Teaching the 2016 Election: Money in Politics, Part II

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar and Barb Laimins, Teacher Mentor Liaison

On Monday, we framed the issue of money in politics from both the perspective of both the First Amendment and its impact of democratic governance. We return today with a plethora of trusted resources to teach the complicated, yet critical subject of campaign finance in the context of the 2016 Election.

The Sunlight Foundation’s OpenSecrets.org has long been our go-to site for information on fundraising and expenditures for federal candidates. It offers a run-down of federal races by state, including Illinois’ Senate contest between the incumbent Senator Mark Kirk (R) and his challenger Tammy Duckworth (D, IL-8).

In clicking on any of the contested congressional races (i.e., IL-10), OpenSecrets provides real-time data on money raised, spent, and current cash on-hand. It also includes a report on outside expenditures intended to affect the outcome of the race, distinguishing by the ideological bearing of the group and whether the spending is supportive of a candidate, in opposition to his or her opponent, or both.

Specific to the presidential contest, the Washington Post has produced this powerful infographic on Clinton vs. Trump in head-to-head money raised.

Used with permission from the Washington Post. See the full article

OpenSecrets’ companion in Illinois is the Sunshine database published by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR). Most useful in this election cycle is the side-by-side candidate comparisons for candidates in competitive legislative races (plus the special election for Comptroller). We also recommend signing up for weekly emails from ICPR as they further mine campaign finance data and account for weekly cash flows.

Framing the issue of campaign finance more broadly, PBS developed the following inquiry for students to explore “How Americans can achieve genuine campaign finance reform without jeopardizing freedom of expression?”

Similarly, CSPAN employs video clips demonstrating various perspectives on campaign finance reform as students develop their own views. And this extension delves into the infamous 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Case Citizens United v. FEC.

Probing further in the post-Citizens United universe, the New York Times created this lesson on the Super PAC’s the decision spawned, utilizing a structured academic controversial framed around the question: “Should wealthy individuals and organizations be allowed to engage in unlimited spending to influence elections?”

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