The Arizona Desert Lamp

Five reasons why you should vote NO on PIRG

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 9 March 2009

1. It is inappropriate to use a mandatory fee to pay for a political organization. It’s one thing to offer club funds to political clubs on campus, money which is allocated primarily to encourage the proliferation of student organizations (an honorable cause). It is quite another thing to force students to pay directly for an organization that may be contrary to their own views. Even ASA, which focuses solely on student issues, is debatable from this standpoint; but PIRG focuses on far more than student issues — its call to “require utilities to produce 100% clean energy” is not only very debatable, but doesn’t exactly help the students who actually pay their own electricity bills.

The argument that PIRG is acceptable because it is “non-partisan” is fatuous — this blog is “nonpartisan,” but I’d hardly call it apolitical. I’d also like to see one instance where PIRG diverges from the Green Party platform. Calling your organization nonpartisan doesn’t necessarily make it so. Students would rightly be furious if Justice for All were allocated a $2 fee; changing the cause does not make the feeing any less repugnant.

2. PIRG money has a funny way of leaving campus. PIRG sells itself as a “student run” organization. Tell that to the students in Oregon, home to the oldest student PIRG in the country, OSPIRG. The organization first received funding with a $1 fee in 1971; yet recently, OSPIRG has been defunded at several campuses. The reason? From the Daily Emerald:

In October, student government leaders at PSU announced that its OSPIRG chapter would no longer have access to its $128,000 budget allocation from student fees because the majority of that funding is spent on salaries for professional activists off campus, which doesn’t meet its mandate as a “student” group. OSPIRG leaders there are trying to change its status to a student service rather than a student group to get access to that money, a model similar to the University of Oregon chapter.

The Oregon Commentator also has a great write-up on its blog:

Currently, OSPIRG (the student one) receives roughly $120,000 of student funds. Most of it goes to OSPIRG’s Portland office to pay eight trained staff members. Only $25,000 stays on campus, and of that, $23,000 is the salary of a paid “campus organizer.” That leaves $2,000 for actual campus events. At last week’s budget hearing, when asked what OSPIRG had directly brought to campus, one OSPIRG member could only meekly bring up last year’s screening of Sicko.

For that reason, the ASUO Senate voted to defund the OSPIRG chapter at U. Oregon just a few weeks ago. OSPIRG isn’t just a bad egg, either; this funneling is an inherent part of the PIRG set-up:

. . . about 10 percent of the money goes to USPIRG, the national chapter, where it’s used to lobby on the federal level.

3. PIRG cheated their way onto the ballot. You can read the background here, but the story boils down to this:

This paragraph alters the former policy – again, not spelled out, because regulations matter only when it comes to Facebook and MySpace – in which referendums, like candidates, had to have their signatures in no later than two weeks before the general election date.

What was the problem with that policy? Well, according to Commissioner Ho, because the two-week deadline has already passed, “I have extended the deadline until one week before [the general election].” So, what’s wrong with letting the old deadline pass?

Because there is one organization out seeking signatures for a referendum – PIRG. For some time now, they have been soliciting signatures in an attempt to add a $4-per-year fee to UA tuition. If they had the adequate signatures, this would not be an issue. However, they apparently do not; and rather than accepting the failure of their campaign, they have instead chosen to modify the preexisting standard.

Let us not mince words about what has happened. PIRG, an organization with offices within ASUA, is seeking to implement by referendum a ballot initiative to grant themselves a $4-per-year fee. When they did not get the necessary amount of signatures in by the de facto deadline, the Elections Commissioner instead chose to change the deadline. What’s more, when Sen. Andre Rubio asked if this change to a one-week period was just for this election, Commissioner Ho responded in the affirmative. This is a one-time deal, with a very specific objective: get PIRG on the ballot, by any means necessary. Mr. Ho also affirmed that referendum groups cannot campaign until the signatures have been verified by the Commission, which would make this email highly suspect. The email, which we received on February 14 (some valentine that was), also mentioned that, “[PIRG is] working to get funding on campus by adding $2.00 per student per semester to the election ballot.” This would seem to indicate solicitation for far longer than the two weeks specified by this memorandum.

I’m willing to hear an alternate explanation for why this “clarification” in the elections code was so necessary if PIRG wasn’t behind it; so far, I have yet to hear a plausible story.

4. We already have a fee-funded student lobbying organization on campus. ASA describes itself as,

a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization directed and funded by Arizona’s public university students. ASA works for affordable, accessible higher education in Arizona by advocating to elected officials and running campaigns on issues important to students. Recent issues ASA has worked on include fighting tuition increases, increasing state-based financial aid, and passing legislation to reduce the cost of textbooks.

PIRG describes itself as,

a non-partisan student-run, student-funded organization that represents a direct voice for student issues in our local and national government. What makes AZPIRG so powerful is that we hire our own professional staff-scientists, lawyers, and organizers that help us research solutions, write bills, run local and statewide campaigns, and lobby our politicians in Phoenix and Washington DC full time on our behalf.

It’s surprising that ASA isn’t more upset about having its territory trampled on, let alone the plagiarism of its self-description.

5. PIRG doesn’t pay its workers. Right now, the PIRG Fund is facing a class action lawsuit from former canvassers. From the official complaint:

Plaintiffs allege on behalf of themselves and all similarly-situated Defendant employees (“Nationwide FLSA Collective Plaintiffs”) that the Fund unlawfully classified Plaintiffs and Nationwide FLSA Collective Plaintiffs as exempt from overtime payments under Federal law and failed and refused to pay Plaintiffs and members of the Nationwide FLSA Collective Plaintiffs overtime pay for overtime worked, minimum wages for all work performed, and also that the Fund failed to keep time records as required by law.

Furthermore, the PIRG Fund, while ostensibly supporting “progressive” causes, nevertheless worked tirelessly to prevent the unionization of its workers.


9 Responses

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  1. Vincent said, on 9 March 2009 at 10:32 am

    The main problem with the PIRGs is the fact that they’re using student money to subsidize the paychecks of professional lobbyists. This is a completely inappropriate way to allocate mandatory fees.

    You hear a lot from PIRG supporters about how the PIRGs “give students a voice in the government”. That may or may not be the case. It is, however, a completely irrelevant point that PIRG boosters use to obfuscate the fact that mandatory student fees are being funneled off-campus into the bank accounts of lobbyists.

    In my experience, when asked why the PIRGs can’t fund themselves with voluntary donations, most supporters will either ignore the question or simply repeat the mantra about “giving students a greater voice.” The truth is that the “student-run” organizations serve as a rubber-stamp for statewide or national PIRG agendas, and their budgets are not transparent.

    If the PIRGs become entrenched on your campus, they’ll be virtually impossible to dislodge, and they’ll fiercely resist any attempts to make their budgets more transparent or their organization more accountable to the students they ostensibly represent.

  2. Jimi Alexander said, on 9 March 2009 at 12:54 pm

    They won’t be getting my vote, thanks to the excellent research done here. The way they’ve attempted to circumvent the rules to get on the ballot is inexcusable.

    Sadly, I can think of more than a few students who will be suckered into thinking a $3 fee is perfectly acceptable for these people. *sigh*

  3. Stephen Bieda III said, on 9 March 2009 at 6:16 pm

    I am speaking as a normal graduate student that I am not voting for AZPIRG’s fee proposal. It is bad enough there are other fees out there to worry about, and to have $4 of my hard earned cash to go towards an organization that has provided marginal benefits at best is hard to swallow.

  4. […] a friendly reminder, here’s why you should check “no” on the PIRG question. Tagged with: Ballot, Elections Code, Elections Commission, PIRG, Write-in […]

  5. […] say it again: vote NO on the PIRG scam. Your bullshit ballot is available here until 8pm […]

  6. […] PIRG Coverage: Decide for yourself on this year’s controversial ballot question. […]

  7. […] Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on March 11th, 2009 Perhaps in response to our own top-five list, PIRG’s Facebook group has gone ahead and released their own list of the top five reasons. […]

  8. […] is some sort of oxymoron. Already, the Commentator’s past work has proved essential providing evidence against the failed PIRG initiative here; we hope that many more of these connections will arise in […]

  9. […] readers of this site know that PIRG is a bit more than an “advocacy group” – “pyramid scheme” in the name of Green […]

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