Effect of interest groups on political parties is debated

Josh Echt

The Republican and Democratic parties may not agree on much, but they both tend to agree on one thing: Neither party receives large amounts of influence from Portage County interest groups.

Paul H. Jones, chairman of the Portage County Democratic Central Committee, said his organization does not receive much money, either.

“We have fundraisers such as a Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, which costs $25 per person,” Jones said. Jones is also the mayor of Ravenna.

He said the Democrats do not get individual contributions from powerful citizens in the area. Jones said he has never seen an interest group contribute to any event for his local party in his three terms with the county.

“It’s wrong for anyone of any party to contribute large sums of money,” he said.

Jones’ counterpart in the Republican Party, Norman Sandvoss, also agreed.

Sandvoss, the chairman of the Portage County Republican Party Central/Executive Committee, said he does not receive large amounts of money from special groups either.

However, Sandvoss said political parties can help a candidate running for office, but there are limits on what either party can do, based on the number of contributions to the party in the first place and resultant money flow.

“If we support someone running for judge, for instance, we have to use money from a specific account.”

The party has to use funds from the judiciary fund, for instance, to support the judge’s campaign only. Sandvoss said the party can’t mix local GOP money allocated for different purposes into money meant for the judge’s campaign.

Interest groups affect national policy and local policy more than regional or county policy, said Mark Cassell, Kent State University associate political science professor.

“It’s not a regional issue because national broad-based issues take precedence,” Cassell said. Lobbyists also have more energy and money to focus their efforts on a single issue, such as the environment, at the national level, he said.

“It doesn’t take much to influence a race in a small town. Historically, churches will usually influence school boards, for instance.”

He said labor unions are weaker now compared with the past but they still have traditional influence.

However, other citizens, such as Kent councilman Edward Bargerstock and Dan Smith, Kent Chamber of Commerce executive director, said they feel interest groups do affect local city politics.

Bargerstock said interest groups are prevalent at the local level.

Bargerstock, who represents Ward 5 in the city of Kent, said local interest groups such as Kent Environmental Council and the Kent Chamber of Commerce affect politics.

Bargerstock said the Chamber of Commerce, for instance, lobbied the city’s charter review committee last summer. He said the chamber tried to persuade the committee to change council issues, such as converting the election process to a non-partisan format, as well as reducing the number of council seats from nine to seven. Bargerstock said the chamber’s proposal was voted down by council.

“I support them and what they do for Kent, but they have no business involving themselves in local politics,” Bargerstock said.

Contact public affairs reporter Josh Echt at [email protected].