Civics and Government: GED Test Prep (page 3)

Updated on Jul 5, 2011

Interest Groups, Lobbyists, and PACs

Voting and elections are not the only way to influence the American political system. Citizens often band together around common causes and goals to form interest groups. These groups work to influence the government on a particular issue or set of related issues. Interest groups include the National Rifle Association, which promotes firearms rights; the National Association of Advancement for Colored People (NAACP), which promotes a slate of issues that affect the African-American community; the United Auto Workers (UAW), a union championing the interests of employees of automobile manufacturing plants; the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), which opposes abortion rights; and many, many others. Groups representing businesses, workers, religious groups, racial and ethnic groups, and even the interests of foreign governments all attempt to influence how American government operates.

One of the main ways in which interest groups influence the government is through lobbyists. Lobbyists are professional representatives of interest groups. Their job is to convince legislators to write, endorse, and pass bills; to channel political donations to candidates who support their causes; to file court actions that protect and represent their group's goals; and to operate public relations campaigns to sway the American public to their side of an issue.

Because political campaigns are extremely expensive, candidates for office must spend a lot of time fund-raising. Political action committees (PACs) are groups of people united around a special interest or a set of issues. They raise money and donate to the campaigns of those candidates who champion their goals. PACs operate under certain restrictions designed to keep them from exerting too much influence over elections, but they are quite powerful all the same. So too are 527 groups, named after the clause in the federal tax code that allows them to operate under tax-free status. These groups have fewer spending restrictions but may spend only on campaigns to promote specific issues; they may not run advertisements for or against a particular candidate. Some 527 groups have found loopholes in these regulations that allow them to play a significant role in election campaigns.

Becoming an American Citizen

Immigrants come the United States for many reasons: Some seek economic opportunity, while others wish to escape political persecution in their native countries. Benefits of U.S. citizenship include enjoying the freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Constitution. To become a citizen, a person must apply, pass an exam, and appear for a court hearing. The process of becoming a citizen, also called naturalization, is conducted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS, formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS for short). The following are some of the requirements for citizenship. Candidates must:

  • be at least 18 years old
  • reside legally in the United States for five years
  • be a person of good moral character
  • understand and be able to communicate in basic English
  • demonstrate a basic knowledge of U.S. history, government, and the Constitution
  • be willing to take an oath of allegiance to the United States


Exercise 1

  1. b.   Complete government control of the media and rule by one individual are characteristics of a dictatorship.
  2. d.   Citizens in a direct democracy vote on every law. They would have the most influence over lawmaking decisions.

Exercise 2

  1. c.   Choices a and d are statements of opinion. Choice b is incorrect and choice e is not discussed in the passage. Only choice c is supported by the information in the passage.

Exercise 3

  1. e.   The popular vote in 1960 was extremely close; fewer than 200,000 votes out of nearly 69 million separated Kennedy and Nixon. The electoral vote was not as close, due to the "winner take all" rule that gave each candidate all the electoral votes in states where the popular vote was extremely close. Thus, it is accurate to conclude that the map shows how the electoral vote results can distort the results of the popular vote
  2. b.   The map shows that both Alabama and Oklahoma split their electoral votes in the 1960 election.
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