Editorial: Vote ‘No’ on the CALPIRG Referendum

The Triton endorses a “no” vote on the CALPIRG referendum. During this year’s elections, students will be voting on a referendum regarding whether or not to authorize CALPIRG Students’ voluntary opt-in fee, collected through Student Business Services.

Without a doubt, CALPIRG Students’ intentions and goals for college affordability and sustainability through lobbying are positive for our community. However, CALPIRG’s claim that they will dissolve should they not be able to collect UCSD student’s funds through the campus billing system is patently false: they could amend their bylaws, they choose not to. More so, there are a variety of other organizations on campus who do what CALPIRG does more effectively when it comes to both advocacy and programming: The Associated Students (AS) Office of Environmental Affairs, The AS Office of External Affairs, The Student Sustainability Collective, and even Housing Dining Hospitality’s EcoNauts in some respects.

CALPIRG stands for the California Public Interest Research Group. A quick Google search will inform you that CALPIRG is the California chapter of Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) across the United States, which organize liberal, grassroots advocacy for political change. Simply stated, the PIRGs are a federation of political lobbying organizations disguised as nonprofits.  CALPIRG Students at UCSD also stands for the California Public Interest Research Group.

When The Triton asked CALPIRG Students at UCSD about the nature of its relationship with the statewide lobbying organization, they stated that these two organizations are separate entities. In spite of these assertions, The Triton questions how CALPIRG Students can be fully independent from CALPIRG, given the lack of documented evidence that we repeatedly asked for. While the UCSD CALPIRG Board is made up of students, there are five statewide professional staff of CALPIRG students that are paid by both CALPIRG students and USPIRG. More than half of UCSD’s budget is allocated to the CALPIRG Students professional staff.

Currently, if students opt into the fee, their student account will be charged $10 every quarter, beginning with the quarter that they consent, and ending with the quarter that they graduate. If a student wishes to rescind their quarterly opt-in fee, they can call or write to the CALPIRG Student office to cancel future charges. The opt-out system is clunky and difficult, while opting in is very easy.

More so, for some, CALPIRG has actually created a net-harm on our campus, specifically related to voter registration and the Student Access Voter Committee (SOVAC) in 2016. Liam Barrett, the SOVAC Director during the 2016 election season, said that they consistently failed to register students to vote correctly.

“Speaking as former SOVAC Director, efforts to work with them have often been frustrated by disorganization and high turnover among their past leadership going back several iterations, an unwillingness to bend or compromise in the nature of the relationship, and little to no attention focused on actually registering students to vote,” Barrett said.

Regardless of the progressive nature of CALPIRG Student’s advocacy and its potential separation from the multimillion dollar lobbying organization, a political lobbying organization should not receive special treatment to collect money from students on university billing. Several environmentally-focused UCSD organizations are more transparent and more active in their programmatic work. College students burdened with massive debt should not be canvassed by an organization that is unclear in how they spend their money on advocacy or provide easy access to opt out.

If CALPIRG wants special use of UCSD billing, they should seek to be more transparent about their funding structure, as well as be active in their communication with students year-round, instead of just during campaign season.

This is why The Triton endorses a “no” vote on the CALPIRG referendum.

Read our main endorsement of the 2018-19 elections here. 

Editor’s Note: A previous version of the article was not tagged as an editorial. The title has been updated for transparency and clarity.