The Arizona Desert Lamp

Back on the ballot with my bullshit detector

Posted in Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 10 March 2009

Evan’s right that “most democratic states” take care to make sure ballot questions are as unbiased as possible. In fact, in our own democratic state, ballot language is the responsibility of the Arizona Legislative Council, a subcommittee of the state legislature which follows a set of guidelines to ensure that questions are objective and in proper context. Unfortunately, student government elections have nothing but the l’safeguard c’est moi whim of the Elections Commissioner to protect students from biased ballot measures.

Which is how stinkers like this one make their way onto the ballot:

PIRG Question

So let’s take a look at just how accurate the claims in today’s question are:

“Student-directed:” Our campus PIRG chapter may be nominally “student-directed,” but the larger PIRG network to which it would funnel your fee is about as far from ground up student activism as an organization can get. Indeed, as Greg Bloom noted in a followup to his article on PIRG union-busting, “simply figuring out the structure of the PIRG family tree is a difficult task,” since the network is stuffed with duplicate groups and headless committees. PIRG’s bloated, Byzantine structure encourages waste, not grassroots change.

“Make college affordable, protect our environment, increase the youth vote and end poverty:” PIRG’s cadres of mercenary canvassers do a good job recruiting new voters, but the rest of these claims are questionable at best. Sure, they may work towards these goals, but as others have explained, a whole lot of that work is dedicated to raising money sent up the pyramid–not on real action.

“Establishment of an Arizona PIRG chapter:” Unless this measure would establish a second chapter with a slightly different name, this bit is an outright lie. We already have a Student PIRG chapter on campus–it just doesn’t have the authority to force students to support it with mandatory fees.

“$2 per student per semester refundable fee:” The language here isn’t misleading, but it is vague. In fact, at no point in PIRG’s campaign have we heard just what kind of “refundable fee” will be imposed. That matters, because as Radley Balko explains:

PIRG chapters attempt to institute a “reverse check” system, where each student automatically donates to PIRG each time he registers for classes, unless he specifically knows to look for an already checked box asking for his support — and “unchecks” it.

If they can’t win support there, PIRG groups will attempt a “refundable fee” system, where each student is automatically billed, but can request a refund by taking the bill to the university registrar or bursar’s office, filling out some paperwork, then taking the form to the local PIRG’s campus office to get the money back.

Such systems rake in millions for PIRGs because they put the burden on college students to educate themselves about each line item on their tuition bill, or to go to great effort for a comparatively small refund, particularly unlikely when mom and dad or Mr. Perkins and Mr. Stafford are paying for college anyway.

Do I have to uncheck a box to get my PIRG refund? Fill out a form and take it to the registrar? Mail it in, like the ASA refund? Can’t tell from this ballot measure–and PIRG sure hasn’t made an effort to let anyone know.

What is not seen: More insidious than biased wording is the language that’s excluded from this question. PIRG may be “non-partisan,” but they are certainly political. The fee may be “refundable,” but it is mandatory. “Issues that concern us” is deliciously vague. When student groups seeking funding get to write their own questions, this is the sort of slanted language that ensues–and that may end with unassuming students forced to bankroll political activity they don’t support.

I’ll say it again: vote NO on the PIRG scam. Your bullshit ballot is available here until 8pm tomorrow.

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6 Responses

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  1. Jimi Alexander said, on 10 March 2009 at 10:30 am

    And because of this slanted question, I think the only way that this fee’s going to be rejected at the polls is if the current economic squeeze makes students a little wary of forking over even $4.

    Sadly, students fork over more than that daily at IQ for 16 ounces of mediocre smoothie with tapioca balls on the bottom, so I don’t see much hope of that happening.

  2. Ben Kalafut said, on 10 March 2009 at 2:15 pm

    We can’t count on this being shot down, but what we can count on is a victorious civil suit and an opportunity to drag the culprits’ names through the mud. Criminal charges are less certain, but a possibility.

  3. Ben Harper said, on 10 March 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Ah, someone’s been reading his Bastiat.

    I may lack your dyed-in-the-wool libertarian convictions, but, although I’m not opposed to solving a problem with government every once in a while, I’m certainly against putting power in the hands of corrupt, short-sighted fanatics.

    Hell, I may even vote this year.

  4. […] Goldwater State, Ben Kalafut points out a problem with PIRG’s ballot initiative beyond their slanted question and our enchanted legislators:  according to Supreme Court precedent, it’s probably […]

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

  6. […] “non-partisan” organization is in fact hellbent on very partisan goals (see: PIRG, the Nonpartisan League, ACORN, etc.). So it should come as no shock that an official video of the […]


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