Former Majority Leader Tom DeLays grass-roots group was one of thousands still able to collect tax-exempt donations long after closing down. The IRS changed that in June.
Solar Action Inc. began in the 1970s to pressure the Jimmy Carter administration to adopt renewable technologies. In 1978, the group led a nationwide celebration of solar energy with millions of participants. News reports said 20,000 people gathered near the Washington Monument, which served as a giant sundial.
"It created a little boom, in the aftermath of which Congress started increasing year after year the renewable energy budget," Denis Hayes, who ran the nonprofit, told Roll Call.
The group splintered after the event, and its lobbying arm, Solar Lobby, failed to gain traction.
"We did not have enough force at the Solar Lobby at the time when the Reagan administration was deregulating," said Hayes, who continues to promote renewable energy today as president of the Bullitt Foundation.
Like Hayes, Mark Hopkins of Spacecause has remained involved with his subject. He currently serves as head of the National Space Society, but he launched Spacecause in the 1980s as a grass-roots lobbying arm to promote space exploration and federal investment in space programs.
While trying to save the space station program, Spacecause members sent 40,000 letters to the White House — enough to get noticed in the pre-Internet era. But Hopkins has since changed his mind about the effectiveness of grass-roots advocacy.
"One of the things I discovered when I was doing grass-roots lobbying was that [public relations] is extremely important," he said. "We found that Congress actually pays more attention to what happens in the press than to the letters they receive."
Lack of money, rather than a shift in strategy, led to the end for other groups on the list.
John Cross ran the Citizens Committee on Paperwork Reduction, which successfully pressured Congress for the 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act before disbanding. He said his coalition of anti-regulation business groups could have accomplished much more.
But, as it goes for many in the sector, the funds dried up.
"There were a lot of things we would have liked to have done but couldn't," Cross said.