Fund for the Public Interest
|Services||Fundraising and membership drives for progressive political groups|
The Fund for the Public Interest (formerly known as the Fund for Public Interest Research and generally referred to as the FFPIR or "the Fund") is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization that runs the public fundraising and canvassing operations for politically liberal nonprofit organizations in the United States. The Fund is the largest fundraiser for progressive causes in the United States. FFPIR was set up in 1982 as the fundraising arm of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRGs), which was founded by Ralph Nader. The Fund has been involved in several lawsuits regarding unfair labor practices, including failing to pay workers minimum wage.
The Fund was founded in 1982 to raise money and build membership for the state PIRGs. The Fund grew out of a Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group initiative campaign to pass the Bottle Bill where they first used door-to-door canvassing. The development of a membership and funding infrastructure independent of the campus chapters that had been until that time the center of the PIRG infrastructure reversed the decline in resources and influence that the PIRGs had been experiencing at that time, and initiated a shift in the PIRGs' organizational model that saw the previously campus-bound groups convert themselves into a mass-membership lobbying organization.
The Fund runs canvass offices, as well as other citizen engagement activities such as educating voters about issues, building the membership bases for grassroots groups, supporting grassroots advocacy (such as petition drives or letter-writing drives), and fundraising. Local directors hire canvassers to raise money for the Fund's partners and support its other campaign activities including media relations and coalition building. The Fund has canvassed for groups including the Sierra Club, the Human Rights Campaign, Environment America, and Fair Share.
Lawsuits against the Fund
In 2005, the Fund's Los Angeles office was abruptly closed after employees voted to unionize with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In 2006, the office of the Labor Commissioner of the State of California found that the Fund had denied rest breaks to a worker. In 2009, the Fund settled a $2.15 million class-action suit alleging it subjected workers to "grueling hours without overtime pay." Canvassing employees regularly made an hourly rate less than minimum wage.
In 2012, workers at the Fund's call center in Portland, Oregon, conducted an effort to unionize with Communications Workers of America. Thirteen pro-union workers were fired from the call center. One fired worker, David Neel, proved to a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) agent and a federal judge that his union activism was a factor in his firing. The federal judge ordered the Fund to reinstate Neel at his job. The Fund appealed the decision to the NLRB's five-member board in Washington, D.C. The Fund's appeal was denied, and the Fund was ordered to pay Neel $19,088 of backpay and interest, plus $7,000 for waiving his right to reinstatement.
Reception of canvassing efforts
The book Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America by Columbia University sociologist Dana Fisher, is based on her study of a sample of Fund canvass offices during the summer of 2003. The Fund is the core of the study. A website was created to respond to a few of the criticisms raised by the book, and an article in The American Prospect was critical of Fisher's book.
Alumni of the fund include:
- Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles
- Derek Kilmer, Democratic Representative for Washington's 6th congressional district
- Ben Unger, former Democratic member of the Oregon House of Representatives
- Tom Hucker, Democratic member of the Maryland House of Delegates
- Tom Perriello, United States State Department official and former Democratic Representative for Virginia's 5th congressional district
- Phil Radford former executive director of Greenpeace
- Rosiak, Luke (July 15, 2009). "The Liberal Sweatshop". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- Fisher, Dana, Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America (Stanford Univ. Press, 2006).
- Du, Susan (April 20, 2011). "Canvassing organization's policies draws criticism from students". The Daily Northwestern. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- McIntosh, Don (September 17, 2014). "Fired pro-union PIRG fundraiser takes settlement after devastating crash". Northwest Labor Press. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- Mirk, Sarah (November 21, 2012). "Fundraising Hell: Canvassers Accuse Progressive Nonprofit of Union-Busting". The Portland Mercury. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- Mirk, Sarah (November 29, 2012). "Update on Canvasser Firings: Sierra Club No Longer Contracts With the Fund for Public Interest". The Portland Mercury. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- Canvassing Works
- Booth, Heather (October 18, 2006). "Door-to-Door Democracy". The American Prospect. Retrieved 9 November 2015.