There are countless advocacy groups in Texas that promote certain policies or principles or advance the interests of various groups of people. These types of organizations are often formed as non-profit corporations, though some can be for-profit entities. Legally they are allowed to spend money to speak on causes and issues, as well as candidates, elected officials, and legislation. However, sometimes this speech is subject to regulation by the government.
The term “special interest” has taken on a negative connotation, but the term simply means organizations that work to advance the interests of members of the group. Organizations that advance the interests of doctors, homebuilders, teachers, and firefighters are all different types of special interest groups.
These groups often hire lobbyists to petition the government to either spend money or to change the laws in ways that will benefit members of the group. They are sometimes criticized for seeking tax-funded subsidies, or for pursuing laws that limit their competition or create barriers to entry. However, special interest groups aren’t always seeking an unfair advantage. They also sometimes seek to protect the rights of the members of their groups against others who would impose unfair restrictions on them.
“General interest groups” are organizations that work for the benefit of all citizens, not just for the direct benefit of their members. Pro-life organizations, environmentalist groups, and taxpayer watchdog organizations are all types of general interest groups.
Sometimes names can be misleading. The League of Women Voters might sound like a special interest group set up to serve only the interests of women, but actually it is a group of women who advocate for the interests of all voters. On the other hand, Texas Parent PAC might sound like an organization that is interested in promoting parental rights when in reality it is an organization that advances the interests of school administrators.
At Transparency Texas we sometimes categorize organizations as either special interest or general interest groups based not only on their mission statements, but also on the actions the organizations take and the policies they promote.
Our How It Works series pulls back the curtain on the inter-workings of state government by identifying who’s involved, defining what they do, and explaining the motivations behind their actions.