Libertarian State Leadership Alliance

Letters on Libertarian Strategy

Care and Feeding of Affinity Groups

"I'm active in my local party", you ask, "why should I care about national affinity groups? For that matter, what *is* an affinity group?"

An affinity group is a collection of people with a particular interest, like the National Rifle Association or the National Abortion Rights Action League. Affinity group members have a real interest other than politics. They also have a group that has political effects, by educating voters, by rating candidates, or by having or being a PAC.

Why should you care about them? After all, they're far away, generally in Washington, D.C. You should care because they come visiting. They get involved -- within their limits -- in campaigns. Local campaigns. Your campaigns! And for the most part: They're not our friends.

Let's consider affinity groups in more detail: what they are, what they do,... Then I'll discuss why a successful Libertarian movement needs its own affinity groups, and why it makes sense for the National Party to get them for us.

Affinity groups include lobbies, think tanks, and special-interest clubs. They may say they're non-partisan, but many of them are tightly bonded to a single political party. Even if they do not give money, their candidate rankings mobilize volunteers and voters. It is fundamental to their strength that they are independent of political parties. The NRA may often support Republicans, but it is far more effective at mobilizing voters than a Republicans for Guns headquartered in the Republican National Committee building.

Each affinity group has its own agenda, whether father's rights or smoker's rights or the right to keep and bear arms. Most groups also have a party to which they are linked. Democrat A may oppose much of what group B supports, but group B may well still say "Elect A and help get us a Democratic Congress." Even if the group does not endorse candidates, a shaded presentation can make clear who its members should support.

Think tanks are as critical as simple special interest groups. A think tank -- a public policy institution -- not only provides answers, it helps phrase the questions. A liberal think tank may ask "how can we give government money to more people" while a libertarian think tank instead asks "why is government poking its nose into none of Uncle Sam's business?"

Affinity groups can be more effective than their size and funding suggests. A national affinity group collects money from across the country, but focuses those funds where it has leverage. There is considerable evidence that the affinity groups of both parties have supported efforts to crush campaigns of prominent Libertarians, because we are a potential threat to the duopoly party, and because it is easier to strange a movement while it is still in the cradle.

Affinity groups are also a bridge. They attract people who share our stand on *one issue*. Those people may disagree with our other positions, but if we agree with them where it matters to them, they may still vote for us. Also, by being in a Libertarian group, a person will eventually be exposed to the Libertarian side of other issues *by people who that person already knows and trusts.* Special interest groups thus may function as recruiting stations on the path to liberty.

We can beat the challenges created by affinity groups if we surround our Libertarian Party with affinity groups of its own. I am not saying that none of these groups exist now, but many of them are small and their numbers are limited.

For example, the National Rifle Association has regularly supported Republicans against Libertarians, even when the Libertarian had far more solid 2nd Amendment credentials. We can try to change their board's minds. This is hard. We can make links to other groups -- Gun Owners of America, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. This may be easier. In some cases, the effective path is to launch our own affinity groups.

In general, affinity groups are national in scale, with weak or intense organization on a state or lower level. With modern electronic communications, it will often be most effective to launch such a group nationally, and then grow the group downwards as it expands.

How might one launch groups:

1) Find interesting causes. Find causes on which there is a clear Libertarian stand that does not agree with either half of the duopoly party.

2) Find activists who will make the affinity group fly. This is where the National Party can be affective. It can ask for volunteers for a Libertarian Litigator's League. Alternatively, [*ask* mode, not *tell* mode] it can ask members what *they* are interested in, and see where there may be a critical mass that it can support.

3) Launch the group: Announcements, mailings, ... work. The new group should only have implicit ties to the Libertarian Party, ties arranged by making sure that the founding mothers and fathers are Libertarian themselves. The group should reach out beyond the Libertarian Party, so long as it often supports our candidates.

4) Develop the affinity group via fundraising and recruitment. A new group may need technical help, mailing lists, publicity, or some funding.

5) Finally, an effective group will support many Libertarians, and a few people of other parties, enough that Democrats and Republicans who share our one interest but are not yet Libertarians will remain comfortable.

A nearsighted point of view is that such groups should be allowed to shift for themselves, while the national party works on recruiting its own members. This view is extremely nearsighted. Affinity group structures generally take a long time to develop fully. If we want Libertarian affinity groups to be in place when we need them to help secure our victories, we need to launch and stabilize those groups in the near future. Because affinity groups generally function nationally while acting locally, it is entirely rational for the National Party to help mobilize its members, provide the seed corn funding and technical support needed for a solid launch, and cheer mightily as these independent libertarian groups take wing.

George Phillies

The Clean Slate Action Program Committee
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