History of PAG

Origins

Political Advocacy Groups started in 1998 by Kathi Carlisle Fountain, who at the time was a librarian at Creighton University. The site was inspired by CQ Press's now-defunct Public Interest Group Profiles book and the birth of the Internet. Initially, the site's purpose was to list the organizations included in Public Interest Group Profiles that had websites. Over time it grew to include other groups not represented in that directory with a primary focus on "cause lobbyists." As defined by Alan Rosenthal in his 1993 book The Third House: Lobbyists and Lobbying in the States, a "cause lobbyist" advocates for or against a particular cause like environmentalism or feminism instead of on behalf of a corporation. The Political Advocacy Groups list included "cause lobbyists" that personally contacted, pressured, and/or "educated" representatives; conducted and disseminated policy-oriented research; organized grassroots citizen activism; or provided financial resources to Congressional candidates.

Like the reference book that inspired it, Political Advocacy Groups developed as a tool to assist students who needed to research interest groups for their political science and civics classes using the Internet. It provided essential directory information, a web link, an email link, and the group's mission statement. These listing were arranged into subject categories, most of which survive intact or with new titles in this edition.

The reach of the online version brought with it positive attention from around the country and the globe. In December of 1998, Political Advocacy Groups received an endorsement from the Scout Report for the Social Sciences as one of the top Internet resources for social sciences, alongside websites developed by Encyclopaedia Britannica, the State Department, and UNESCO staff. It was widely linked by fellow government documents librarians, teachers and faculty, American embassies, textbook companion websites, and nonprofits. In 2000, Bruce Pencek, now of Virginia Tech, called it a "superior starting point for profiling American interest groups." [1]  

Second Edition

Between 1998 and 2001, Ms. Fountain continued to edit, update, and add organizations to Political Advocacy Groups from her new position as a librarian at California State University, Chico. The site underwent a thorough review for scope in order to make overall site management easier. In January 2001, about 30 organizations were withdrawn because they were neither Congressionally-focused or "cause lobbyists." Only the organizations included in the Public Interest Law category escaped editorial review, but the list was frozen at that time.

Ms. Fountain later undertook a project to add information to help site vistors understand the relative influence of a single interest group. In 2002, she picked two indictors of influence to add to Political Advocacy Groups. The first noted whether the interest group assigned grades to the performance of Congressional members as a way to influence the members and their supporters' votes. 

The second indicator attempted to measure the relative profile of interest groups in the media. Using Academic Universe, later called Lexis/Nexis Academic, Ms. Fountain searched each group for a two year period in "major newspapers." The first data collection occured in 2002 and it captured 2000-2002 citations. The second data collection took place in 2006 to cover 2004-2006.

Third Edition

Political Advocacy Groups sat dormant after Ms. Fountain's move to Washington State University Vancouver's Library in 2008. She brought on two colleagues as partners in the project in 2011: Roger Kosson of Denison University and Emily Keller of the University of Washington. These two excellent political science librarians joined the editorial team and reinvigorated life into the project.

In Spring 2012, Ms. Fountain applied for and received a mini-grant from Washington State University Vancouver to overhaul and update Political Advocacy Groups. As of this writing, site data migration to Drupal is nearly complete and data collection is underway.

We envision the new edition of Political Advocacy Groups as a revitalized tool for citizens, students, and scholars alike. We are researching more than 1000 interest groups that represent the "cause lobbyists" the site is known for, but we are also explicitly including other influential nonprofits like trade organizations, unions, and professional groups. By examining the visibility of organizations at Congressional hearings or in the media, their operating budgets and disclosed lobbying expenses, and tax status, we plan to arrive at a list of "top interest groups" in Congressional politics. We plan to launch our new list in 2013. We invite you to join us.