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Democrady: Campaign Financing

Teachers may want to choose from the student activities listed below, based on how much time they may want to devote to this topic. Activities range from whole-class reading/writing assignments and discussions to group activities including use of the Internet, power point presentations, and debates. For Advanced Placement courses, teachers may wish to challenge their students with all of the assignments listed below; this unit would take two weeks to complete, but could be shortened if, for example, the film were shown after school. For regular courses, I would suggest assignments #1, #4, #7, and #8; this unit would take one week to complete.
  1. Begin the unit by showing the video, "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington." (125 minutes) This Capra film is a fictionalized account of the power of money in influencing the United States Senate in the 1939. Although this film is not explicitly about campaign financing, it illustrates the power of money in influencing legislative outcomes in Congress.(This film was controversial at the time of its release because it painted a picture of a flawed American democracy). A whole-class discussion of the film might center on the question of money in politics: to what extent do students think money plays a role in the American political process today?

  2. Have a group of three students use the Internet to research campaign contributions during the 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000 presidential and congressional elections. (It should become evident that contributions-- both hard and soft money-- from interest groups via PACs have increased significantly; this is partly due to increased costs of running campaigns, thus the need to solicit more funds, but also because interest groups have found loopholes in present law which enable them to contribute more funds than initially intended by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971). This student group could make charts or provide power point presentations showing the change in amounts of money contributed directly or indirectly to candidates. This group could ask the class to draw conclusions from the data.
  3. Suggested Internet sites: http://www.newpolitics.com, http://www.agora.stm.it/politic, http://www.abc.ccom, http://nytimes.com.

  4. A group of three students could investigate the American government's efforts over time (perhaps beginning with the 1925 Corrupt Practices Act and culminating with McCain-Feingold-Cochran) to eradicate the influence of interested money; it would be appropriate to note the impetus for these laws (Teapot Dome to the Clinton Coffees). The textbook, Government By The People, would be helpful here, or students could use the Internet. This could also be made into a power point presentation.
Essential Question & Unit
Student Activities I
Student Activities II
Student Activities II
Concluding Assignment
Teacher Commentary


Urban Dreams
OUSD Curriculum Unit
Democracy and Campaign Financing in the United States

Subject: History
Grade Level: 12th
Lesson Plan Author:
Maryann Wolfe