I had not heard the phrase "pocket association" until I was outside the U.S. Nor was I familiar with the statement, "I have an association in my pocket."

The saying might be used by a politician or businessman to increase their perceived power or influence. If it sounds like they are seeking to increase their clout — you are right.

The associations with which I interact are legitimate. They advance a good cause or mission. They provide value. They rely on a dedicated board of directors. Their membership base is strong. And as in many countries, they are officially registered with government.

Political Influence Only

Pocket associations are not so legitimate. Most are formed to increase one’s influence.

For example, if a politician approaches a business man to inquire about support for a cause or issue, the businessman might reply, "It is a good idea, I have an association behind me to support the issue."

The businessman or politician has increased their sphere of influence by creating a group or "pocket association" for personal gain.

The members’ of the small association don’t pay dues. They are expected to be loyal to the person and his or her issue.

The politician can boast of having an association in his pocket. Similarly the business person is able to report that he or she has the support of an association. The practice serves as a cover for conflicts and transparency.

Damage Control

Illegitimate associations damage the reputation of hard working associations.

If a pocket association can influence government or an official, what power does an association that has a membership base, volunteer leadership and carefully developed positions? Members and volunteers leaders may be confused or grow leery of the unscrupulous associations used for one’s personal gain.

Pocket associations will damage the reputation of legitimate organizations and their volunteer leaders. It is good to know about the practice in order to distinguish legitimate associations.