Fact-checking the Term ‘Special Interest Group’

Fact-checking has become a recurring theme this election cycle.  Let’s fact-check the common mud-slinging term “special interest group.”

A special interest is a body of people, a corporation, or an industry that seeks or receives benefits, especially through legislation.   They utilize different forms of advocacy to influence public policy or opinion, and they also play significant roles in the development of both social and political systems.

It’s not clear when it became a bad thing to combine individual voices and form a stronger group fighting for collective change. But in state and local politics, some special interest groups try to paint opposing candidates as beholden to special interest groups.  The pretext is apparent with campaign “mailers.”  These political pieces pile up in voters’ mailboxes depicting shadowy figures, generic clip art, and glossy pictures of diverse populations.  They usually feature catchy words and phrases like “trust,” “mismanagement,” “playing politics,” “better schools” or “more jobs.”  One common idea is to batter a candidate because they’re “backed by special interest groups.”  This accusation is rearing its head in many state and local races, especially the Ash Kalra vs. Madison Nguyen State Assembly race and some San Jose City Council races.

Candidates with endorsements from various employee associations or Unions are frequently tagged with the “Union-backed,” special interest group moniker.  But it is ironic when the groups highlighting such alleged evilness are special interests themselves.  Such as the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce.  Or the Parent Teacher Alliance — which sounds like butterflies and fairies and conjures up images of the famous PTA — but is misleading.  It’s really a group controlled by the California Charter School Alliance and advocates for looser regulations for for-profit charter schools.

Sure, Labor is a special interest group.  But so are tobacco companies, the NRA, businesses, students, parents, environmentalists, Chambers of Commerce, farmers, charter school associations, Realtors, oil companies, commuters, people with disabilities, pet owners, scientists, athletes, hockey fans.  It’s time groups like the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce acknowledge that they are also special interest groups.

Many of us are proud to be part of Labor, a group that stands up for the middle class and gives voice to working people.

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