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Public Affairs: Glossary

A glossary of terms related to legislation and public policy.



Act: A bill that has been voted into law.

Amendment: An alteration by insertion or omission of words to a motion or a bill.

Appropriation: Money set aside by a legislative body for a specific purpose.

Appropriation bill: a legislative act proposing to authorize the use of public funds for a specified purpose.



Bicameral: A legislature consisting of two houses.

Bill: A piece of legislation under consideration by a legislative body.

Bipartisan: Refers to an effort endorsed by both political parties or a group composed of members of both political parties.

Bylaw: a standing rule governing the regulation of the internal affairs of a corporation or organization.



Cabinet: Presidential advisory body traditionally composed of the heads of the executive departments and other officers the President may choose.

Candidate: A person who is up for election.

Canvass: To examine votes/ballots for authenticity.

Caucus: A closed meeting of legislators of one's own party.

Chamber: The room where a legislative body meets.

Checks and balances: A system of government in which power is divided between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and these powers check and balance each other.

Clause: A numbered provision in a bill. Once a bill becomes an act, a clause is known as a section.

Closure: The procedure by which a debate may be terminated by a majority decision of the house, even though all members wishing to speak may not have had the opportunity to do so.

Cloture: The formal end to a debate or filibuster in the Senate requiring a three-fifths vote.

Coalition: An alliance between two or more political units in response to opposing forces.

Committee: A group of legislators who consider matters referred to them and report their findings to the larger legislative body.

Congress: The national law-making body of the United States of America, consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives.

Constituent: Someone who elects a legislator.

Constituency: All the constituents of a certain legislator.



De facto: Something that is true in fact, if not in law.

Delegate: a person who is chosen to represent a political party at a political convention.

Demagogue: A person who gains power through emotional appeals to the people.

Diplomacy: A system of formal, regularized communication that allows states to peacefully conduct their business with each other.



Electoral College: The body which formally chooses the president of the United States.

Electorate: See constituency.



Filibuster: A device, used only in the Senate, to delay or prevent a vote by time-consuming talk. It can be stopped only by a 60-member vote of the senators present and voting.



Grassroots: Political activity that originates locally, or arises from the ground level.



House: refers to a legislative body (ex. the Senate).



Initiative: The initiation of legislative action on a particular issue by way of a voters petition.



Lame Duck Session: A term applied to the period between elections and the swearing in of new officeholders.

Legislation: A law or set of laws.

Lobbying: Communication with elected officials or their staff with the goal to educate and express a position on a pending piece of legislation.

Lobbyist: A person who lobbies.

Lower House: In legislative systems with more than one house, the one nearer to the electorate, by virtue of more frequent elections, more representatives, or a wider franchise.



Majority Leader: The elected leader of the party with the highest number of elected representatives in either the House or the Senate.

Minority Leader: The elected leader of the party with the second highest number of elected representatives in either the House or the Senate.



Nomination: The process by which a person applies to become a candidate for an election.

Nonpartisan: Something that does not have affiliation to a political party.



Ombudsman: person in a government agency to whom people can go to make complaints or explain problems with the programs or policies of the agency.

Omnibus: providing for many things at once; "an omnibus law.”



PAC (Political Action Committee): a committee formed by an organization or special-interest group to raise money to support candidates for office or to influence legislation. A PAC provides a legal means for corporations in the U. S. to support political candidates.

PAYGO: A term used to describe a financial policy by which capital projects are financed from current revenue in the operating budget rather than through borrowing.

Platform: The policies or plans that the candidates and parties say they will carry out if elected.

Politics: From the Greek word politikos meaning the art or science of government; concerned with winning and holding control over a government.

Pork or pork barrel: funding for government programs whose economic or service benefits are concentrated in a particular area but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers.



Quorum: The minimum number of members, specified by law, who must be present in a meeting of an organization before business can be conducted.



Referendum: A people’s vote which determines an issue of policy directly, distinct from political representatives making the decision.



Session: The period during which the legislature assembles and carries on its business.

Super PAC: Super PACs are a new kind of political action committee (see PAC) that developed out of a January 2010 Supreme Court decision. Super PACs are independent expenditure-only committees and may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals and spend unlimited sums to advocate for or against political candidates. Unlike a traditional PAC, a Super PAC is not allowed to coordinate directly with candidates nor to donate money directly to political candidates.



Unicameral: A legislature consisting of one house.

Upper House: In legislative systems with more than one house, the one with less frequent elections, fewer representatives, or a narrower franchise.



Veto: The authorized power of a President