Member of Congress Research Project – Debbie Lesko of Arizona

A good way to complete the exercise is to copy and paste the questions into an RTF or Word file. (Do not submit a PDF file.) Then, supply answers after the questions, being careful to address all parts of the question.

We can learn a great deal about the operation of Congress and its role in the policymaking process by focusing on individual members of the body. You can learn about the member of Congress assigned to you from a number of library resources as well as on the Internet. The best library resource is the most recent edition of Almanac of American Politics. It is an excellent reference book with information about current members of Congress.

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The Internet will provide you with a great deal of useful material. The information at www.house.gov will be particularly helpful because it will direct you to the website for the member of Congress that you are researching. That site will include biographical data and information about committee assignments. It will probably also tell you something about the member’s pet issues and viewpoints. Keep in mind that the member’s office provides the content of his or her website, so don’t expect anything critical or negative to appear. (If you rely solely on a member’s website for information, you may be subsequently embarrassed to discover that the member has been involved in a serious or at least interesting scandal that was not reported on the website.) The House website will also have links to the homepages for each House committee, which will describe the policy issues each committee addresses. Ballotpedia (https://ballotpedia.org/Main_Page) is an online encyclopedia of American politics. It contains a wealth of current information.

The website for Project Vote Smart will be useful as well. It is located at https://justfacts.votesmart.org/. The search box at the top of the page allows users to search for a member of Congress by name. The site includes information about campaign finances, issue positions, voting records, public statements, and interest group ratings. The interest group websites include issue scorecards in which the groups evaluate members of Congress based on their voting records. Keep in mind that the scorecards reveal how interest groups feel about the member of Congress, not vice versa. Groups concerned with abortion are at the top, but you can use the drop down menu to find other types of groups. Keep in mind that interest groups are not objective in their evaluations. If you aren’t sure about a particular group’s bias, you can go to its website for more information or research it online.

The website of the Federal Election Commission (https://www.fec.gov/) shows how much money candidates for Congress have raised. Candidates are required by law to report fundraising data to the FEC. If a candidate doesn’t report raising any money, it’s because the candidate has not raised any money.

The Center for Responsive Politics has an excellent website providing information about members of Congress. It is located at www.opensecrets.org. You can use it to find detailed information about the campaign finances and election results for the representative you are researching. Click on “Congressional Elections” under the “Politicians and Elections” tab to find information about fundraising in the 2018 election campaigns. The website also has biographical information on members of Congress.

CNN, New York Times, and other news outlets will have the results of the 2018 election available online. You can visit the New York Times site at the following address:

http://elections.nytimes.com/2018/results/house

You will also want to use an Internet search engine to look for recent stories involving the member of Congress you are researching. Go to www.google.com and type in the name of the member of Congress assigned to you. It will help you learn about recent events involving the member, including issues not covered on the member’s own website.

Other sites with useful information include the following:

www.govtrack.us

www.congress.org

http://thomas.loc.gov/

http://www.crewsmostcorrupt.org/

Good Advice:

· Do not wait until the day the assignment is due to begin work. That is a prescription for a very poor grade.

· Read the questions closely before answering them. Students frequently lose points for failing to fully answer. In particular, if the question asks you to write a paragraph, that means you need to write several sentences. A paragraph is not a single sentence. As you recall from your English class, paragraphs have topic sentences, several sentences in the body that develop the topic sentence, and a concluding sentence that ties the paragraph together.

· My expectation is that your project submission will be three-to-five pages long depending on whether you include the questions. If your submission is only one or two pages, be sure that you have completely answered each question. If your submission is longer than five pages, you will probably lose points for being too wordy or being repetitious.

· Never, never, never copy and paste from a website. The purpose of this assignment is for you to learn to do research. That involves finding information, reporting it, and interpreting it. Copying and pasting from a website is the opposite of research. It is the opposite of critical thinking. It is the opposite of what any self-respecting college student should do. When I detect that a student has copied and pasted from a source (and it is always obvious), I immediately go into overdrive looking for opportunities to take off points. Nothing irritates me more because it shows me that the student has no interest in learning how to think critically and write about his or her ideas.

· Write and submit your answers in English. Do not write in another language and then use a translation program to create a document to submit. College policy requires that instruction be in English. The use of translation apps violates that policy. It also undermines your efforts to improve your English skills. Projects completed with translation apps will be given a grade of zero.

· Don’t provide information that has not been requested. Don’t include information relevant to question 3 when answering question 2. Don’t stray off topic.

· Be sure to use correct grammar and punctuation. One of the reasons you are in college is to learn to write correctly. Here are some common writing errors and websites that briefly explain correct usage:

–Differentiating between possessives and plurals and using apostrophes correctly: http://www.meredith.edu/grammar/plural.htm

–Using apostrophes correctly: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/apostrophe

–Avoiding run-on sentences: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/runons.htm

–Avoiding sentence fragments: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/fragments.htm

–Using semicolons correctly: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon

–Matching pronouns with their antecedents: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/pronouns.htm

–Using commas correctly: http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/commas.asp

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