CASH Courier > 2003 Spring Issue

Selected Articles from our newsletter

The C.A.S.H. Courier


Animal Rights and Effective Political Action (Part I)

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: advocates of gay rights, "Right-to-Life" advocates, the Christian Right etc.

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 roots advocates we exceed the NRA membership – yet our political influence is just about nil.

How do we explain that and what can we do about it?

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 (LOHV).

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.

1) Electioneering

2) Lobbying

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 Rights legislation?

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 action.

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.

Contact www.LOHV-USA.org

Return to the Spring 2003 Issue


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