Lesson Plan: Lobbyists, Who, What, and Why

Jack Abramoff, Campaign Contributions as Bribes

Jack Abramoff, while discussing his book "Capitol Punishment," likens campaign contributions in certain circumstances to bribes.


In this lesson, students will examine the role of lobbyists in policy making. Specifically, they will a) identify what lobbyists are, b) explain the methods lobbyists use, c) determine the central ideas of primary sources, and d) evaluate the role of lobbyists in a democratic society. Students will first identify their initial impressions about lobbyists and explain those preconceptions in writing. After a brief discussion and an introduction from the teacher, students will break into groups to listen to former lobbyists explain what their job is and how they do it. In groups, students discuss what they've learned from the video, and conclude with a whole class discussion of the guiding questions.


  • STEP 1.

    Start the class with a writing assignment. Tell the students to choose the statement below that they most agree with. Give students one to two minutes to write down their thoughts to support their choice. Briefly discuss students' preconceptions of lobbyists.

    • Lobbyists have a legitimate role to play in a democratic society, and they help special interests make their arguments to legislators.

    • Lobbyists unfairly manipulate the system, and they use devious methods to convince legislators to do what they want.
  • STEP 2.

    Explain that a lobbyist’s job is to try and convince a government official to support a specific policy position, usually on behalf of a special interest group. Continue to explain that many people have a negative perception of lobbyists because of scandals like that involving Jack Abramoff.

  • STEP 3.

    Divide students into groups of three. Each group’s task will be to watch video clips of former lobbyists describing their profession and determine answers to the following questions:

    • What do lobbyists do?

    • How do lobbyists achieve their goals?

    • Are lobbyists fairly or unfairly perceived? Is the lobbying profession ethical or unethical?
  • STEP 4.

    Each group should watch one of the three sets of videos (linked below). While watching the videos, they should take notes on the accompanying handout.

    HANDOUT: Lobbyists, Who, What, and Why (Google Doc)

    When all of the students are done, they should compare their notes and each student should have a chance to share what he learned from his set of videos.

    Finally, the groups must come to a consensus on the three questions, create a summary, and report their findings to the class.


    Various Lobbying Industry Consultants

    What Do Lobbyists Do? (9:59)

    Lobbyists as Salespeople (3:28)

    Cleaning Up the Lobbying Industry (9:23)


    Panel discussion with Lobbyists Tony and Heather Podesta

    Lobbyists Get a Bad Rap (7:25)

    Lobbyists Just Make an Argument (5:39)

    Lobbying and Partisanship (4:13)

  • STEP 5.

    Allow each group to share what they’ve learned, and briefly discuss the questions as a class.

    Return to the original statements from the beginning of class, and ask students whether they’ve changed their minds or not.

    Also, discuss which of the speakers the students found believable and trustworthy.

  • Potential Follow Up Assignments / Homework

    Identify an example of corruption involving government officials (i.e. Bob Ney, Jack Abramoff, Ted Stevens, Charlie Rangel, Chaka Fattah etc). Research the incident and prepare a one page memo or a three minute presentation to educate the class.

    Research lobbying reforms that have been implemented since the Jack Abramoff scandal (2006). Evaluate a specific set of reforms and/or suggest additional reforms that could be put in place.

Additional Resources


  • Bribe
  • Campaign Contribution
  • Interest Group
  • K Street
  • Lobbying
  • Lobbyist
  • Special Interest


Interest Groups & Lobbying


High School