Week 4 Graded Assignment: PACs and Interest Groups
Part I. Introduction
There is a vast “shadow government” in Washington D.C., and it is part of the political developments happening in American politics since the Constitution was ratified. Political Action Committees (PACS) and interest groups have extensive contacts within the formal power of the government to influence policies and elections.
Citizen participation is the essence of a democracy. Going to see your member of Congress is the First Amendment in action. It is petitioning the government and exercising the right of free speech. It allows people to connect with politics. Some feel that PACs and interest groups have too great an influence on politics. Others contend that citizens’ voices are represented by interest groups and PACs. These groups help express the ideas of the entire community.
The idea of an interest group comes from a practice in the 1860s when citizens would meet politicians at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. Today, PACs and interest groups have enormous influence, which tend to overpower and push aside the interests of the citizens.
The financial interests of PACs donate money and attempt to influence campaigns, elections, and decisions. After an election, PACs have a greater chance than ordinary citizens to meet members of Congress and to push their agendas.
PACs and interest groups operate in the following ways: a) by targeting people in the highest levels of decision-making, b) educating decision-makers about a perspective on an issue or a piece of legislation, and c) engaging in election activities, such as making campaign contributions, making robo-calls, sending emails, and meeting politicians.
There are two kinds of PACs and interest groups. One type are united around economic interests- formed to promote the interests of a group. For example, the American Medical Association (doctors), the American Bar Association (Lawyers) the National Educational Association (teachers), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and the United Auto Workers (UAW) are all economic groups. There are also the National Football League Players Association, and (believe it or not) the National Potato Chip Council.
The second type of PAC and interest group are those united around a single issue: The National Rifle Association and the second amendment, Ducks Unlimited and the environment and water management, and The National Geographic Society and exploration, research and education.
With voter apathy and the negative tone in politics, many blame the PACs and interest groups for the decline in participation in government. Others say interest groups do, in fact, represent them and their perspectives. By anybody’s measure, PACs and interest groups are a vital and influential part of our political landscape.
Part II. Video from Democracy in America
Directions: View the video (3 parts) and then answer the questions in complete sentences.
(***If the hyperlink does not open, copy and paste the link into your Internet browser, and it WILL OPEN!)
Segment 1: The Battle Over Crusader (1:02-9:00)
Most interest groups try to advance the economic interests of their members. Because their members have a strong economic incentive to unite, they are likely to be well-funded organizations that can employ lobbyists and PACs. The interaction among Congress members, organized interest groups, and institutions during policy-making is sometimes referred to as an iron triangle. The battle over the Crusader weapons system presents an example of how one economic interest group used its resources to influence government policy.
- Question: How does the battle over the Crusader weapons system show the Iron Triangle in action?
My answer: This shows the Iron Triangle in action by
- Question: What kind of tactics did United Defense use to fend off efforts to kill the Crusader?
Segment 2: Organizing From the Heart: The Battle Over Reauthorization of the 1996 Welfare Reform Law (9:03-16:13)
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Act. The act cut the number of people on welfare and established conditions for receiving welfare benefits. However, poverty was on the rise and some states could not afford the payments to the welfare rolls. In 2002, President Bush further reduced the number of citizens on welfare, without increasing the money for job transportation, child support, or educational and retraining programs. At that point citizens formed an interest group: National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support.
- Question: Identify and explain TWO tactics that National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support used to promote its interests and to educate decision makers.
Segment 3: David and Goliath Go at It Again: The South Pasadena Freeway Fight (16:20-25:06)
This segment shows the battle between CALTRAN (California Department of Transportation) and the residents of South Pasadena, California. CALTRAN planned for many years to have a highway through the middle of South Pasadena, and community protests began. Citizens formed an interest group and united with the Sierra Club (a national environmental group) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to force CALTRAN to provide an environmental impact statement, which basically scrapped the freeway plan.
- Question: What kinds of tactics did the Anti-Meridan group use to fight the freeway?
- Question: What do you think has motivated these people to keep up the fight over a couple of generations?
Part III. Application: Political Cartoon Analysis
Directions: Study the cartoon and answer the two questions in complete sentences. Use the “PACs and Interest Groups Additional Resources” folder for more information on PACs and interest groups (if needed)
- Question: What are the symbols used in the cartoon? What do the symbols represent?
- Question: What is the artist’s main idea about the subject of PACs and interest groups in politics?