The PIRGs: The Underside of Naderism
Kudos to Radley Balko for digging into the seamy history of Nader's PIRGs. I had, every so briefly, thought that he might be worthwhile as an antiwar candidate, but his involvement with the PIRGs provides a cautionary note.
Back in 1979 and 1980, when I was in the Students for a Libertarian Society at the University of Minnesota, we worked with the UA chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) in the movement to fight Carter's reimposition of draft registration. MPIRG was funded with the"reverse check" system mentioned by Radley. Students could get"refunds" but only if they bothered to go to a special table in the registration area (staffed by a hapless MPIRG initiate) and asked for it.
The result was that MPIRG had a nice large office while the other student groups, like SLS, had to be satisfied with relative squalor of individual desks with drawers. I am not complaining about SLS's squalor, mind you. We had a lot of fun and were actually able to sponsor some successful rallies and other events. What struck me then, and still now, was the obvious unfairness of a situation in which MPIRG, which was essentially a training ground and special perk for the College DFL (Democrats), was able to get a free ride off the entire student body.
If our experience is any guide, by the way, all this free money did not seem to translate into much action or effectiveness. The DFL politicians-in-training in MPIRG proved to be rather timid and half-hearted on the fight against draft registration. We noticed that they were always quick to disassociate themselves from our"too radical" anti-draft speakers including young rabble rousers like Tom G. Palmer , now at Cato.