The Power 25 and Pluralist Theory

 By Erin Klitzke

          Every few years, Fortune magazine publishes a list of the top 25 special interest groups in Washington, D.C.  Special interest groups are a major political force in Washington and across the United States.  Through their survey, Fortune attempts to identify the most influential of these groups through a survey of “more than 2,900 people – including every member of Congress, senior Capitol Hill staffers, senior White House aides, professional lobbyists, and top-ranking officers of the largest lobbying groups in Washington.”  Out of the 2,900, 13.4% came back to the two polling firms – the Democratic firm Mellman Group and the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies – hired to run the survey with useful data.[1]

          In order to get on the list of 87 lobbying organizations rated on the survey, an organization had to meet certain criteria.  This criteria was 1) To have “ranked in the top 50 of the Power 25 survey in any of the last three years it was produced,” and 2) contribute at least $1 million to campaigns in 2000 or had “lobbying expenditures” totaling more than $2 million in 2000.[2]  By setting up this criteria in such a way, Fortune seeks to make sure that the groups that make it into the Power 25 have longevity.  The money aspect of the criteria supports the idea that money = speech and therefore the more money to be had, the more powerful a lobby is.

          I myself am not sure that the criteria set necessarily means a group is powerful.  I believe that it means that the group just has a lot of money to throw around and is big enough to get noticed.  There are many groups not in the Power 25 that are actually very well known – name recognition should really be one indicator of power.  A group having a smaller cash flow could also mean that that particular group uses different means of lobbying rather than spending a lot of money on an issue.  In order to get more groups like these on the list, I would eliminate the money aspect of things and take a harder look at name recognition and the actual activities of a lobby, not the amount of money spent.  I would also make sure to get a higher percentage of respondents for better data in general, targeting more people working on Capitol Hill, as that is where lobbies tend to be extremely important and active.

          In some ways, the numbers on the survey call into question the concept of pluralism, especially when one examines the numbers of the top seven of the Power 25.  Every single one of those groups has just moved up and down within that top seven from the previous survey to this.  This seems to indicate that these lobbies have been dominating the scene for a while now.  That calls into question that no group will dominate.  Between the AARP and the NRA, there is dominance – or so it appears by looking at the survey.  I believe the pluralist theory might work in the lower numbers, but unless something radical happens to knock over the top seven of the Power 25, we could be in for a nation dominated by gun-toting retired persons who happen to be ex-lawyers or independent entrepreneurs who are members of unions and chambers of commerce and like Israel for a while.

[1] Fortune magazine web site <>, 28 May 2001

[2] Ibid.