Public Interest Research Group

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Formation1984; 39 years ago (1984)[1][2]
TypeAdvocacy organization
Key people
Doug Phelps
Faye Park

Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) are a federation of U.S. and Canadian[4] non-profit organizations that employ grassroots organizing and direct advocacy on issues such as consumer protection, public health and transportation. The PIRGs are closely affiliated with the Fund for the Public Interest, which conducts fundraising and canvassing on their behalf.


The PIRGs emerged in the early 1970s on U.S. college campuses. The PIRG model was proposed in the book Action for a Change by Ralph Nader and Donald Ross, in which they encourage students on campuses across a state to pool their resources to hire full-time professional lobbyists and researchers to lobby for the passage of legislation which addresses social topics of interest to students.[5] Ross helped students across the country set up the first PIRG chapters, then became the director of the New York Public Interest Research Group in 1973.[5]

The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, founded in 1971, was the first state PIRG to incorporate. It was followed by Oregon (OSPIRG) and Massachusetts (MASSPIRG). By the late 1990s, there were PIRGs in 22 states with chapters on more than 100 college campuses. U.S. PIRG reported 1 million members by 2000.[6] The state PIRGs created U.S. PIRG in 1984 to have a national lobbying presence in Washington, D.C.[7]

In their first two decades, PIRGs worked on a variety of issues:

  • Bottle bills: Beginning in the late 1970s and continuing into the 1980s, the PIRGs were supportive of container deposit legislation in the United States, popularly called "bottle bills".[8] MASSPIRG lobbied for six years for enactment of a state bottle return law, eventually winning container deposit legislation in 1982.[9][10]
  • Toy safety: U.S. PIRG has released toy safety reports every year since 1986, which has led to recalls of more than 35 toys.[11]
  • Lemon law: ConnPIRG and CALPIRG were involved in passing the first new-car lemon laws in 1982 that require manufacturers to repair or repurchase severely defective relatively new vehicles.[12]
  • Safer art supplies: CALPIRG led the effort to enact the nation's first laws protecting children and artists from toxins in art supplies in 1985.[13] USPIRG followed with a federal law in 1988.[14]

Funding model[edit]

PIRGs on college campuses have historically been funded with a portion of student activity fees in the form of a labor checkoff. Students may elect to have the fees refunded to them, although many students are unaware that this is the case. In 1982, the PIRGs established the Fund for the Public Interest (commonly referred to as "the Fund") as its fundraising and canvassing arm.[15]


The student fee system of PIRG funding has been met with controversy and with a number of legal challenges.[15] In 2014, students at Macalester College in Minnesota voted to end their relationship with MPIRG due to the group's revenue structure, which relied on MPIRG automatically receiving a cut of student activity fees.[16]

The Fund For the Public Interest has been subject to lawsuits and accusations of unfair and exploitative labor practices,[17][18][19] and it has resisted unionization efforts by its canvassers.[20]

In 2016, U.S. PIRG joined conservative groups in opposing the Obama Administration's rules that expanded worker overtime pay, which resulted in criticism against the organization in the popular press.[21]


Based on data from the 2018 Fiscal Year, Charity Navigator rated the U.S. PIRG one out of four stars for accountability and transparency (67.00 out of 100), and three out of four stars for financials (82.36 out of 100), for an overall rating of two out of four stars (73.54 out of 100).[22]

Programs and campaigns[edit]

Consumer protection[edit]

U.S. PIRG’s consumer protection work includes financial and product safety reforms.

U.S. PIRG lobbied for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent U.S. government agency which was founded as a result of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act after the Great Recession and the financial crisis of 2007–2008.[23] U.S. PIRG helped win passage of the Credit CARD Act of 2009, protecting consumers from certain predatory practices by credit card companies.[24]

Product safety work includes warning consumers about potentially unsafe products in the marketplace, such as recalled baby products and food.[25][26]

Public health[edit]

U.S. PIRG has called on major restaurant chains including McDonald’s and KFC to end the use of meat raised with antibiotics, a practice that contributes to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in people.[27][28] During the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. PIRG organized medical experts to speak about the U.S.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The group of 150 sent a letter to political leaders urging them to shut down the country and start over with strategies to contain the surging coronavirus pandemic.[29]


U.S. PIRG and individual state PIRGs have taken positions against highway expansion or new construction projects as wastefully expensive and unneeded, helping to stop projects such as the Illiana Expressway in Illinois.[30][31]

Higher education[edit]

U.S. PIRG actively lobbied for passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act in 2007, which reduced interest rates on student loans and increased funding for Pell Grants.[32] It supported the expansion of open educational resources on campus and of campus food banks.[33][34][35]

Affiliated non-profits[edit]

Some PIRGs are members of a larger network of non-profit organizations called the Public Interest Network.[36] In the past, they have also helped to launch a number of other independent public interest non-profits, including:

  1. Citizen utility boards[37]: 472 
  2. The National Environmental Law Center[37]: 470 

State affiliates[edit]

Twenty-five U.S. states have a statewide PIRG that is directly affiliated with the Public Interest Network/U.S. PIRG. Other state PIRGs that are not part of the network include the New York, Vermont, Alaska, and Minnesota PIRGs.[38] The state PIRGs are:

  • AKPIRG (Alaska)*
  • Arizona PIRG
  • CALPIRG (California)
  • CoPIRG (Colorado)
  • ConnPIRG (Connecticut)
  • Florida PIRG
  • Georgia PIRG
  • Illinois PIRG
  • Iowa PIRG
  • MaryPIRG (Maryland)
  • MassPIRG (Massachusetts)
  • PIRGIM (Michigan)
  • MPIRG (Minnesota)*
  • MoPIRG (Missouri)
  • MontPIRG (Montana)
  • NHPIRG (New Hampshire)
  • NJPIRG (New Jersey)
  • NMPIRG (New Mexico)
  • NYPIRG (New York)*
  • NCPIRG (North Carolina)
  • Ohio PIRG
  • OSPIRG (Oregon)
  • RIPIRG (Rhode Island)
  • Penn PIRG (Pennsylvania)
  • TexPIRG (Texas)
  • VPIRG (Vermont)*
  • WashPIRG (Washington)
  • WisPIRG (Wisconsin)

Not affiliated with the Public Interest Network.*

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "US PIRG Education Fund". Influence Watch.
  2. ^ "US PIRG". GuideStar.
  3. ^ a b "Our Staff". (Press release).
  4. ^ "OPIRG: Welcome to the Provincial Network".
  5. ^ a b Nader, Ralph; Ross, Donald (1971). Action for a Change. Grossman Publishers.
  6. ^ Ness, Immanuel (2000). Encyclopedia of Interest Groups and Lobbyists in the United States. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. p. 504. ISBN 9780765680228.
  7. ^ Brobeck, Stephen (1997). Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement. ABC-CLIO. p. 470. ISBN 0-87436-987-8.
  8. ^ Lanier Hickman, H. (2003). American Alchemy: The History of Solid Waste Management in the United States. ForesterPress. p. 386. ISBN 9780970768728.
  9. ^ Brobeck, Stephen (1997). Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement. ABC-CLIO. p. 469. ISBN 0-87436-987-8.
  10. ^ Hickman Jr., H. Lanier (2003). American Alchemy: The History of Solid Waste Management in the United States. Forester Press. p. 386. ISBN 9780970768728.
  11. ^ Brobeck, Stephen (1997). Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement. ABC-CLIO. p. 470. ISBN 0-87436-987-8.
  12. ^ Brobeck, Stephen (1997). Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement. ABC-CLIO. p. 471. ISBN 0-87436-987-8.
  13. ^ Kotz, Mary Lynn (December 1985). "The Campaign for Art Hazards Legislation". Art News Magazine.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ Hinds, Michael Decourcy (1988-11-05). "CONSUMER'S WORLD; Arts Materials To Get Labels On Hazards (Published 1988)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-02-07.
  15. ^ a b Mayer, Robert N. (2015). Watchdogs and Whistleblowers: A Reference Guide to Consumer Activism. ABC-CLIO. p. 389. ISBN 9781440830006.
  16. ^ Verges, Josh (November 19, 2014). "Macalester College students reject MPIRG on campus". Pioneer Press. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  17. ^ Stonesifer, Sandy (1 July 2009). "I avoid street canvassers for do-gooding organizations. Does that make me a jerk?". Slate Magazine. Slate. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  18. ^ "Before Bernie: How Ralph Nader Created a System to Exploit Young, Idealistic Progressives". The People's View. The People's View. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  19. ^ Bloom, Greg (18 August 2006). "Do You Have a Minute for ?". In These Times. In These Times. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  20. ^ Rosiak, Luke (15 July 2009). "The Liberal Sweatshop". The Daily Beast.
  21. ^ Timm, Jonathan (24 August 2016). "The Plight of the Overworked Nonprofit Employee". The Atlantic. The Atlantic. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  22. ^ "Charity Navigator Rating - U.S. PIRG Education Fund". Charity Navigator.
  23. ^ "The Hill: Top 10 Lobbying Victories of 2010". 15 December 2010. Retrieved October 8, 2012.
  24. ^ Kirsch, Larry (2013). Financial Justice: The People’s Campaign to Stop Lender Abuse (ABC-CLIO ed.). Robert N. Mayer. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-4408-2951-2.
  25. ^ Arnold, Carrie (April 18, 2020). "Day Cares Used Dangerous Infant Sleeper After Recall". The New York Times.
  26. ^ Selasky, Susan (February 13, 2020). "Kroger, Target are only grocery chains in Michigan to pass food recall test". Detroit Free Press.
  27. ^ Meyer, Zlati (December 11, 2018). "McDonald's outlines plan to cut antibiotics from its beef supply". USA Today.
  28. ^ Loosemore, Bailey (April 7, 2017). "KFC to end antibiotics in chicken by 2018". Courier Journal.
  29. ^ Lin Erdman, Shelby (July 23, 2020). "US medical experts urge leaders to shut down the country and start over to contain Covid-19". CNN.
  30. ^ "Say 'no' to the Illiana Expressway (again)". Chicago Tribune. September 27, 2014.
  31. ^ Demar Lafferty, Susan (April 27, 2016). "Indiana tries to keep Illiana toll road alive". Chicago Tribune.
  32. ^ Lightman, David (September 24, 2007). "The Poster Child". Hartford Courant.
  33. ^ Carrns, Ann (February 26, 2015). "Putting a dent in college costs with open source textbooks". The New York Times.
  34. ^ Pignataro, Juliana Rose (October 17, 2016). "College Students And Stress: Half Of All Undergraduates Too Poor To Eat, Need Help Getting Food". International Business Times.
  35. ^ Najarian, Vasken (November 21, 2017). "UCR CALPIRG launches Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week". Highlander.
  36. ^ "Public Interest Network". 2012. Retrieved October 9, 2012.
  37. ^ a b Brobeck, Stephen (1998). Encyclopedia of the consumer movement. ABC-Clio. ISBN 0874369878.
  38. ^ "About Us". US PIRG.

External links[edit]