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Calif. students’ funds used to push left-wing causes


The motto of the California Public Interest Research Group – a student run, student directed and student funded lobbying group – is “standing up to powerful interests,” but some conservative students say they are frustrated that the group focuses largely on left-wing causes and is not upfront about it, either.

Campaigns listed on CALPIRG’s website largely attack big businesses and support onerous environmentalism, leading some students to assert it does not represent all students. Moreover, some students say they feel it’s unfair the group has access to classrooms to ask students for support to push their progressive agenda. calpirg

“I was frustrated with the fact that CALPIRG was permitted to market their money-making scam, when this time should be used for teaching,” Leesa Danzek, a junior at the University of Southern California who recently heard the group’s classroom presentation, told The College Fix. “The student spokesperson came in to push for support of a liberal agenda organization at the financial expense of students, and I found it to be wildly inappropriate.”

CALPIRG, a non-profit organization, sends representatives to scout on college campuses, and they are allowed to visit some classrooms to that end. During such presentations, CALPIRG reps hand out “pledge cards,” inviting students to release their name, cell phone number and email address to be plugged into their network. It sounds innocuous and all for a good cause, but whether students fully understand the group’s agenda before they sign on the dotted line is unclear.

Making matters worse, joining the network includes roughly $10 per semester in “dues,” money collected on tuition bills using info obtained on the pledge cards, something not all students may realize at the time.

But Lillian Mayer, a CALPIRG campus organizer for USC, told The College Fix there are 40,000 due-paying members across the state “that chip in just a little bit each quarter, typically $10, so they can continue to have their very own nonprofit.”

“$10 is less than a Chipotle burrito with guac,” she pointed out.

As for the notion that CALPIRG is liberal, Mayer said that’s not true.

“Our organization has so many successes because it crosses party lines and operates as completely non-partisan,” she said.

However, there is an apparent contrast between what conservative students perceive this organization to be and what CALPIRG declares itself to be.

This is not the first time this issue has been raised, either.

In a 2011 op-ed titled “Beware of CALPIRG’s Con,” UC Berkeley student Casey Given wrote in The Daily Californian that “the most egregious aspect of CALPIRG, however, is that many of their pledgers are unaware that they’ve consented to this $10 fee that renews every subsequent semester. Instead, many students succumb to their solicitors’ smooth talk without reading the fine print.”

“And if you do dare dissent, you’re in for a peer-pressuring performance worthy of an Academy Award, as I personally experienced while waiting in line at last month’s Johnny Depp screening,” Given added. “After repeatedly denying her pledge requests, a zealous CALPIRG canvasser berated me in front of dozens of Depp fans for hating everyone from ‘starving children in Africa’ to ‘turtles.’ Yes, you read that correctly. She literally yelled, ‘You hate turtles.’ Fortunately, the laugh was on her when several students thanked me for shooing the solicitor and her straw man away.”

And a letter to the editor of The Daily Bruin UCLA campus newspaper in 2009 complained that, in their personal experience, backing out of CALPIRG was nearly impossible.

“On at least three separate occasions during my four years at UCLA, I called the number listed on my BAR account next to the CALPIRG charge and got voice mail each time,” the student wrote. “The message said if I wanted to depledge, to leave my name and student ID number and it would be taken care of. That never happened.”

“I ended up paying 5 dollars a quarter against my will for 4 years. I feel like something should be said because students are essentially trapped into paying the fee once they sign up.”

But other students have argued that CALPIRG deserves a break, despite its tactics.

“I am fully aware of CALPIRG’s tactics, and no representative has ever ‘antagonized’ me,” a student wrote in a letter to the editor of The Daily Bruin that same year. “The fact of the matter is that CALPIRG is another outlet for students who are passionate about making positive real-life changes for the people of California.”

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About the Author
Allison Hansen -- University of Southern California.