Case Study: “Open Secrets”
Often our political system is criticized for a lack of transparency. Conspiracies are proffered of shadowy interest groups and billionaire donors controlling the system. However, much of the information concerning the funding of, and spending by, candidates, interest groups, and their respective donors is a matter of public record. Most people simply don’t know about or take the time to do this research.
The purpose of this case study is to familiarize you with the process of searching out this information from reliable sources.
The information is out there, you have to look it up. As we look at this information consider the following questions:
- Could this information be clearer?
- What do you need to know to be able to understand this info?
- How has what you learned so far in this course helped you understand this information?
We can find a bit about the funding and spending of recent presidential candidates. One such website is:
Another is from the Federal Elections Commission:
Explore the various links on these sites. Click on a Candidate’s name for more specific information about their funding and spending. Are you able to find information about how much they’ve raised, who they’ve raised that money from, and how they have spent it?
If not, feel free to ask your instructor for help.
We can also use these websites to find out about various interest groups.
For example, Planned Parenthood:
Or, Planned Parenthood’s Political Action Committee:
Or, Right to Life:
Or, National Right to Life’s Political Action Committee:
Information about these interest groups and other can also be found at the Federal Election Commission’s website via, the “Campaign Finance Disclosure Portal”:
It is important to note that these examples primarily concern the federal level. Remember states have control over their own state and local elections. A product of federalism is that each state has different requirements and reporting methods. 50 states means 50 different sets of rules. Check with your specific state election authority (typically your state’s Secretary of State) for information about political groups operating to influence politics in your state or local government.
Doing this type of research into political funding and spending is made more complex because interest groups are often made of a network of 501(c)3 non-profit organizations, 501(c)4 non-profit organizations, and other Political Action Committees at both the national and state levels. Sometimes it can help to lookup information based on an organization’s Federal Employer Identification Number.
This type of research can be very challenging but very rewarding. This case study is also an example of using primary sources as much of this information is public record. Primary sources are original or historical texts. They are not the words of another (for example, what you would read in a text book), therefore they are more reliable than secondary sources.
Have you ever played the game telephone? Someone starts a message and tries to relay it to you through several other people before it hits your ears. When you finally do hear the message it often is very different from the original. Instead of getting our information via intermediaries, using primary sources is like getting the message straight from the origin in our telephone game.
Remember, primary research is better than relying on someone else’s word of mouth.
Consistent with Madison’s ideas in Federalist #10, an important part of controlling interest groups and candidates is making sure that the public and competing groups and candidates have free access to this funding and spending information.
American Government I
Party Platform Creation Activity
This week we learned about the important functions of political parties. You also had the opportunity to browse the Democratic and Republican Party platforms for your reading. In this activity, pretend you are in charge of your own political party and write a platform for your political party.
Your platform and reflection essay should be at least 500 words long and address the following:
Part 1 – Your Platform
- Name your party.
- Identify and describe one domestic policy that your party would believe in. Give a paragraph description of that domestic policy. Be very detailed and specific in your description. (Domestic policy is anything that impacts how we live our lives within the borders of our nation.)
- Identify and describe one specific economic policy that your party would believe in. Give a paragraph description of that economic policy. Be very detailed and specific in your description. (Economic policy is all those policies that impact the distribution and exchange of property, wealth, and capital. Think about things that impact money and how much you have and how you can make more.)
- Identify and describe one specific foreign policy that your party would believe in. Give a paragraph description of that foreign policy. Be very detailed and specific in your description. (Foreign policy is how this nation interacts with other nations.)
Part 2 – Reflection Essay
Write an essay in which you compare and contrast each of your three policies, one at a time, to similar policies from the platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties. How are your policies similar to the policies of the two major parties? How your policies different from the policies of the two major parties? Be specific and include specific examples. Conclude your comparison and contrast essay by discussing which of the two major parties your political party most similar to?
Don’t forget to include a reference list.
Please note: APA formatting and citations rules apply to this and all essays in this course.
As with all weekly written assignments, submit your work as an attached file. Double-space your paper and use 12 point Times New Roman as your font.