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Farewell to Tocqueville's Dream: A Case Study of Trade Associations and Advocacy

PAQ, Vol. 36 No. 4, (2012)

Nonprofit 501(c)(6)’s, a form of trade association established to support the economic interests of members, have become influential actors in policy networks. Distinct from 501(c)3’s and 4’s in their capacity for political activity and endowed with corporate funding, trade associations have progressively shaped the landscape of interest group advocacy. Their political influence alters the established roles of government, business and the nonprofit sector in fostering democracy. This case study examines how two 501(c)6 organizations representing the coal industry influenced public opinion and policy outcomes in the state of Texas. The case study was developed from an examination of both printed and website sources, including newspaper articles, press releases, policy papers, and policy decisions in the state of Texas and federal government. Results suggest that trade associations inhibit rather than strengthen the democratic process and threaten the legitimacy of the nonprofit sector.

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