Difference between Special Interests and Lobbies
Special interests and lobbies have enabled the voice of the “regular person” to be heard in law courts and hearings around the world. Both serve similar roles, although they have different purposes and methods. In this comparison article we take a look at the differences of both.
Special interest groups are organizations that seek to influence public opinion and/or shape policies. Also called advocacy groups, pressure groups, and lobby groups, they have historically and to this very day serve as an essential component in the development of political and social systems. These groups may be of different sizes, influences and motives, and while others have long-term purposes, others deal primarily with an immediate and specific issue.
Lobbyists are people who seek to influence decisions made by legislators and officials in the government. These groups may focus their efforts on individuals, legislators, constituents, and even advocacy groups. Most such groups influence legislation on behalf of special interests. Like special interest groups, lobbyists have been instrumental in defining and regulating governments and organized groups throughout history.
Special interest groups are typically motivated by political, faith-based, moral or commercial purposes. In the pursuit of their goals, such groups utilize different methods that may include lobbying, media campaigns, research efforts and policy meetings. On occasion, groups may be supported by powerful business or political organizations, and they may then have more influence on the political process compared to those with limited resources.
In the United States, the line between lobbying and advocacy are clearly defined with regard to nonprofit organizations. Lobbyists are defined as organizations that ask policymakers to take a specific stance on a specific legislation. In contrast, the term “advocacy” is used in reference to influencing policies by way of public demonstrations and other similar actions.
Special interest groups have existed for many years, and some have even transcended their original goals to become social movements in their own right. In particular, the American Israel Lobby has been considered the most influential lobby in terms of its effects on US relations with Israel. Another incident involved the British Medical Association, which met to propose the sharing of knowledge in the medical industry. The meeting led to lobbying for the Medical Act of 1858, and subsequent legislation resulted in the formation of the General Medical Council. To this day, the council registers and regulates all doctors in the United Kingdom.
According to the BBC, the act of lobbying originated from the meetings traditionally held by Members of Parliament and in the halls and lobbies of Houses of Parliament in between debates of the parliament. One account however has traced the origins of the term to the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, where it was supposedly used by Ulysses S. Grant in reference to political figures who hung around the lobby of the hotel seeking an audience with Grant.
Similarities and Differences
- Organizations that seek to influence public opinion and/or shape policies
- Serve as an essential component in the development of political and social systems
- Seek to influence decisions made by legislators and officials in the government
- Have been instrumental in defining and regulating governments and organized groups throughout history