Moyers on America
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FOR EDUCATORS > Lesson Plan: Lobbying

This lesson is designed for Social Studies classrooms, grades 6-12.

Lesson Objectives
    By the end of this lesson, students will:
  • Brainstorm a list of strategies that citizens or organizations can use to influence the legislative process.
  • Discuss how lobbying activities might benefit a democracy.
  • Record a definition of "lobbying" and the Constitutional language protecting the right to lobby the government.
  • Analyze statistics related to dollars spent per year on professional lobbying.
  • Watch a video clip and discuss how violating U.S. House of Representatives ethics rules might affect the democratic process.
  • Write an essay describing the pros and cons of lobbying and the proper role of this practice in a democracy.
Relevant Standards

Source: "Content Knowledge" ( by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)

Civics, Standard 2: Understands the essential characteristics of limited and unlimited governments.

Level III, Benchmark 1: Knows some of the restraints placed on a limited government's power.
Civics, Standard 4: Understands the concept of a constitution, the various purposes that constitutions serve, and the conditions that contribute to the establishment and maintenance of constitutional government.
Level IV, Benchmark 2: Understands how constitutions set forth the structure of government, give the government power, and establish the relationship between the people and their government.
Civics, Standard 10: Understands the roles of voluntarism and organized groups in American social and political life.
Level IV, Benchmark 6: Knows the historical and contemporary role of various organized groups in local, state, and national politics.
Civics, Standard 15: Understands how the United States Constitution grants and distributes power and responsibilities to national and state government and how it seeks to prevent the abuse of power.
Level IV, Benchmark 1: Understands how the overall design and specific features of the Constitution prevent the abuse of power by aggregating power at the national, state, and local levels to allow government to be responsive; dispersing power among different levels of government to protect individual rights, promote the common good, and encourage citizen participation; and using a system of checks and balances.
Civics, Standard 28: Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals.
Level III, Benchmark 3: Understands how Americans can use the following means to monitor and influence politics and government at local, state, and national levels: joining political parties, interest groups, and other organizations that attempt to influence public policy and elections; voting; taking part in peaceful demonstrations; circulating and signing petitions.
Level IV, Benchmark 3: Knows the many ways citizens can participate in the political process at local, state, and national levels, and understands the usefulness of other forms of political participation in influencing public policy.
Estimated Time

One 45-minute class period Materials Needed

Method (varies by school) of showing the class video and a graph from the 'Moyers on America' Web site.

Backgrounder for Teachers

To prepare for this lesson, it is suggested that the following materials be reviewed:

Moyers on America 'Citizens Class:' Congressional Ethics

Moyers on America 'Citizens Class:' The Land of Lobby

THE WASHINGTON POST investigative report: Investigating Abramoff

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

This lesson assumes that students know how to write an essay and that they have some background on how civic participation can help them achieve specific goals.

Teaching Strategy

1. As a class, brainstorm a list of strategies that citizens or organizations can use to influence how a legislative representative votes on a particular bill. Possible responses might include collecting signatures on a petition, demonstrating, writing or calling representatives, meeting with representatives, speaking at a town hall forum, etc. Ask students what types of messages are communicated to politicians through such actions. How might these activities benefit democracy?

2. Have students note that actions that seek to influence the defeat or passage of legislation are called, "lobbying." The right to conduct such activities is guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution, which says citizens can, "petition the government for a redress of grievances."

3. Explain that frequently, lobbying activities are done by paid professionals - "lobbyists" - who understand the system and often have established relationships with key legislators. In addition to explaining to legislative representatives how potential laws might affect their clients, professional lobbyists also hope to influence the legislative process by attending or hosting fundraisers for candidates, by making political contributions and by offering other perks.

4. Show the class the graphic Paying for the Party: Top Lobbying Spending 1998-2005 ( Ask students to describe what trend they see in the table showing total dollars spent per year. Have them figure out what was spent on lobbying per month in 2005. Explain that since the year 2000, the number of registered lobbyists in Washington D.C. has doubled to nearly 35,000, which is around 65 lobbyists for every member of Congress.

5. Tell students that ethics rules govern the interactions between congressmen and lobbyists in an effort to keep these elected representatives independent of special interests. Write the following examples of these rules on the board:

  • Lobbyist-paid travel is forbidden.
  • Sponsored trips must be connected to their official duties.
  • All staffer's trips must be cleared in advance.
No gift of $50 or more may be accepted. 6. Have students watch an approximately four-minute video clip from the 'Moyers on America' program "Capitol Crimes" that shows how former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and lobbyist Jack Abramoff provided benefits for each other in an unethical manner. As students watch, have them note which ethics rules (written on the board) were violated by former Representative DeLay.

After watching the clip, discuss how former Representative DeLay's abuses of power affected the democratic process. You may also wish to let students know that Abramoff has been given a prison sentence for his corrupt lobbying activities, and that DeLay stepped down as Majority Leader after being indicted for conspiring to violate Texas campaign finance laws.

7. Conclude the activity by asking students to write an essay describing the pros and cons of lobbying and the proper role of this practice in a democracy.

Assessment Recommendations

Check student understanding of the concepts in this lesson by giving students credit for their participation in class discussions, and by grading the writing and analysis provided in their essays on lobbying.

Extension Ideas

  • For an additional example of abuse of power in the Abramoff lobbying scandal, show students an approximately eight-minute video clip from "Capitol Crimes" that shows how Abramoff and his team cheated the American Indian Tigua tribe out of millions of dollars and provided perks to another member of Congress. Discuss how the actions of those involved may have affected the democratic process.

  • Watch the entire "Capitol Crimes" program as a class and help students chart how the money flowed from Abramoff clients to himself, his friends and members of Congress. Use this 'Moyers on America' diagram as a reference.

  • Conduct an in-depth exploration of congressional ethics rules. Break students into groups and have them research and report back to the class on various subjects addressed in the Highlights of House Ethics Rules document ( Ask students to consider and explain why specific rules might exist and share their thinking. Write your representative and ask how committed he or she is to following the ethics rules.

  • Investigate the travel history of members of Congress and staff members between January 2000 and June 2005 with a report from the Center for Public Integrity ( Review key findings, view examples of incomplete disclosure forms and find out if your representative ranks as a "top traveler." Ask students to debate how congressional travel should be financed.

  • The 'Moyers on America' Web site for the program "Capitol Crimes" ( includes three Citizens Classes that provide in-depth information on congressional ethics, lobbying and government reform. Explore one or more of these topics in small groups and have students contribute to the online Class discussions.

  • Invite a lobbyist who works on issues that affect your students (e.g., school funding, immigration issues, minimum wage laws) to visit your class and discuss examples of how her lobbying efforts led to the passage or defeat of certain pieces of legislation. Allow time for a question and answer period.
Related Resources

Investigating Abramoff: A Special Report
Find the latest news, plus explanatory graphics, backgrounders and other helpful information on the Abramoff scandal from this Pulitzer Prize winning investigation.

U.S. House of Representatives: Committee on Standards of Official Conduct
Examine highlights of ethics rules, an ethics manual, as well as details from various hearings and reports.

About the Author

Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource Web site, and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

Interact: Moyers on America Citizens Class