Blogs > Liberty and Power > Plundering PIRGies

Feb 29, 2004 2:37 pm

Plundering PIRGies

I appreciated the recent posts by Radley Balko and David Beito about the unethical manner in which campus chapters of Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Groups are funded.

Back in 1972, right after Nader launched the PIRGs (and gave a speech at Harvard on that very subject), a full-court press began to impose a campus chapter, to be funded by the now-notorious"negative checkoff" system. The feeble forces of Ergo, an approximately weekly Randian newspaper that came out of MIT, and the tiny Harvard chapter of a small, short-lived libertarian organization mobilized against it. I recall Mark Frazier suggesting that students wouldn’t want"Trick" Nixon getting their money for his re-election campaign, unless they filled out a special form to opt out. Jim Muller came up with the alliterative epithet"plundering PIRGies." Meanwhile, I interviewed Hale Champion, a top official in the Harvard Corporation (roughly like the Board of Trustees most other places), for Ergo. I thought maybe we were getting somewhere when Champion said,"We don’t want to put the arm on anyone."

I am sure that the Harvard administration had its own reasons for wanting to maintain an arm’s-length relationship with Nader and crew, so I would not be inclined to exaggerate the libertarian contribution. For little that the Harvard administration was doing then, or has done since then, suggests any libertarian influence... Still, as far as I can tell, Harvard never did go to the negative checkoff system that PIRGs have used at so many other universities. When I checked a couple of days ago, I couldn’t find any reference to a Harvard chapter on MassPIRG’s Web site.

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