AP US Government~lobbying and interest groups

  • Idea #1  Begin your discussion on Lobbying by showing The trailer for “Thank you for Smoking”


Ask students, based on their reading, to what extent if any this is a reasonable portrayal of a lobbyist.mThen show part of this interview with Steven Brill of Time Magazine

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/204905-5     As well as lobbying pages from OpenSecrets.org

http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/, (a website that Students need to know about for their projects)

Let students discuss the contrary images of what constitutes a “lobbyist”.

Idea #2. Students watch video with case studies of the influence of interest groups, nationally and statewide.

The “Iron Triangle” concept is nicely covered in this Annenberg CBP vidoeo,, and there are interesting accompanying activities as well.


 Idea #3 Hold a Socratic Seminar on the subject of Interest Group Pluralism and its critics.  Based on their reading of the  Chapter  their text

  • Use the following description to frame the debate  issues.

Pluralists argue that interest groups are basic to making the US system work.  They provide an essential linkage between people and their government, and since they compete, over time, no one group is likely to become too strong, Corporations have money, but public interest groups have large numbers, which translate into voter.  Besides If one group gets too much of what it wants, inevitably a group arises to countervail its influence.  Everyone one can lobby.  This is the dynamic way in which pluralism works.

  • Elite theory argues that groups and institutions looking out for themselves, and since groups are unequal in power, and large corporations are the most powerful, the little groups may win once in a while, but the corporate elite always win the war.
  • Lowi’s objection to Pluralism, which he calls “Interest Group Liberalism”, is a little more complex.  Lowi argues that pluralism might have worked in a simpler age, but  interest groups are now out of control. In an effort to please every interest, a hodgepodge of regulations, agencies, which often conflict has emerged, and the thrust is always to more.  The more groups that arise the more stuff they will ask for and get. This is no way to run a government – a government needs to plan, it needs to be sure there is justice, and “interest group liberalism” allows neither.
  • Students might be required to write a one-page statement which of these points of view holds the most merit to prepare for the seminar.

Idea #4 Have Students submit a four-page profile of a lobby group and present their findings in class.

Have students choose a lobby group, preferably one mentioned in the Patterson chapter, as the subject of a profile. and be sure that all different types of lobbying groups are represented:

Using organizations website as well as other sources, including an interest group directory, as well as an interview with someone on the staff of the group, students should answer the following questions:

What is the mission of the group? What is its history?

How many members does it have?

How many people work for the group and how is it organized?

What have been some of the major activities during the past year or so, and what have been the notable successes and/or failures.

What is the group currently concerned with? How is the group funded?

Does it hold fundraisers for political candidates?

Does the group (through its PACs) contribute to candidates?

How does the group go about getting the attention of Members of Congress or the State Legislator, or the bureaucracy that oversees their concerns?

Does the group engage in various “inside” and “outside “ strategies?

How much of its leadership is made up of former government employees?

Students might get some interesting idea about which group to study from

The activity “interest group recap” at


http://www.lobbyists.info/  (some of this is subscription based, but free trials are available)

The website of the American League of Lobbyists is also helpful at http://www.alldc.org/


Whatever group students choose to study they will find a website with basic information, phone numbers etc. And search for other news on the web. They should also call the lobbying group they have chosen to ask some of these questions,

Have students share the results of their findings in class, and it’s wise to let them know ahead of time that their class presentation will be part of their final grade.

In sharing their reports, students will touch on all the different sorts of interest groups, as well as the sorts of activities they engage in.

 Idea #5 In-class writing and worksheets on PACs.  This lesson plan from the Youth Leadership Initiative has some engaging exercises regarding PACs and also has informative articles about PACS from Larry Sabato, Fred Wertheimer and others.   The lessons could be used as is or as the basis for a spontaneous or planned debate on the role played by PACs in our political system.   “Special Interest Groups and Political Action Committees Influences on the Political Process” at http://www.youthleadership.net


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