Special interest

A special interest is a person or political organisation established to influence governmental policy or legislators in a specific area of policy. In the UK, a group which specifically aims to influence public policy is known as a pressure group. Examples of special interests might include a corporation lobbying to win a specific government contract; a trade association representing the interests of an entire industry seeking favorable tax policies or government regulations; groups representing various sectors of society, such as labor unions, senior citizens or persons with disabilities; or groups within the legislature or bureaucracy themselves. In general, however, special interests seek to influence government without becoming part of government.

Many scholars dislike the term special interest, since it carries a loaded, negative connotation. Among other things, it presumes that we know exactly what the general interest (or public interest) is. Some return to an old term, "vested interests" or refer to "particularistic groups." In the academic literature, it has largely been replaced by the term interest group. There is a lively debate amongst political scientists as to what exactly constitutes an interest group. Some hold that only groups with members (for instance, Common Cause or the National Rifle Association) are interest groups. Others feel that interest groups are any non-government groups that try to affect policy. Some people define it even more broadly, to include individual corporations, or even government agencies. Sometimes "interest groups" are used to refer to groups within society (e.g. seniors, the poor, etc.) who are not necessarily part of an organized group.

A study by Jon Agnone, a sociologist at the University of Washington, in 2004 compared the number of bills passed between 1960 and 1994 by the U.S. Congress with tactics used by green groups within the same year. The study showed that each protest raised the number of pro-environment bills passed by 2.2%, but that neither efforts at conventional lobbying on Capitol Hill nor the state of public opinion made any difference. The study concluded that direct action, like chaining oneself to a bulldozer or throwing paint over company executives, is more likely to influence environmental policy than talking to politicians. Agnone presented his results to the American Sociological Association on August 17, 2004 at their meeting in San Francisco.

Special interests can be divided into two broad classes: protective and promotional.

Protective groups represent only one segment of society. professional bodies, veterans' organizations and trade unions. Membership in such groups is restricted to members of the represented social segment. These groups are usually "insiders".

Promotional groups promote some greater cause. They do not promote the interest of a segment of a society, but of a mankind as a whole. These groups include Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Worldwide Fund for Nature. These ecological groups believe that their cause is for the mutual benefit of all the people on the planet. Their membership is open for people of all ages, so that they are much larger than protective groups. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is the largest special interest in Europe with nearly one million members—more than the number of members in all three UK national political parties together. These groups are most often "outsiders".

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish these two classes, because the actions of a group of one class may be characteristic of the other class. For example, the British Medical Association (BMA) supports the action against smoking, which is of general benefit to the wider population, not just medics. Similarly, the British Dental Association (BDA) supports fluoridation of water, which is again, a mutual benefit, not just for dentists.

Sometimes, special interests become political parties. In some European nations a national ecological society became a Green Party. Similarly, small political parties can resemble special interests more closely than larger parties. Ultimately, however, the distinction between special interests and political parties lies in the means by which they seek to achieve their objectives: political parties seek to become part of government; special interests seek to influence government.

See also

ja:利益団体 no:Interesseorganisasjon


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