Have you ever noticed that in the United States
there are many miniscule special interest groups that wield a lot
of political clout?
Take the National Rifle Association as an example:
The NRA has a membership of about two million out of a total US
population of 285 million; that is less than ¾ of one percent. Yet their political
influence is enormous. There are many measures, relating to firearms
that are passed or defeated based on the NRA’s approval or opposition
to the measure.
There are other groups that have much greater
political influence than their numbers among the voters would suggest:
of gay rights, "Right-to-Life" advocates, the Christian
Let’s put aside whether we approve of these organizations
or not – let’s try to figure out how they got all this power and
how we can emulate them.
Missing among those groups are Animal Rights Advocates.
If we add up the memberships of the big national Animal Rights
groups and throw in about 25% more for smaller groups and grass
we exceed the NRA membership – yet our political influence is just
How do we explain that and what can we do about
This is the first in a series of articles that will
analyze the problem and make suggestions for how to organize more
effectively based on my experience with The League Of Humane Voters
Let’s begin by briefly reviewing the types of
political actions that are open to us.
As individuals, we can all vote in elections but
unless that vote is organized and bargained for it doesn’t contribute
toward political effectiveness.
As organized groups we have basically two modes
of political action.
Electioneering consists of attempting to
get candidates elected to public office. Activities included are:
1) Handing out fliers endorsing a candidate
2) Mailing to a list endorsing a candidate
3) Newspaper ads endorsing a candidate
4) Speaking at public forums endorsing a candidate
5) Contributing money to a candidate’s campaign
6) Working in a candidate’s campaign office
7) And other similar actions
Lobbying consists of communicating with
legislators about a specific piece of pending legislation—either
asking them to endorse it or to oppose it.
So which should we do?
The answer seems to be we must do both; doing one
without the other is pointless.
So why don’t the large national groups do electioneering
to promote AR-friendly candidates and then lobby them for Animal
The answer is in the IRS tax code.
In order for a group to get tax-deductible donations,
it must be designated as a 501 (c) 3 organization by the IRS.
A 501(c)3 organization may not do any electioneering
at all and only limited lobbying. A slightly different type of organization
is a 501(c)4. This type is allowed to do more lobbying but is still
not permitted to do any electioneering. Since being able to take tax-deductible
donations is of major importance to animal rights organizations, it
leaves most animal rights groups out of engaging in politically meaningful
To do both electioneering and lobbying an organization
must be organized as a PAC (Political Action Committee). The downside
is that contributions to a PAC are not tax-deductible – so PACs have
a harder time raising money.
There are some active Animal Rights PACs in existence
now – some operate on the federal level and some operate on the state
level. In a later installment of this series I’ll give a detailed
account of the major existing AR PACs.
In the next installment I want to focus on the synergistic
interaction of electioneering and lobbying and why both have to be
engaged in order to be effective.