The purpose of this assignment is for you to apply knowledge about how the US government works and the ways to influence the policy process. You should choose an interest group in American politics. Here is a list of groups by issue area:
Assume you are the Executive Director. You are tasked by the Chair and Board of Directors of the interest group with outlining a legislative strategy to help got a law or policy passed that your group favors.
This will require you to pick a particular issue the group wants to turn into legislation, have a clear understanding of what motivates elected officials, particularly those in Congress, but depending on your issue, perhaps, the executive branch and/or the federal courts.
It is your task to write a strategy memo to the Chair and Board of Directors, explaining how to get passage of legislation on an issue your organization cares about.
Consider the political environment, the powers of different players, and the kind of strategies that would gain traction to get your legislation passed.
You should assume your lobbying is going to start with the new Congress (which is officially in place on January 3). Based on the elections on Nov 3, you should know soon who controls the US House and Senate, as well as the presidency. This should be the basis of your strategy.
As you know from class, it is essential to understand how the branches work, recognize the key players on this issue. For example, this might include key leaders in Congress, the congressional committees that work on your issues, other interest groups engaged on this issue, and perhaps important federal agencies). You may also need to mobilize public opinion to help you. For all these reasons, you need to address at least each of the following areas in your memo:
• Other interest groups (those who might support or oppose)
• Media and public opinion campaign
You might also want to address the Executive branch – if you think the president or one of his agencies could play a key role. (We will not expect you to talk about the federal bureaucracy too much because we did not cover it much in the course.)
We are NOT interested in knowing the details of policy so do not spend time on this. Instead, focus on the political process and the political actors each leader needs to persuade and how he/she might do this.
Based on what you have learned in the course, give careful thought to how Congress works, (and the presidency/executive branch if they are part of your strategy), the various possible roles of political parties, interest groups or the mass media in the political process.
• How should the you work with Congress on this issue? What specific actions should you take with Members?
• Which interest groups might also help you and how specifically?
• Which interest groups will be in opposition and how will you address that with counterarguments and strategies so they do not gain the upper-hand?
• What do they need to do to gain public support?
• What ways might the they attract media attention in order to persuade and mobilize support for their positions?
You do not need to do much additional reading beyond news articles about the issue. You can read some articles in the news archives about issues that your interest group espouses.
But, again, do not focus too much on the policy. The emphasis should be on the process of governing. Your other “research” consists of materials and readings we have covered in this course which show you understand the workings of institutions such as Congress, the media, public opinion, political parties, interest groups and elections. I have also provided suggestions below for where you can get information about Congress, interest groups and public opinion.
You should use in-text citations when you want to cite a reference, and include a full bibliography of materials you rely upon. When you insert an in-text citation, you should put the author’s name and date of the publication in parentheses at the end of the sentence, including the readings that have been assigned in class. Example: (Schlesinger 1973). This will demonstrate that you understand the link between the coursework and the “real world.” (Some of the assigned readings lack a date of publication, so don’t worry about inserting the date in those cases).
Papers should be typed, double-spaced, 12-point font, and one-inch margins.
Plagiarism and cheating will be punished with an “F” (possibly for the entire course), and will be reported to the University’s Academic Honesty Board. Please consult the Undergraduate Rights and Responsibilities (2003-2003) manual for the definition of plagiarism and university policy regarding academic honesty.
Finding Information about the Issue, Congress, Interest Groups, and Public Opinion
To learn a bit more about the policy areas and what different people think about it, use Google or the newspaper archives at the New York Times, Washington Post or Wall Street Journal, or news archives through DuBois library portal. The news articles will help you begin to learn which interest groups and politicians are for and against the legislation.
You should consult information about leadership in Congress and its committees. Who is responsible for this policy area in Congress? How do they feel about the issue and what incentives do they have to support the president? What are different factions in Congress (and among interest groups) that either of these leaders might use to put together coalitions?
While I suggest you start by reading about the issue in reputable newspapers, you can then start learning more about the issues and people and groups involved by going to CQ Press Library here: http://library.cqpress.com.silk.library.umass.edu. It will give you the following excellent options:
CQ Researcher Plus Archive will provide you with an overview, background section, and some chronology on the issue.
CQ Magazine has articles that will give you excellent background on the politics of the issue, namely who supports and opposes recent legislative bills on the issue. It displays the most recent magazine, but you can use the Subject Index to find more about the politics around the policy area.
Congress Collection provides analysis of members of Congress, how they vote, interest groups ratings of members, and the role of Members in crafting public policy. For similar information in different format there is Project Vote Smart: https://votesmart.org
You might also find useful public opinion data on some of these issues by looking at the Roper
Poll in LexisNexis Academic. There is free access to some information at http://www.pollingreport.com/
At start of each class I will discuss the paper. Please feel free to ask questions! And talk to your Teaching Assistants about getting help researching, organizing and writing the paper.