Power & Public Policy

Think of power like water. It flows like a current through everyday life. Politics is the work of harnessing that flow in the direction you prefer. Policy making is a method to freeze and perpetuate a particular flow of power. Policy is power frozen.

Power is never static. It’s always either accumulating or decaying in a civic setting. So if you are not taking action, you are being acted upon.

Good news? You're more powerful than you think.

Quick refresh with the classic Schoolhouse Rock song: I'm Just a Bill.

Government 101

Donors

Strategic donors seek friendly access to lawmakers on a host of issues. Major bills often take years to grind through the legislative process.

To understand how legislation is passed, we must first understand the political influence that shapes our policy-making decisions. There are two important terms to understand:

Lobbying

Lobbying is the act of trying to persuade governments to make decisions or support something. Lobbying can be done by many sorts of people, alone or in groups. Often it is done by big companies or businesses. These people are called lobbyists.

Super Pacs

Organizations known as political action committees (PACs) were formed after legislation added labor unions to the earlier, 1907 prohibition on corporate contributions to federal campaigns. When unions, trade organizations, and other special interests could no longer contribute directly to parties and campaigns, they created voluntary associations (PACs) that raised funds from individual members specifically for candidates.

Types of Election Spending

Understanding Dark Money

Refers to money meant to influence the political outcomes, where the source of the money is not disclosed.

Not all outside groups are required to disclose their donors, these non-disclosing organizations are referred to as Dark Money groups.

Organizations filed as a 501(c)(4) are not legally obligated to report the source of their donations. These groups, along with Shell corporations,
can then filter unlimited amounts of money back to Super PACs; effectively acting as a dark money loophole, when/if, funding cannot be traced back to the original donor.

Dark money groups have spent roughly $1 billion — mainly on television and online ads and mailers — to influence elections in the decade since the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court.

Soft Money: outside political spending


In 1979, national, state and local political parties began directly funding "party-building" expenses that weren't, at first, tied to a particular campaign. At the federal level, unlimited donations from corporations and unions — sources of funding that were otherwise prohibited — began to flow in.

Hard Money: Traditional Election Spending
Money contributed directly to a specific candidate from an individual or a political action committee (PAC) and follow the rules set by the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Explore the Federal Spending Landscape

See the rich, detailed documents each agency submits to Congress to justify its annual budget request; how spending is divided by agency; and how that spending is then categorized across type, service, or item.
Access here >

Access millions of politician, funding, and government facts with Vote Smart's database:
Access here >

Public Policy


Broadly speaking, public policy is simply what government (any public official who influences or determines public policy, including school officials, city council members, county supervisors, etc.) does or does not do about a problem that’s presented for consideration and possible action.

Lobbying Explained: Data Visualization Showcasing the Corporate Gun Lobby

An upward trend in the number of mass shootings has fueled an emotional debate about gun rights. Using data visualization, we highlight the financial donations made to Congress by corporate gun lobbies. We can begin to see the influence of big money on our elected officials, who subsequently create the legislation that then becomes law.

Data pulled from the Center for Responsive Politics.

$10,803,360

spent on lobbying pro-gun legislation

54

lobbyists in total

29

lobbyists who were former government employees

53.7%

of lobbyists who were former government employees

Top Contributors: Republicans vs. Democrats, 2019:

National Shooting Sports Foundation

National Rifle Association

Safari Club International

National Association for Gun Rights

Dallas Safari Club

Why this is important:

Revolving door: the common practice of government regulators, Congressional staff and even members of Congress taking new jobs with lobbying firms and private sector organizations that, in many cases, they used to oversee. Those who go the other direction, from private sector to positions in the government are sometimes called "reverse revolvers." Laymen’s terms: We begin to see how major conflicts of interest (money + friends in high places & public to private sector crossover) can influence the Halls of Congress (where our laws are made).

Gun Rights Lobbying by Parties 1998-2020

Democrats

Republicans

$2,000,000

$0

$2,000,000

$4,000,000

$6,000,000

1990

1992

1994

1996

1998

2000

2002

2004

2006

2008

2010

2012

2014

2016

2018

2020

Top lobbying clients, 2019:

National Shooting Sports Foundation

$4,830,000

National Rifle Association

$3,220,000

National Association for Gun Rights

$1,490,934

Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms

$390,495

Gun Owners of America

$376,931

Know your rights:
Conoce tus derechos

From letter-writing parties to peaceful protests to attending a city council meeting, organizing an event is an easy way to bring your friends and neighbors together to take action and advocate for an issue relevant to your community.

I'm Attending a Peaceful Protest

Leer en español >

I'm Organizing a Peaceful Protest

Leer en español >

A vocal mass of people creates power by expressing joint interest and urgency to an issue and by upholding legitimacy. Think of the Arab Spring, or the rise of the Tea Party.

Your rights are strongest in what are known as “traditional public forums,” such as streets, sidewalks, and parks. You also likely have the right to speak out on other public property, like plazas in front of government buildings, as long as you are not blocking access to the government building.

Private property owners can set rules for speech on their property. The government may not restrict your speech if it is taking place on your own property or with the consent of the property owner.

Counter protesters also have free speech rights. Police must treat protesters and counter protesters equally.
Police are permitted to keep opposing groups separated, but should allow them to be within sight and sound of one another.

When you are lawfully present in any public space, you have the right to photograph anything in plain view, including federal buildings and the police.

You don’t need a permit to march in the streets or on sidewalks, as long as marchers don’t obstruct car or pedestrian traffic. If you don’t have a permit, police officers can ask you to move to the side of a street or sidewalk to let others pass or for safety reasons.

What is a legislative visit?

A leg (legislative/lobby) visit is simply a meeting with your elected official(s) to discuss what you/others in the community think about a certain issue (or bill), in order to get them to take action, on that particular issue.

Our officials are elected by us to represent us in Congress (where most laws are enacted). In order for our elected officials to accurately represent us, they must hear our voices and understand where their constituents (aka us/voters) stand on any given issue.

Consider this: If you knew lobbyists were meeting with your representatives -on the reg- to advocate for the interests of large corporations - that directly effect you /your community - would you want to be a part of that conversation?

Follow the money: Campaign finance data >

Tips on meeting your elected officials

From your local city council to your Senators in Washington, meeting with your elected officials about civil liberties issues is a lot easier than most people think. Remember, our legislators work for us! Check out the resources below to help plan your meeting.

Please don't hesitate to reach out to us for further support and guidance, including access to multi-lingual resources.

ACLU Multi-Lingual "Know Your Rights!" Pamphlets.
View the pamphlets using Acrobat Reader in the following languages:

English | Spanish | Arabic | Urdu | Hindi | Punjabi | Farsi | Somali

Follow the money: Tracking donation data >

Find you rep using the tool to the left and get issue-specific talking points with the link below

Enter your zip code and you'll see your representative's contact info listed to the left. In the center, select an issue from the drop-down.

Access here >

Subscribe to Bill Alerts

As of February 2020 bill tracking & subscriptions are in open beta. This power user feature lets you easily track all legislation that has been introduced on a given topic as well as subscribe to updates on existing bills.

Subscribe here >

Get Involved.

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How we operate:

As our position is focused on co-creating solutions, our approach champions effective altruism. We believe people should have the ability to donate passionately across multiple causes but effectively within these causes to produce the most consequential outcomes.

Collective action on any social issue requires attention to the ways digital regulations influence and shape every other policy domain. Often we see a fragmented or independent set of influences or individuals as the culprit toward exasperating an issue, however, to create solutions within a digital-dependent society, we have to address the fact that these digital systems are owned and managed by corporate and government entities. The need for a transparent and regulated code of ethics, as the baseline for digital development and intent of use, is absolutely necessary toward scaled social solutions.

Our fundraising is three-pronged. Please do not hesitate to reach out directly for a more comprehensive breakdown of each fundraising objective. In addition to a monthly donor report, we will host an open Zoom session each month to review these reports and speak candidly to these goals and produced outcomes.

Prong 1. Digital rights advocacy and protection.

Combatting disinformation and increasing digital and media literacy.

A lack of connection is one of the main contributing problems towards the isolation of communities and the acceptance of reality and facts. Communities need reliable, accurate news and access to factual information that creates the opportunity for dialogue, reflection, and informed decision-making.

By addressing the evolution of key digital systems, and developing a common understanding of practices used in such, we'll begin to shed light on the addictive and intentionally-designed digital tactics used to curate our google results, social media feed, and the ads we see. Underscoring the need to rethink how we consume and share information, the goal is to bring awareness, trigger a moment of pause, and stir curiosity towards confronting our digital addictions and the subsequent repercussions of such.

Up first:

A. Awareness towards the rise of ISP (internet service provider) and media monopolies over our local and regional news.

B. The need to advocate for transparent ethical standards in behavioral analysis, predictive analytics, responsible data collection, including corporate and government commitments toward the funding of ethical data infrastructure.

The plan, in-part:

Increased collaboration across organizations and issue areas to levy an awareness campaign that brings attention to digital problems by reinforcing the interconnected threats to our collective communities, particularly within marginalized and rural communities. We often may overlook the relationship between algorithms and socio-economic, environmental, and public health issues, but by organizing collective power through a shared goal, we have an opportunity to push for real change.

Partnerships with tech leaders within the social impact sectors, and creating an open-communication access point between our campaign and experts in the digital protection and national security space.

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