Guest column: MaryPIRG problems
A few weeks ago, my seminar class received a visit from a member of MaryPIRG, the student lobbying organization. The young lady who came to visit was very cordial and eager to share information about the group. She gave a short speech about its mission and proceeded to inform my class on the organization’s current lobbying focus. Her message focused on the proposed offshore wind energy legislation facing the state General Assembly. The organization is petitioning members of the legislature to convince them to support the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act. The proposal would construct offshore wind turbines to create more sustainable energy. Whether good or bad, it’s up to the readers to decide.
So what is my issue then? Lobbying?
Not quite. I perfectly respect the right of labor unions, concerned citizens, students and even corporations to lobby. Each side has a right to advocate their point of view in the public sphere. Reform has restricted gifts politicians can receive, which is a good thing. The speaker who visited my class pressured us to sign, but I cannot fault her for that — it is her job.
I was shocked, though, to hear the organization has received a glut of university funding in the past. But then I was infuriated when MaryPIRG’s representative told my class that if we really wanted to not pollute, we would sign her petition. That’s poor logic, and it’s insulting to someone concerned about the environment.
My issue truly lies in the foundation of MaryPIRG’s funding. Students once helped fund this organization. I believe organizations that form legally, including Democrats, Republicans, independents, socialists and all others, deserve a share of the student activity fee. They should be given funding to run the organizations and, yes, even advocate their beliefs. The difference herein is MaryPIRG would use the student activities fee to fund staff salaries and its lobbying operations of the state government.
It pretends to act nonpartisan, but really, it advocates its own agenda that very rarely relates to university matters. I agree with and admire some of its actions, I won’t deny that. However, I must conclude it does not deserve our money to lobby the government on certain issues. It deserves the same basic funding as other organizations, not special funding for their own use.
The Student Government Association voted last week to reject a bill that would increase the student activities fee on MaryPIRG’s behalf. But the SGA is scheduled to vote on increasing the fee for all student groups, which includes MaryPIRG. We shouldn’t let the organization use smoke and mirrors to deceive us. One proposal floating around, according to a classmate familiar with the organization, was a separate student fee for the activity of MaryPIRG. This merely adds to the confusion behind the organization’s funding.
Is there a solution then? One idea would be to allow any group appeal for funding for lobbying. That way everyone who wanted to lobby could, and we could all be happy, right? Wrong. I would start a lobbying group and so would others, and then our pool of money would shrink, leaving very little money left. So instead of raising the activity fee, why don’t we just limit the amount of money we send to a lobbying organization that does not lobby all students’ interests? Let us prevent the tyranny of the many from silencing the voices of the minority.
Matt Dragonette is a sophomore accounting major. He can be reached at email@example.com.