups spend considerable amounts of money on election advertising as well. For example, the 2011 documentary film Hot Coffee contains interviews of former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver E. Diaz, Jr. and evidence the US Chamber of Commerce paid for advertising to unseat him.
- 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.