Finding North Without a Compass

A retired Army officer and retired Fortune 500 executive, Warren may be best known for making waves while serving on the Mequon Common Council and Ozaukee County Board. He's no longer an elected official, but he has plenty to say about local, state and national issues.



As the political campaigns heat up, the foremost message seems to be that all of us voters are in the grips of the "special interests" and that their vice-like hold will be broken if we just vote for the "right" candidate. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been wondering about whom all these "special interests" really are and how do they control the country?

The conclusion which I reached, and on which I will expand is best reflected in a take-off from that famous comic strip philosopher, Pogo: "We have met the "special interests" and they is us!"

I arrived at this conclusion, first by going to the Wikipedia web site and getting a definition of "special interests," to wit: "A special interest group is an organized collection of people who seek to influence a public decision." So, to start out with, if one is a registered Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or any other recognized political party, one is automatically a member of a"special interest" group.

Now, let’s take some recent examples close to home. The Shee Yee Community of Milwaukee seeking to get a police officer fired for his treatment of a Hmong man trying to run him over, certainly qualifies as a "special interest." Then there are the sponsors of those ads in the recent Supreme Court race, "Coalition for American Families," "Greater Wisconsin Committee," "Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce" and "Wisconsin Education Association Council." No doubt about their "special interest" designation, especially when Governor Doyle calls it a tragedy that his candidate lost. What he really meant was that those "special interest" groups that supported him, lost!

It’s not hard to proceed with a generic listing of "special interests" to include labor unions (i.e., AFL-CIO), professional bodies (i.e., AMA, ABA), business organizations (i.e., Conference Board), promotional groups (i.e., NRA), amicus briefers (i.e., ACLU), seniors (i.e. AARP), women’s rights (i.e., NOW), abortion rights (i.e., Planned Parenthood) and on and on and on.

Lobbying the US Congress and the Executive Branch in Washington, D.C., by "special interests" is an industry in itself with some 17,000 registered lobbyists. Between 1998 and 2006 more than $16 billion was spent on lobbying activities. Now this is not to condemn lobbying activity in of itself. The First Amendment protects the right of individuals and groups to petition their government and explain the goals of the organizations they represent. It is obvious that our elected congressmen cannot research, study and decide on every complex issue before them. Lobbyists provide such information and we, the people, depend on our elected representatives to use this information wisely for the greater good. We know that it doesn’t always work that way and the "flesh" is often too weak to resist illegal blandishments from certain lobbyists. To improve the situation, the Congress is pursuing the "Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007."

To return to the main point, "special interests" are endemic in our society and fill an important role. All of us, in one way or another, belong to a "special interest" group through active participation or contribution. So when we hear or read of some politician telling us that he/she must be elected to oppose "special interests," we can immediately translate that to mean we have to oppose his/her opponent’s "specially interests," whereas their "special interests" are working in your behalf.

May I therefore repeat my previous conclusion:


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