special interest

In politics a special interest is an individual or group determined to encourage or prevent changes in public policy without trying to be elected. It is also known as a pressure group, advocacy group, private interest or vested interest. The term "special interest" carries a negative connotation, because it defines (in the users perpective) that which is contrary to the public interest.

Examples of special interests might include a corporation lobbying to win a specific government contract; 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.

Special interests can be divided into 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. These groups include Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Worldwide Fund for Nature. These ecological groups 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 special interest 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".

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, special interests become political parties. In some European nations a national ecological society became a Green Party. Similarly, small political parties can resemble special interests more closely than larger parties. Ultimately, however, the distinction between special interests and political parties lies in the means by which they seek to achieve their objectives: political parties seek to become part of government; special interests seek to influence government.

special interest - wikipedia