Posted on Apr 30, 2008
John M Grau
Right now I’m attending the NECA Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. This is a busy week for me, with meetings of the Government Affairs Committee, the Workforce Development Committee and the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee. Just to round things out, the Marketing Committee gathered last week.
In my opening remarks at the conference this morning, I warned the NECA members and staff present to be on the look out for special interest groups. All the presidential candidates and many legislators say that special interests are taking over our government and unduly influencing our elected officials. These special interests are like a 17-year-old boy with only one thing on his mind – in this case, it’s to convince legislators to support their issue or cause.
Then I asked the conference participants to look around at the other people in the room. They now had come face-to-face with the dreaded special interests. We are one of those special interest groups.
Anyone who gets together with a group to petition their government leaders is a special interest. But it seems that depending on your political bias, groups like the trial lawyers, unions, and the Sierra Club are not special interest groups. Apparently. it’s okay for them to invite legislators to their meetings and help finance political campaigns. If you listen to the mainstream media, the real special interests are business groups. They have unflattering labels like “Big Oil” or “Big Pharma.”
In truth, it’s a patriotic act for a special interest of any kind to legitimately try to convince their legislators of the merit of their point of view. Like voting, it’s our duty.
Our political leaders should not work in isolation. They need to be confronted with issues and understand the problems facing their constituents. But it is difficult for any one voice to be heard. For one thing, it’s not feasible for every citizen of this country to have a personal meeting with every legislator voting on a matter of interest to that citizen. It’s also not very efficient.
That’s where trade associations, professional societies and other groups come into play. It makes perfect sense for people or companies with common interests to band together to jointly present their point of view to our political leaders. And the bigger, the more organized and well-financed the group, the better. Such things clearly demonstrate the importance that the group places on their issues.
So we shouldn’t be knocking special interest groups. We should be lauding them. Totalitarian governments control their populations by suppressing organized groups. In contrast, democracies promote a free society by guaranteeing the right of people to organize into groups and to openly petition their government.
So this week, the patriots of our industry are in Washington, D.C., working to influence the federal government. Watch out Congress – Big Electrical is in town. We are a special interest group, and we’re proud to be here!