advocacy group

An advocacy group is one determined to encourage or prevent changes in public policy without trying to be elected. A person acting on their own or with corporate backing to achieve the same is called a lobbyist.

It can be called a pressure group if it uses particularly strong tactics, a private interest if it is seen as having a particular financial interest in the outcome, or a or vested interest if it is already gaining from some status. The blanket term:special interest is used for all of these variants.

Examples of advocacy might include a corporation lobbying to win a specific government contract - which it will do through some intermediary; a trade association representing the interests of an entire industry seeking favorable tax policies or government regulations; groups representing various sectors of society, such as trade unions, cultural minorities, senior citizens, university students, or persons with disabilities; or groups within the legislature or bureaucracy themselves.

Advocacy is of two broad classes: protective and promotional.

Protective groups represent only one segment of society, such as professional bodies, veterans' organizations and trade unions. Membership in such groups is restricted to members of the represented social segment. These groups are usually "insiders".

Promotional groups promote some greater cause. They claim to represent the common interests of mankind or even life in general. These groups include Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Worldwide Fund for Nature. Ecological groups in particular tend to believe that their cause is for the mutual benefit of all the people on the planet. Their membership is open for people of all ages, so that they are much larger than protective groups. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is the largest advocacy group in Europe with nearly one million members—more than the number of members in all three UK national political parties together. These groups are most often "outsiders" to the political process and rarely connected with a political party.

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish these two classes, because the actions of a group of one class may be characteristic of the other class. For example, the British Medical Association (BMA) supports the action against smoking, which is of general benefit to the wider population, not just medics. Similarly, the British Dental Association (BDA) supports fluoridation of water, which is again, a mutual benefit, not just for dentists.

Sometimes, advocacy groups become political parties. In some European nations a national ecological society became a Green Party. Small political parties can resemble or promote advocacy groups more closely than larger parties. Ultimately, however, the distinction between advocacy and political parties lies in the means by which they seek to achieve their objectives: political parties seek to become part of government or directly pressure government by threatening its direct support from the voters; advocates seek to influence government.

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