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.

Policymaking acts as a method to freeze and preserve 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're not taking action, you're 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


Lobbying is the act of trying to persuade people in government to make decisions or support -or not 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.


To understand how legislation is passed, we must first understand the political influence that shapes our policy-making decisions.

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

Two important terms to understand: Lobbying and Super Pacs.

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.

In short, a donor loophole.

Types of Election Spending

Understanding Dark Money

Refers to money meant to influence political outcomes, but the source of the money is unknown.

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, to effectively act as a dark money loophole (because the funding cannot be traced back to the original donor).

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

for better or worse.

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), that follows 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 >

millions of politician, funding, and government facts with Vote Smart's database.

*Enter you zip at the top search bar, choose your elected official from the drop-down menu, then choose your category - >
(bio, votes, positions, ratings, speeches, funding)

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 reignited 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.


spent on lobbying pro-gun legislation


lobbyists in total


lobbyists who were former government employees


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."

Simply put: 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
























Top lobbying clients, 2019:

National Shooting Sports Foundation


National Rifle Association


National Association for Gun Rights


Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms


Gun Owners of America


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 that lawfully create power by expressing joint interest and urgency toward an issue.

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 likely have the right to also 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.

This includes 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 -- things that directly effect you and 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 your representatives, how to contact them, bills they’ve introduced, committees they serve on, & political contributions they’ve received: Access here >

View every congressional vote in American history, including info about the ideological positions of Senators and Representatives with the link below.

Are you an educator, journalist, data enthusiast, or simply curious?
You can also download Tabular + NOMINATE data, and learn how to use it!

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.


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.

Stay connected.
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