Social Mobilization and How Constituents Influence Policy

The public, individually, or through creation of groups, has the power to influence politicians and policy. There are many methods for companies and the public to influence government and for politicians to influence the public.

Campaign Funds

In this video CNN's Tom Foreman explains how presidential hopefuls spend money

Candidates need money in order to run campaigns and win elections. Campaigns involve cash outlays for advertising, media, communications, travel, and staff. Because candidates need money, constituents hold a considerable amount of power. Constituents offer money based upon what a candidate says she will do in relation to a constituent’s interests. The Federal Election Commission is responsible for overseeing the finances that are raised for elections and is charged with making this information available to voters. This agency was developed in 1975 and its purpose is to support transparency and administer and enforce campaign finance law. After all, an accounting of who a candidate’s donors are is telling information about the candidate’s positions.

This video provides an overview of the Federal Election Commission and the law it administers.

Individual Contributions

Individuals consistently contribute to candidates, either intentionally or unintentionally. Some of the money that supports elections comes through taxes. The presidential funding campaign matches up to $250 that a candidate receives from each individual during the primary campaign. Public funding is also available during the general election. Individuals have the option to contribute to the election fund when they complete their tax return form. Individuals may intentionally choose to donate to the campaign of their favorite candidate with small or large contributions. They may do this because they believe in the candidate or they are hoping that the candidate will return a favor to them or support their cause at some point in the future.

Presidential campaigns are not the only place where donations occur, that US legislative races do not have matching funds, and every state has a different campaign finance laws that alter the ability of contributions to influence policy outcomes.

Political Action Committees

PACs stands for Political Action Committees. They were developed in 1944 to support the election of (i.e. raise money for) a particular candidate. There are many types of PACs and all fall under the oversight of the FEC. Some are associated with particular labor unions, corporations, or trade organizations. Other PACs are not associated with a business and are called nonconnected PACs. A PAC is not necessarily a partisan organization. Many PACs contribute to multiple parties. Below is a table with a list of top PACS and the percentage they donated to each party.

Top 20 PAC Contributors to Candidates, 2019-2020

Video discusses difference between PACs and super PACs, two powerful vehicles in the campaign finance landscape.

Super PACS

Super PACs are more controversial and came about because of a lawsuit filed by Citizens United against the FEC. Citizens United claimed that campaign finance restrictions limited freedom of speech in violation of the first Amendment to the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, asserting that the federal government cannot limit the fundraising activities of corporations, unions, or individuals for a particular candidate.

Super PACs can raise as much money as they want to raise for a candidate but are not supposed to coordinate with campaigns or parties, accept or raise money from international or foreign entities, and still must register and report their fundraising results to the FEC. SuperPACs do not need to report donors or donation amounts, only their spending According to, Super PACs spent millions in the first election in which they could function (2012) and were reported to have spent $1.4 billion in the 2016 election.

Since the Citizens United ruling and the formation of Super PACs, there have also followed fundraising efforts by unidentified groups that are not registered as PACs or Super PACs. They are unknown sources of funding and often involve nonprofit 501(c) groups or social organizations. They can spend an unlimited amount of money for a particular candidate, like Super PACs, but they are not required to disclose any information to the FEC about their donations or campaign spending. This means that their source of funding is unknown. These groups spend a great deal to influence elections, all under the public’s radar.

Video breaks down Campaign Finance Reform and the Citizens United decision from the Supreme Court case "Citizens United vs FEC"

Social Mobilization

Data is also available that shows how different sectors and industries have contributed to political parties. Several groups contributed equally to both parties such as real estate, retired people, securities and investment, health professionals and finance. Other groups contributed more to one party than the other. For example, the education, environment, and law sectors primarily contributed to Democrats. Oil and gas, retail and insurance sectors contributed more to the Republican party Issue networks are groups of individual or interests groups who collaborate towards a shared agenda. The Iron Triangle is the most common method used and is a process by which communication is shared between the interest groups, bureaucracies, and Congress and then back and forth.

Video provides 6 minute explanation of Iron Triangles.

Everyday citizens are able to come together and use mobilization and movements to raise awareness of issues and impacts public policy by bringing together all the various influencers to provide additional pressure. By mobilizing, the legislators are more accountable to the people. Social media has been a tremendous tool in social mobilization.

Examples of social mobilization movements in US

1775 American Revolution

1820 Temperance Movement 1830 The Abolition Movement 1848 Women’s Right Movement 1920 Prohibition Movement 1930 Labor Movement 1950 Environmental Movement 1955 Civil Rights Movement 1962 Equal Rights Movement 2013 Black Lives Matter

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