While the list of advocates within Washington is too numerous to cover in great detail, there are many organizations on the right, left, and even in the center that students may wish to explore.
For example, students interested in the issue of gun control could apply for internships on either side of the debate, depending on their philosophy, and still work with some of the most influential organizations in Washington. The National Rifle Association and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence both offer legislative internships in their Washington area headquarters.
Students interested in environmental issues should consider the liberal-leaning World Wildlife Federation or Sierra Club, while those who favor a conservative philosophy on the environment could look into opportunities with a think tank or the Council of Environmental Republican Advocacy or a business organization.
There are many organizations that are also non-partisan, and that represent a professional group or other point of view. For example, the American Medical Association represents the interests of doctors before Congress and works closely with members of both parties.
Please note that it is very common for organizations with distinct agendas on both the left and the right to describe themselves as "non-partisan." While this is true in a legal sense, the fact is that many of these organizations do favor the left or the right in their activities. Students who aren't sure about an organization's true nature should cast a critical eye on its issue advocacy efforts, board of directors, and web site to determine its true leanings.
For a comprehensive list of advocacy organizations in Washington, as well as White House and Congressional staff, corporate offices and trade associations, check out the Capitol Source, which is published by the National Journal Group. It is available in Washington area bookstores and can be ordered on-line at www.njdc.com/about/capitolsource.
Examples of advocacy organizations
While many advocacy organizations are legally non-partisan, their politics can be considered different shades of liberal, conservative, or middle of the road. Below are some examples of various types of advocacy organizations and their ideological leanings.
American Heart Association: While headquarters in Dallas, the American Heart Association, like many medical groups, maintains an advocacy office in Washington, DC to lobby for greater research funding and promote legislation that encourages healthy lifestyles, such as anti-tobacco measures. It is considered a moderate organization. www.americanheart.org.
AARP: The nation's leading seniors organization is also one of the most influential advocates in the nation's capital, making its presence felt on a number of high profile issues, including Social Security, Medicare, and healthcare issues. It is generally considered a moderate organization. www.aarp.org.
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: The Brady Campaign, named after the former White House press secretary wounded during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, works to enact gun control laws and regulation through grassroots organization and campaign support to similar-minded candidates. It is considered a liberal organization. www.bradycampaign.org
Citizens for a Sound Economy: CSE fights for lower taxes, less government, and fewer regulations. It recruits and trains grass roots activists across the country to influence the economic agenda on the national, state and local levels. It is considered a conservative organization. www.cse.org
Christian Coalition: The Christian Coalition supports policies on the federal, state, and local levels that reflect its moral values. Examples include opposition to abortion and gambling and support for lower taxes, among many social and economic issues. It is considered a conservative organization. www.cc.org.
Concord Coalition: The Concord Coalition advocates for fiscal responsibility while ensuring Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid remain secure. It was founded by the late former Senator Paul Tsongas (D-MA) and former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH) and is considered a moderate organization. www.concordcoaltion.org.
National Resources Defense Council: The NRDC supports environmental protections and engages in advocacy on issues ranging from global warming to nuclear waste. It is considered a liberal organization. www.nrdc.org
National Rifle Association: The National Rifle Association provides an array of services to gun owners and is a well known legislative advocate in the nation's capital. The NRA opposes legislation that regulates gun ownership and supports candidates that agree with its positions on gun issues. It is considered a conservative organization. www.nra.org.
Common Cause: Common Cause is a strong proponent of campaign finance reform and actively lobbies to reduce the amount of money in the political process. It is considered a liberal organization. www.commoncause.org
For students more interested in a cause than a specific political agenda, or for those students who want to broaden their Washington, D.C experience beyond Capitol Hill, nearly every organization and every cause is represented in some form or another within the nation's capital. Many of these are large organizations that provide internships for students. However, please be aware that internships will vary from organization to organization: some will be well structured, others less so; many will offer pay or stipends, but many more will not; some will be smaller organizations while others will be larger and more bureaucratic. It is imperative for students to do their research.