11/01/04 — OPINION -- The 'special interests'

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OPINION -- The 'special interests'

By Gene Price
Published in News on November 1, 2004 1:56 PM

We hear a lot these days about the "special interest" groups.

Almost every political advertisement points the finger at the opposing candidate and labels him or her as the tool of special interests.

That's sinister stuff.

We can see the candidate/culprit ducking into an alley where he is met in the shadows by a figure in a dark trench coat, collar upturned, hat brim shielding his eyes and slipping him a thick packet of money. Or a portly, well-heeled, back-slapping schemer stuffing big bucks in all the candidates' pockets.

These descriptions are fictitious. But that is the image sometimes created by the commercials.

Fortunately, the special interest money, figuratively, is in "marked" bills. It can be traced to the contributors.

But "special interest" has a bad connotation. The suggestion is that people accepting contributions from "special interests" do so at the expense of "the people."

Just who are these scurrilous groups to whom our elected officials ostensibly find themselves bound by campaign contributions?

Their identities may come as a disarming surprise.

Your family doctor very probably is a member of one of the groups. Our farmer friends probably belong to organizations that fall into the "special interest" categories. So do the corporations that provide our electric power -- and most of our jobs.

Small business owners, and major industrialists have their people lobbying in Raleigh and Washington. How about our educators -- and law enforcement officers and firefighters and state employees?

Our chambers of commerce, county and municipal governments have state and national organizations representing their concerns -- which also happen to be our concerns.

The truth of the matter is that the "special interest" groups, by and large, do not brow-beat or strong-arm elected officials. But they recognize the importance of having an audience with and an opportunity to show lawmakers the effects of legislation -- good and bad -- on the people they represent.

Often, and understandably, they provide financial support for those who already have demonstrated concern for their positions. They also provide valuable input in the decision-making process.

Who are the "special interests" people? We need to but look around us -- and in our mirrors.