5 October 1999
The influence of special interest groups upon the American government negatively affects the constitutional rights of American citizens. If it is possible for these groups to serve fully on the side of Americans, it is also possible for them to serve in the interest of their own members and the politicians affiliated with them. When controversial issues arrive, the group will often take a hard-line stance either for or against it - making their view widely known. Many a special interest group seeks to narrow the boundaries of free speech and expression by seeking out politicians to pass legislation favorable to their position.
Throughout the history of our country, politicians have voted against their contingent's wishes. Why? The pressure exerted by lobbyists weighs heavily upon members of the associated party. The sense of favoritism reigns within the government: they will accept and support the views of people who in turn support them politically. Special interest groups will often send out propaganda prior to an election that will list candidates of a particular party superior to the ones of the opposing party. In addition to this, they will fund commercials and advertising for candidates who pledge to support the organization while in office. In the worst cases, they will overtly bribe politicians.
In recent years, the "Religious Right" has been attempting to regain political clout by means of lobbying. The Christian Coalition, which is the primary vein of this movement, has attached itself to the coattails of the traditionally conservative Republican Party. Their agenda is to seek legislation that curtails freedom of speech and expression, reproductive rights, controversial beliefs taught in schools - anything that will halt the stereotypically Democratic, liberal agenda. This would make the group a highly partisan one; and disruptive to the Democratic goals. In recent years, they have been denied the status and tax exemption that strictly independent interest groups receive as a result of their support of Republican candidates.
Yet they are not an official faction of the Republican Party; rather, they are special interest group that merely portrays itself as nonpartisan. With a membership primarily composed of Republican WASPs, we are foolishly expected to buy into the idea that this group serves to benefit the whole of society, not just one small sector. Yet this is not the case - if one is a Democrat, he or she is not represented. If one is a liberal, he or she is not represented. If one is an atheist, he or she is not represented. It comes to the point where very few seem to be represented - which is exactly why special interest groups are detrimental to the ideals of the American representative democracy. The whole point of the system is the elect officials in such a way that their legislation in viewed in regard to how it would benefit the majority of the society, not just the a small, powerful portion.
A recent incident of the influence of pressure groups can be seen in the political controversy surrounding the current exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The Catholic League, similar to the Christian Coalition in aim, called for "public officials to stop funding of all the arts" after a depiction of the Virgin Mary was found by many Catholics to be highly offensive. There was an additional uproar on the part of animal rights groups as a result of animal corpses that were used as art. Several top legislators took part in the condemnation of artistic expression as seen in the exhibit - in turn, condemning the freedom that they have been elected to protect.
In this situation, there is not so much a call for additional legislation as there is for the restriction of the freedom of expression. While one has the right to disagree with one's perception and subsequent portrayal of an issue, they do not have the right to censor it. Yet they believe that there should be limits to our freedom - that we should be partially denied freedom of expression. The drafters of the Bill of Rights found freedom of expression to be something so intrinsically American that it was included in the First Amendment. Therefore, special interest groups wish to attack freedoms that our forefathers found to be of the highest importance.
In addition to the attack upon the freedom of expression, freedom of speech came under fire with Governor Jesse Ventura's comments toward organized religion. In calling it "a crutch for weak-minded people", he opened up the floodgates for criticism from the Christian Coalition. The Coalition was in opposition to Ventura's statement, yet they did not entirely speak for themselves. Who came to the aid of the Coalition in the part of spokespeople? To everyone's tremendous shock, several Republican bigwigs spoke out against Ventura. And where were they at when these speeches occurred but at a conference of the Christian Coalition, exemplifying the link between the individual parties and the special interest groups.
Though the guise of benevolent ideologies, special interest groups often seek to rid America of the freedoms that could come into conflict with their ultimate goals. In the worse case scenario, there is bribery and other illegalities. In the best, there is intolerance, protest, and linguistic backbiting. The ones whom we have elected to represent us have shifted their loyalties from the public to those who write out checks to ensure their legislative support. The public has realized this, and political apathy has set in as a result. Quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Orrin Hatch said it best when speaking in reference to Governor Ventura, "No wonder the public can't stand politicians." Ironically, Senator Hatch was one of the Republicans speaking on behalf of the Christian Coalition.
To the machine!