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Topics on the Page
Interest Groups
  • Labor Unions
  • The National Rifle Association (NRA)
Political Action Committees

Interest Groups

Terry O'Neill, National Organization of Women (NOW)
Terry O'Neill, National Organization of Women (NOW)

  • Also called "special interest groups" or "pressure groups"
  • Generally formal groups
  • Formed over shared beliefs on issues
  • Attempt to influence public policy or benefit themselves
  • Often a source of political donations
    Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum
  • Use "lobbying" as a means of reaching their goals
    • Use pressure or other means to convince policy makers to pass legislation benefiting them or their cause
  • There are a variety of interest groups:
    • Economic
      • Aim to improve the economy
      • Include:
        • Labor groups
        • Professional groups
        • Business groups
        • Farm groups
    • Cause
      • Aim to benefit a particular value
      • Include:
        • Veterans' groups
        • Religious organizations
        • Disability support

Click here for a list of Special National Interest Groups from Project VoteSmart. Searchable by state and issue.
  • Check out some of the groups that are related to LGBTQ issues, racial justice issues, and more.

Multimedia.pngClick here for a Crash Course video on Interest Groups, and here for another Crash Course video on the formation of Interest Groups.

Labor Unions

rotating gif.gifFor more on the history of labor unions, see United States History II.5

New York City Transit Strike Notice, 2005
New York City Transit Strike Notice, 2005

Female_Rose.pngWomen Workers and Unions, John Schmitt and Ncole Woo, Center for Economic and Policy Research (December, 2013).
  • The report found that women who belong to labor unions earn 12.9% more ($2.50 an hour) than women who are not unionized.
    • Women in unions are 36.8% more likely to have health insurance provided by employers; 54.3% more likely to have a retirement plan.
  • Women accounted for 45.9% of total union membership in 2012; by 2023 the majority of American union workers will be women.
    • Total union membership continues to decline for both men and women.

Lesson Plans

  • Click here for a lesson plan on interest groups from iCivics
    • Click here for a lesson plan on interest groups and the media
      • Click here for a lesson plan on interest groups from CongressLink
external image National_Rifle_Association_of_America_logo.png
The National Rifle Association (NRA)
  • Co-founded in 1871 by Civil War General Ambrose Burnside
  • Original goal to promote better marksmanship (Burnside said only one in 10 soldiers could "hit the broadside of a barn."
  • Harlan Carter became NRA leader in 1977
  • NRA has five million members in 2018

Institute for Legislative Action is the NRA's lobbying arm

Five Charts That Show How Powerful the NRA Is, Business Insider (February 20, 2018)

NRA Rewrites Fairy Tales with More Firearms, Less Bloodshed, NPR (March 25, 2016)

Political Action Committee (PAC)

Just 158 Families have Provided Nearly Half the Early Money for Efforts to Capture the White House, The New York Times, October 11, 2015

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 11.31.41 AM.pngCitizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)

  • Organizations that collect and donate funds to political candidates
  • Can be formed by corporations, labor unions, trade unions, and various groups or people
  • Widely used in elections in the House of Representatives and the US Senate
  • The first PAC was formed in 1944
    Example of a PAC. The Million Muslim March was an event planned to raise awareness.
    • The Congress of Industrial Organizations
    • Formed to reelect President Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • The Federal Election Campaign Act was enacted in 1971
    • Restrict the donation amount a person, group, or corporation could give
    • Intended to reduce the amount of influence money held on elections
    • However, PAC simply began seeking smaller amounts from more people
    • After the Act, the number of PACs increased
      • About 600 PACs in early 1970s
      • More than 4,000 by 2010
  • Traditionally, PACs were created by businesses or unions
  • Today, there are many types of PACs
    • Leadership PACs are established by politicians who are seeking higher office or are hoping to raise more money for their political party

Super PACs

  • Established in 2010 by the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
    • No limit on the amount of money a person could give a PAC
    • No limit on the amount of money a union or corporation could give a PAC
  • Not permitted to coordinate activities with candidates or campaigns
  • As of 2012, there were 593 registered Super PACs

Click here for a list of Super PACs and their contributions.
Ellen Weintraub, Chair, Federal Election Commission

Click herefor a FAQ on PACs from the Federal Election Commission.

Click here for a quiz on PACs and Super PACs from HowStuffWorks

  • Click here for a video from NowThis about Super PACS
    • Click here for comedian Stephen Colbert announcing his Super PAC
      • Click here for "PACs: What Are They?" from Civics in a Minute
        • Click here for CBS Evening News' story on Super PACs and Blurring Election Lines
          • Click here for a video conversation from Vox about whether Super PACs should be legal?
  • Click here for a lesson plan on campaign spending and PACs from PBS.
    • Click here for the lesson plan "Follow the Money" from the New York Times.

1. Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/290136/interest-group
2. Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/467577/political-action-committee-PAC
3. ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/super-pac-short-history/story?id=16960267