Intro to Writing
General Education Requirement
Overcoming Legal Bribes in Washington
It used to be that when a corporate representative or wealthy individual used a large amount of money to support a candidate running for political office with a certain view on an issue, we called that a bribe. But not anymore, thanks to the outcome of a Supreme Court case entitled Citizens United v. FEC (2010).
By justifying paid speech as free speech, Citizens United has allowed corporate-sponsored Political Action Committees (PACs), wealthy individuals, and other special interest groups to routinely promote political campaigns and ideas with virtually unlimited amounts of money, sometimes even millions of dollars, completely legally and out in the open - something average constituents aren’t able to do. Most of these donors have a clear agenda, and by promoting particular politicians, their goal is to push that agenda over the wants and needs of the politicians’ constituents.
Several recent examples have brought to light the impact these legal bribes have on politicians. The National Rifle Association (NRA), largely funded by gun manufacturers, has spent millions of dollars on elected officials who are more likely to oppose any reasonable gun control legislation as a result, even following a tragic mass shooting. In January 2017, an amendment which would have permitted more affordable prescription drugs was voted down by the Senate, and those who voted against it on average received more money from pharmaceutical company-affiliated PACs and individuals than those who voted for it. In late 2017, Republican lawmakers pushed for and successfully passed tax reform legislation that is expected to increase the national deficit by benefiting corporations and wealthy taxpayers far more than average citizens.
Whether or not you agree with the outcome of any of the examples provided above is irrelevant, because you don’t have thousands or millions of dollars to promote your viewpoints to the lawmakers involved. But there are still steps you can take to fight the influence of corporations and wealthy individuals in politics and make your voice as a constituent heard.
The first step is to inform yourself. Research Citizens United v. FEC, and the impact it has had on politics in the US. Look up your representatives on OpenSecrets.org or elsewhere to see all of the contributions they have received and interests behind them, broken down by industry and donor.
Second, contact the candidates running in your area to find their stances on Citizens United, and ask them to pledge not to receive contributions from corporate PACs or wealthy individuals. Use their responses to decide whether or not they’re worthy of your support.
Third, take action. Offer to volunteer or make a small donation to the candidate you support, and help him or her be rid of corporate and rich donor influence. Volunteer with a group that is fighting to get special interest money out of politics. Inform your family and friends about the issue, write articles and internet posts about the issue, and encourage others to take action as well. And, most importantly, vote for the candidate you support. This is the only way we can have an effective democracy, where the average constituents’ ideas and influence are not drowned out by corporate and wealthy donor interests.
Statement of Goals and Choices
Goal and Purpose
The goal of Overcoming Legal Bribes in Washington is to demonstrate the need for action concerning a Supreme Court case entitled Citizens United and how it addresses the issue of money in politics, as well as to offer suggestions on accomplishing that action. The intended result is a political system where the influence of corporate and wealthy donors to politicians doesn’t drown out the influence of average constituents.
Rhetorical Strategies, Structure, and Organization
To demonstrate a need for action, I primarily used the fact and value and arrangement of ideas rhetorical strategies. To start with, I wrote the first paragraph to capture the attention of the audience by implying that a form of bribery is no longer considered illegal thanks to the Citizens United case decision. This flows into the second paragraph, which explains the case in more detail with a sentence of fact followed by a sentence of value.
In the third paragraph, I remembered and researched three examples of politicians voting to benefit those who contributed to their campaigns more than their own constituents, referencing each as a claim of fact (“In late 2017, Republican lawmakers pushed for and successfully passed tax reform legislation”) followed by a claim of value (“that is expected to increase the national deficit by benefiting corporations and wealthy taxpayers far more than average citizens”). These examples were important to enhance the credibility of my argument. In addition, I embedded links in each example to increase their credibility and to encourage readers to click on them to learn more.
The fourth paragraph is meant to summarize the examples in paragraph three, as well as transition from demonstrating a need for action to offering various forms of action that can be taken. Afterward, I decided to organize the forms of action into three sequential steps. The first two mainly encourage the reader to further inform themselves on the issue, while the third encourages them to inform others, vote, and make a difference. I ended step three with a strong concluding sentence: “This is the only way we can have an effective democracy, where the average constituents’ ideas and influence are not drowned out by corporate and wealthy donor interests.”
While writing Overcoming Legal Bribes in Washington, I considered including some information regarding earlier cases that influenced the outcome of Citizens United so the audience would have a basic understanding of the broader issues that contributed to it, such as the treatment of corporations as individuals. I ultimately decided to focus only on the outcome of Citizens United, so the audience would not lose focus on the specific issue I’m addressing.
In addition, I considered making some parts of the piece more specific to the area in which I live, thereby targeting a more local audience of voters, but decided to keep it as broad as possible as the issue affects everyone who lives in the U.S.
Taking this course has given me a greater understanding of how to use writing to perform action, make something, or be someone, as well as how to make my writing contingent based on audience, purpose, and situation. Furthermore, it has taught me how to recognize and use rhetorical strategies such as storytelling, repetition, fact and value statements, and the arrangement of ideas.
Before I took this course, I had a basic understanding of some of these concepts. Targeting an audience with a certain skill or knowledge level is essential for many types of writing, such as giving advice to Mac owners on MacRumors Forums. But this course, primarily through the rhetorical analysis in unit two, has shown me that targeting a specific audience also relies heavily on the assumptions, stereotypes, or interests the audience may have, the line of work they’re in, or other characteristics they may have. For example, both the authors of Blue Collar Brilliance and Shop Class as Soulcraft were targeting audiences composed mainly of white-collar workers with preconceived notions about blue-collar work as unintellectual, repetitive and/or uninteresting, and this was reflected in the organization and focus of their writing.
The unit one and unit three projects both encouraged me to think about how I use rhetorical strategies in my writing, and how I can use writing to serve a purpose or accomplish an action.
I can think of several situations were I might find the skills taught in this class useful. For example, when writing to a politician to express my concerns as a constituent, I should use the storytelling, arrangement of ideas, and fact and value rhetorical strategies to enhance my credibility and better get my points across. When replying to a forum post, I should consider who the potential readers might be, what their interests or opinions are, and what knowledge they might gain from or want to see in my reply.
Although not every concept taught in this course was new to me, it has shown me how to make my writing contingent based on audience, purpose, and situation, and provided rhetorical strategies I can use to enhance my writing in almost any situation.