What does the recently defunded student advocacy group OSPIRG actually do?

OSPIRG Pro Staff Arianna Koudounas talks to University junior Ellen Robinette about signing a pledge against plastic bags on. OSPIRG brought a giant inflatable turtle to campus in Feb. 2012 to bring awareness to the issue of using plastic bags. On Feb. 8, 2013, ASUO Constitution Court upheld a decision to defund OSPIRG. (Michael Ciaglo/Oregon Daily Emerald)

OSPIRG Pro Staff Arianna Koudounas talks to University junior Ellen Robinette about signing a pledge against plastic bags on. OSPIRG brought a giant inflatable turtle to campus in Feb. 2012 to bring awareness to the issue of using plastic bags. On Feb. 8, 2013, ASUO Constitution Court upheld a decision to defund OSPIRG. (Michael Ciaglo/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Posted by Ian Campbell on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 6:26 pm.

Do you care about Crater Lake?

This question had been resonating around the EMU since the Athletics and Contracts Finance Committee defunded the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group earlier this month.

Regardless where you stand on the Bybee Vegetation Management project — a project that would create logging roads and clear cuts adjacent to the Crater Lake National Park — what does OSPIRG do?

According to OSPIRG Campus Organizer Lisa Nikodem, in just the past five years OSPIRG has exposed over $500 million in corporate tax subsidies and confronted health insurers to help save $80 million in consumer money.

This year alone Nikodem was proud to announce that OSPIRG had provided campaign training to over 150 first-time volunteers, handed out over 200 Renters’ Rights Guides and created a Do’s and Don’ts of campus banking webpage.

“Students are people who pay taxes, breathe air, drink water, vote, etc., and as such experience the results of our victories in their daily lives,” Nikodem said.

A large issue comes from the group’s organization chart. As part of its structure, OSPIRG has professional advocates who work and live in Salem, Ore.

ASUO Senate Ombudsperson Ben Rudin has argued against OSPIRG because he does not feel that students should be forced to fund the organization through the incidental fee.

“I have no moral issue with (a professional staff) as long as the money is voluntarily given, not put as a condition of enrolling and getting a diploma. It’s about fundamental freedom,” Rudin said. “The fact that I agree with most of what they advocate does not make one iota of difference, legally. The fact that their viewpoints are popular does not make one iota of difference, either. Factoring in either of those is a flagrant violation of viewpoint neutrality.”

OSPIRG Board Member Helena Schlegel disagreed with the defunding of the organization.

“The majority of the members of ACFC don’t support the work that OSPIRG does — fighting to stop global warming, working to alleviate hunger and homelessness, protecting our environment, educating students about their rights, getting big money out of politics,” Schlegel said. “These are issues that extend beyond the boundaries of campus. I am not just a student, I am a citizen too, and I care about what happens to my community.”

Before the ACFC vote to defund OSPIRG, the ASUO Executive offered to move OSPIRG to the Programs Finance Committee, a move that wouldn’t have aligned with OSPIRG’s organizational structure.

“That’s not our problem,” Rudin said. “I think their unwillingness to go the PFC route showed their unreasonableness and was part of why their funding was cut.”



  • Brudin

    Helena, with all due respect, I think that kind of rhetoric is offensive, untrue and part of the reason OSPIRG has become such a divisive issue. Seriously, you only make yourselves look desperate and weak when you say such things. When you engage in straw men and ad hominem attacks against people who disagree with you, you only hurt your arguments.

    Defunding OSPIRG had nothing to do with stopping global burning, ending hunger and homelessness, or any other issues you may name, and you know that. Multiple members of ACFC expressed agreement with many of OSPIRG’s views, but they realize that has no place in determining whether to spend student money. To say that funding OSPIRG is an expenditure to stop global burning, end hunger and homelessness, and anything else, is like saying funding Students for Life is an expenditure to end abortions. It isn’t, it’s paying for advocacy of it.

    To use a simple example: paying for cleaner air versus paying for advocacy of cleaner air. Paying for cleaner air would mean like paying for air filters. No speech or viewpoint issue, since air filters don’t speak. Paying for people to advocate for cleaner air, on the other hand, is a speech and viewpoint issue. I say this not to suggest funding OSPIRG is unconstitutional (it probably isn’t inherently unconstitutional), but to point out the fundamental difference between paying for something and paying for advocacy of something.

  • DieHardDuck

    My major problem is that most of their budget goes off campus to some lobbyist we never see. That money, if it is a true contract, should stay on campus. I appreciate the student leadership opportunities they present, and believe only that portion should be paid for.

    • Pay Attention

      Most of their money goes to pay for on campus staff. Second, the small amount that is spent on statewide and national staff are to provide professional training when students go to those places to get their voices heard and to keep the pressure up when students can’t be there. Additionally, the organization’s “lobbyists” (which they technically aren’t because they don’t lobby the legislature) you supposedly never see are required to come to campus at least 9 times a year so, if you were to go to the organization’s meetings, pay attention to their posters, or get on their e-mail list, you could easily meet them all.

      • Proud Duck

        You all still spend about 60 grand on statewide and national PIRG people, right? Not sure what you think of as a ‘small amount’. And it is not about where your advocates are physically located, but about what they do in function that matters.

        • Pay Attention

          Die-Hard Duck said most of their budget goes off campus when $60,000 is 20% of their statewide budget. So his statement is clearly false. Second, I think $60,000 is a small amount to spend when it comes to getting 25,000 students voices heard in local, state, and national government..

          • Pay Attention

            Plus that’s a statewide number so it is actually a small amount when it comes to getting more than 40,000 students voices heard

          • Come on…

            Do those other people pay for it? No. I would much rather have money that I PAY stay on campus where I can see the benefit.

          • Intentionally ignorant?

            OSPIRG has 3 currently funded chapters. Students on the other campuses actually pay more per student than students at the UO pay so Yes those other people in the more than 40,000 people number that $60,000 is supposed to represent do pay for it. Also, if you were to spend the entire statewide budget of OSPIRG just trying to organize against these issues on the UO campus you’d never see any benefit because the people that actually make the decisions on these issues would never see you or hear about you because they are in Salem and D.C. If you want to see the benefit, pay attention to the campaign victories or speak to the students involved in the program about what they are working on. Willful ignorance of the benefits is different than not being able to see the benefit.

          • Brudin

            If people want to hire professional advocates, they are free to do so. They are not free to do it on everyone else’s dime. As for the benefit being campaign victories, legally they cannot be factored in. To fund a group because you agree with its advocacy and its campaign victories is flagrantly unconstitutional. Viewpoint of a group cannot have any role.

          • Brudin

            The bulk of it pays off-campus personnel, by their own admission. Your second part is a pure viewpoint justification from beginning to end, which is unconstitutional

          • Pay Attention

            When did they admit this? Look at their actual budget and budget proposals. The majority of the budget is spent on on-campus staff. This is much more than is spent on statwide and federal staff so you’re clearly making stuff up.

          • Brudin

            They said it at their hearing, so shut it. The only on-campus staffer they have is the campus organizer

          • Proud Duck

            It’s 1/3 of OSPIRG’s budget. That is no ‘small amount’ of your budget and therefore your comment was misleading.

          • Pay Attention

            It’s a $315,00 statewide budget so it’s less than 20% of the budget. Pay attention.

        • Pay Attention

          Also, there is nothing wrong with what the staff do in function, whether that be traveling around the state training students how to run the ground level of statewide and national campaigns, training students how to have effective meetings with decision makers, or meeting with decision makers when students can’t be there. I want students to be trained how to run effective campaigns and I want student voices to be heard in the halls of power all the time, even during finals week.

          • Brudin

            Executive offered to move them to PFC so they could still have the trainings. As for meeting with decision-makers, that’s not a claim to student money. I know we can’t be in Salem all the time, but that doesn’t mean you get to take from everyone else’s pocket and hire someone to be there on your behalf.

            How about you pay for the political advocates you want, I pay for the ones I want? No? Then how much of my decision in that regard are you entitled to make?

  • Puddles

    The issue, for me at least, is more about the fact that OSPIRG funds liberal organizations and politicians. They have every right to do this, but they don’t have the right to take students’ money and give it to one political party over another. Imagine the uproar if student funds were going to the Catholic Church or an organization that fought the legalization of gay marriage! OSPIRG does many great things and I agree with many of their policies, but I know if I wasn’t a liberal I would have a huge issue with my own, hard earned money going to fund them, just as I would have an issue giving student fees to the Republican Party Headquarters. Student fees should stay on campus, not be given to a partisan organization. If we have so little money that we need to defund the Marching Band (the largest student organization on campus), then we sure as hell don’t have enough money to pay some off-campus lobbyist.

    • Sex on a Boat

      But by your own admission Republican ideas, like opposing gay marriage, are completely stupid and reprehensible, and liberal ideas aren’t. Why are you choosing to disregard this? Who told you that you have to treat stupid ideas on the same plane as smart ones?

      If a Republican ever complains to you about funding advocacy for clean air, for example, advocacy that could literally save someone’s life, don’t concede to him. Instead, just tell him he’s the scum of the earth.

      Hope this helps <3

      • Brudin

        It’s a legit consideration when deciding how to contribute your own money, not other people’s.

        “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical” – Thomas Jefferson. I think he should have included women, but otherwise the statement is dead on

      • Puddles

        And that’s about as close-minded and egotistical as it gets. I don’t presume that I’m some all-seeing god that knows absolutely everything and has the right to dictate everyone else’s lives. You may have heard: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall

        • Sex on a Boat

          No one’s arguing for taking away Republican’s free speech rights.

          In the meantime, you don’t have to be god to know that bigotry is wrong, and that people deserve to breath air which won’t kill them.

      • Brad Zukerman

        You need to shrink the ego a little bit and realize that there are VERY LEGITIMATE reasons to have differing perspectives. If you really think that you can boil the american political dichotomy down to “stupid and not stupid” then you are stupid, and – based on your testimony – I have one more reason not to give OSPIRG my money.

        Second of all, “advocacy for clean air” is a meaningless, vague, idiotic catchphrase. Im not a republican, but I am not going to give you money to “advocate for clean air” because I dont know if I support the means of advocacy. For example, I would support advocating for a unilateral switch to Nuclear power, because I believe that it is clean, safe, and efficient, and would have effectively ended human contributions to global warming had people like the sierra club not existed. But I wouldn’t support blocking the construction of the Keystone pipeline, because I understand that our reliance on an international, hostile oil cartel creates unnecessary volatility in our economy. Do you understand? People disagree. Smart, educated, thoughtful people disagree with each other all the time, and both of their opinions are valid.

        It is for that reason that your obviously partisan organization cannot be funded with universal student funds. It is a violation of our open political system, and a form of extortion that is exactly what idiotic far-right leaders point to in order to belittle and undermine the education system in this country. Student support of an explicitly partisan institution fuels the anti-academic rhetoric from the right and corrupts young minds considering secondary education. You dont have to be god to know that brainwashing children is wrong.

        Hope this helps <3

    • PIRG fan

      First, can you name a single liberal organization or politician OSPIRG funds? OSPIRG is a non-partisan student run organization that uses the money it recieves from students to help students advance their interests. It doesn’t endorse candidates, give any money to any political parties or candidates, or give any money to any outside organizations save contracting with USPIRG, the national PIRG entity that handles national issues. Additionally, OSPIRG has self identified conservatives in its campaign, chapter, and statewide leaderhip so your partisan claim is entirely false.
      Second, this campus already funds groups that fight to promote views you may find reprehensible. We have both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice student run groupsand that is a good thing. I want there to be lots of students engaged on these issues on all sides and I am happy to pay for that. If students don’t like OSPIRG’s views they should start their own organization and fight OSPIRG students in Salem, not try to kill the group’s funding.
      Third, the reasoning behind defunding the marching band had little to with a lack of money and more to do with the Executive’s lack of understanding with regards to what marching band actually does and their innaccurate beliefs that the band was entirely answerable to the Athletic Department and didn’t provide much in terms of student benefit outside of playing at athletic events. Likewise, the Executive’s lack of interest in understanding OSPIRG and the benefits it returns to students led it to defund the organization. The pittance that we pay to give students the chance to advance our interests in places like Salem and Washington D.C. is nothing in comparison to the benefits the organization provides. Anyway, if the Executive really wanted to save students money they’d go after all the funds that the school’s administration wastes and fund groups like OSA and OSPIRG that fight for more funding for higher education and lowering the cost of textbooks.

      • Proud Duck

        Two areas I disagree with you. 1. “uses the money it recieves [sic] from students to help students advance their interests” no, it uses the money it receives from students to pay professional staff to help advance certain student interests (certainly not interests held by all, whether they be right or wrong). And, as Senator Rudin said, use your own money to pay for your advocacy. And of course not everyone agrees with students for choice or students for life, but those groups aren’t paying professional advocates. Do it on your own dime!

        2. I agree that this person’s understanding of the OAB funding decrease was a misunderstanding, but so is yours. Clearly you have never actually seen the band budget, which includes line items for things like travel to sports events and recruiting among other things. The argument, therefore, is that the i-fee should not be going toward athletic related events and prospective students that departments should be paying for (this is not up for debate, I am simply stating the opinion of the students that voted to defund, and we should stick to OSPIRG related arguments). Also, both senate and DFC voted to lower funding for OAB, so saying this was an ‘Exec’ thing is a gross misstatement. I would also point out that senate and ACFC voted to lower or eliminate funding for OSPIRG in the benchmark and committee decision, so once again, not unique to some ‘Executive lack of understanding’ such as you say. You are purposefully marginalizing the vote and decision of the majority of student government to make it seem like it is OSPIRG vs. Exec, which obviously is not the case.

        And really, keep on spending our money to ‘fight for more funding for higher education and lowering the cost of textbooks’. Seems like you all have been real successful in that area! I’d rather spend $150,000 on things that can actually make a difference, such as a student center that helps student programs organize on campus and more money for things like Safe Ride that actually do things for the student body.

        • PIRG fan

          Four Points, first you are wrong that ACFC voted to lower funding for OSPIRG in their benchmark hearing. They voted for OSPIRG’s full budget proposal. The members didn’t change their minds until after exec pressure.

          Second, with regards to your statement “I’d rather spend $150,000 on things that can actually make a difference,” I think saving Oregonian’s $80,000,000 on health insurance, getting the Boardman Coal Plant set to close early, and exposing large problems in how $500,000,000 in corporate tax subsidies are handed out is making a difference.

          With regards to Student Centers that help students organize, the worlds problems are bigger than the University of Oregon campus and to organize effectively you need to go off campus to where the big decisions are being made in places like Salem and Washington D.C. That being said I think OSPIRG is a big supporter of Student Centers as it was part of the campaigns that created the Recycling and Sustainability Centers on Campus.

          Lastly, don’t say do it with your own dime. Start your own group. If you truly disagree with what OSPIRG does then start your own group and try to get you voice heard too. Don’t try to kill their voice. Also, can you actually name a single issue OSPIRG is working on that isn’t in the interests of the vast majority of students on campus? Just because some individual’s personal interests may be hurt doesn’t mean it is not in the collective interest. If some student’s parent is an oil executive and will personally be hurt by us trying to fight against global warming that doesn’t mean it isn’t in the interest of the majority of students on campus. And saying you don’t want to pay for it isn’t a good excuse. The ability to get student voices heard effectively is a collective good that is available to everyone on campus. Anyone can join their group or start their own. If you really don’t believe the ASUO should be paying to advance the collective interests of students then blame them for putting it in their mission statement.

          • Brudin

            1. They did not vote for the full request because they wanted to fund it, believe me. They wanted to leave room open for OSPIRG moving to PFC

            2. Flagrantly unconstitutional. We can’t fund advocacy organizations by claiming their campaign victories are a service.

            3. Another viewpoint argument, unconstitutional.

            4. Another viewpoint argument, unconstitutional. As for “start your own group,” we all can do that. That’s great. If you want to then hire professional advocates to advance it, no problem. Just do it the way most organizations do it: fundraise, get private donations, reach into your own pocket. But don’t tell everyone that as a condition of enrolling and getting their diploma that they must pay professionals to advance your political agenda

          • Proud Duck

            SENATE set a zero fund benchmark. ACFC voted to defund. Exec set a zero fund rec. Sounds like wide spread agreement to me. But please continue with the ‘victim of exec’ false narrative you use to garner sympathy.

            Spend 150k and save 80 million dollars. I don’t think Warren Buffet has ever had that good of a return on investment.

            The amount of money you spend on advocacy doesn’t turn a head in Salem and would make a larger relative impact if spent on campus.

            And I would never violate fundamental freedom just to advocate against you. Two wrongs certainly don’t make a right.

  • Proud Duck

    “The majority of the members of ACFC don’t support the work that OSPIRG does” – this statement is a flat out lie and a gross generalization of the ACFC members. It seems that some individuals will never understand the difference between ideological and fundamental support. I am thankful that ACFC does.

    • Brudin

      If such rhetoric is a result of what OSPIRG teaches, ACFC absolutely made the right decision. Well it did either way, but if true, I’m even more convinced it was right.