Public Interest Research Group

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Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) are a federation of U.S. and Canadian[1] non-profit organizations that employ grassroots organizing and direct advocacy with the goal of effecting liberal political change.[2] The PIRGs are closely affiliated with the Fund for the Public Interest, which conducts fundraising and canvassing on their behalf.

Logo of U.S. PIRG
MottoStanding up to powerful interests
Formation1984; 36 years ago (1984)[3][4]
TypeAdvocacy organization
Key people
Doug Phelps
Faye Park


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.[6] 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.[6]

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.[7] The state PIRGs created U.S. PIRG in 1984 to have a national lobbying presence in Washington, D.C.[8]

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".[9] MASSPIRG lobbied for six years for enactment of a state bottle return law, eventually winning container deposit legislation in 1982.[10][11]
  • Toy safety: U.S. PIRG has released toy safety reports every year since 1986, which has led to recalls of more than 35 toys.[12]
  • 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.[13]

Funding model and allegations of unfair labor practices[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. This system of PIRG funding has been met with controversy and with a number of legal challenges.[14] 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.[15]

In 1982, the PIRGs established the Fund for the Public Interest (commonly referred to as "the Fund") as its fundraising and canvassing arm.[14] The Fund has been subject to lawsuits and accusations of unfair and exploitative labor practices,[16][17][18] and it has resisted unionization efforts by its canvassers to unionize.[19] 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.[20]


Charity Navigator rated the U.S. PIRG two out of four stars for accountability and transparency, and three out of four stars for financials.[21]

Policy positions[edit]

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 in the wake of the late-2000s recession and the financial crisis.[22]

The PIRGs have worked to make same-sex marriage legal, to increase the minimum wage, to enact increased environmental regulations, to oppose Voter ID laws in the United States, build high speed rail in California, defend solar net metering in California, increase food labeling in California, expand open educational resources on campus, expand campus food pantries, and ban pesticides linked to colony collapse.[15]

Affiliated non-profits[edit]

Some PIRGs are members of a larger network of non-profit organizations called the Public Interest Network.[23] In the past, they have also helped to launch a number of other independent public interest non-profits, including:

  1. Citizen utility boards[24]:472
  2. The National Environmental Law Center[24]:470

State affiliates[edit]

Twenty-five U.S. states have a statewide PIRG that is directly affiliated with the Public Interest Network/US PIRG. Other state PIRGs that are not part of the network include the New York, Vermont, and Minnesota PIRGs.[25] The state PIRGs are:

Not affiliated with the Public Interest Network.*

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "OPIRG: Welcome to the Provincial Network".
  2. ^ Ali, Ambreen (September 15, 2011). "Liberal, Conservative Groups Join to Find Spending Cuts". Roll Call. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  3. ^ "US PIRG Education Fund". Influence Watch. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  4. ^ "US PIRG". GuideStar. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Our Staff". (Press release).
  6. ^ a b Nader, Ralph; Ross, Donald (1971). Action for a Change. Grossman Publishers.
  7. ^ Ness, Immanuel (2000). Encyclopedia of Interest Groups and Lobbyists in the United States. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. p. 504. ISBN 9780765680228.
  8. ^ Brobeck, Stephen (1997). Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement. ABC-CLIO. p. 470. ISBN 0-87436-987-8.
  9. ^ Lanier Hickman, H. (2003). American Alchemy: The History of Solid Waste Management in the United States. ForesterPress. p. 386. ISBN 9780970768728.
  10. ^ Brobeck, Stephen (1997). Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement. ABC-CLIO. p. 469. ISBN 0-87436-987-8.
  11. ^ Hickman, Jr., H. Lanier (2003). American Alchemy: The History of Solid Waste Management in the United States. Forester Press. p. 386. ISBN 9780970768728.
  12. ^ Brobeck, Stephen (1997). Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement. ABC-CLIO. p. 470. ISBN 0-87436-987-8.
  13. ^ Brobeck, Stephen (1997). Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement. ABC-CLIO. p. 471. ISBN 0-87436-987-8.
  14. ^ a b Mayer, Robert N. (2015). Watchdogs and Whistleblowers: A Reference Guide to Consumer Activism. ABC-CLIO. p. 389. ISBN 9781440830006.
  15. ^ a b Verges, Josh (November 19, 2014). "Macalester College students reject MPIRG on campus". Pioneer Press. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ Bloom, Greg (18 August 2006). "Do You Have a Minute for ?". In These Times. In These Times. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  19. ^ Rosiak, Luke (15 July 2009). "The Liberal Sweatshop". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  20. ^ Timm, Jonathan (24 August 2016). "The Plight of the Overworked Nonprofit Employee". The Atlantic. The Atlantic. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  21. ^ "Charity Navigator Rating - U.S. PIRG Education Fund". Charity Navigator.
  22. ^ "The Hill: Top 10 Lobbying Victories of 2010". 15 December 2010. Retrieved October 8, 2012.
  23. ^ "Public Interest Network". 2012. Retrieved October 9, 2012.
  24. ^ a b Brobeck, Stephen (1998). Encyclopedia of the consumer movement. ABC-Clio. ISBN 0874369878.
  25. ^ "About Us". US PIRG. Retrieved April 8, 2020.

External links[edit]