Saturday, March 25, 2006

We Need Special Interest Groups

Several Utah bloggers got bent out of shape when the president of the Utah senate said, "we know more" than the voters. This statement should be so obvious that it is odd it was worth a mention. If we know as much as legislators we would just just directly vote on all the issues. But we don't because the super-majority of us are not willing to spend the time it would take to become educated in the issues.

At our recent caucus meeting, my wife asked each person who got up to speak what they thought about the recent Intelligent Design issue. Only one of the 8 or 10 people that got up to speak had any real knowledge of the issue at all. Given that these were the people that wanted to take leadership positions in our caucus, it was disappointing that they should know so little about one of the hot button issues of the recent legislative session.

But it wasn't surprising. Most voters don't care enough about most issues to do any research on them. And I'm okay with that. That is why we elect representatives. We try to pick people that we think have good judgement and then we let THEM do the research so that they can make good decisions. That is why poll numbers should only be one of a whole host of factors that a legislator considers when taking a position or casting a vote. (If our caucus got to vote on Buttars' Intelligent Design bill it would have passed overwhelmingly.)

How do the legislators get the information they need to make informed decisions? They listen to the people with a vested interest in the issue. If I'm trying to make policy about farming, I would be deliquent if I didn't speak to farmers or groups that represent farmers.

But wait! Farmers are a special interest group! We have to get those blasted special interest groups out of politics! They are destroying our country!

Well, no. They are essential to a healthy process. People who use the words "special interest" like they would utter a racial slur, demonstrate a real lack of knowledge and perspective. The problem is not the special interests. They don't get to vote. They should provide information and the legislators or executives get to make the decisions. Don't like them? Vote 'em out. But don't blame the special interests.


Scott Hinrichs said...

The fact is that "special interests" are us. They are the voice of the people.

I think people get most bent out of shape when some interests get (or seem to get) disproportionate power. A lot of people also dislike the money part of the political process. There is an inherent understanding that money=power, and that since power without transparency can lead to corruption, money can lead to corruption. That's how we ended up with the whole Abramoff scandal. But in our society money is also another medium for speech. So limiting monetary involvement limits speech.

We cannot do away with special interests, however, we do need rules and policies that provide for complete transparency so as to ensure that our system is as fair as possible. Fairness is what we all want.

Bradley Ross said...

I think it was when Hatch was running for president and McCain was pounding the topic of campaign finance reform that Hatch advocated, "disclosure, disclosure, disclosure." I wasn't convinced at the time that I heard it, but I have since come to agree totally with what Scott has written in the comment above aned what Hatch said. We can't limit the money without limiting speech. But we can fully and immediately disclose all donations.

Of course, I am still in favor of laws that would seek to prevent direct bribery, but I'd bet such a law would be difficult to draft.