While I trust that any reader of the OC blog is in-tune with the OSPIRG controversy, last night ASUO Senator Ben Rudin delivered an eloquent dissent before the final ACFC budget was passed by a splintered ASUO Senate body. It wasn’t humanly possible to transcribe Senator Rudin’s statement in real time on CoverItLive– so we’ve got the transcription here just for you, concerned reader. He relays the OSPIRG plight quite nicely:
Direct question to anyone supporting OSPIRG and wants to answer: why do you think OSPIRG is so controversial? [get answers]
I’ll say right now, I’ll leave the arguments against the insane 97% increase to my colleagues, because to me the issue isn’t the amount, it’s the principle. The reason it is so controversial, and the reason I’m adamantly against this budget, is it flies in the face of people’s freedom to contribute to the political causes they support and refrain from supporting political causes they oppose. You wanna talk student autonomy? It’s the autonomy of every individual student. Freedom of association a fundamental right every individual has and it should remain that way for their time at this University. Anything else is slap in the face to student autonomy.
At this point I usually hear something like “I might not agree with funding athletics, or LTD, or Campus Recycling, but you’re suggesting I should still have to pay for those. How is it different?” It’s fundamentally different. Governments make public policy choices all the time, and funding decisions that reflect them. For example, take the war in Iraq. You may oppose it, as I did for most of its duration, but it’s a legitimate public policy decision. To start the process of correcting such mistakes, we have the First Amendment, which ensures we can protest, petition, lobby, advocate, the list goes on, and government cannot dictate, control, encourage, or prohibit that process. It is to ensure we have the ability to raise awareness of injustices going on, and government is unable to do anything about it.
So government can tax me to pay for its wars, even if I disagree with them, but I’ll be damned if government uses even a penny of my money to manipulate the processes protected by the First Amendment, processes that are specifically meant to protect individuals’ rights to persuade government to change course, or voters to change course in the ballot box.
At this point I usually hear, “Rudin, you’re at a loss. We have viewpoint neutrality. We fund advocacy groups all the time, as it’s part of our mission of fostering a dynamic discussion on political, religious, social, and cultural issues.” You’re right about that. I am all about providing students the tools to engage in such dynamic discussions, and we do that very well by funding our programs, including but not limited to Students for Choice, Students for Life, and the Commentator. Furthermore, if a group of students came before us saying “We’re very passionate about [this issue]. We’ve gotten a group of students together who really want to make a difference on this issue! We want to go advocate about this in Salem, and we just need some money to get there and back and take care of any other logistics.” My response would be, “done, I’m voting for this.”
You can argue it all you want, but that is not what funding OSPIRG is. Funding OSPIRG would be like a group of students coming before us saying “We’re very passionate about [this issue]. We’ve got a group of students together who really want to make a difference on this issue. We really want to see something done about this, so we need some money to pay the salary of someone to advocate in Salem full-time and year-round on [this issue].” And my response would be, “I love your passion, I admire the hard work you do, and while you don’t have a claim to other people’s money to pay someone to advocate on your issue, the door is always open if you are wanting to go to Salem yourself and need some financial help to do it.” That’s the key difference. I’ll say it again, I am all about having a student body engaged, informed, and acting on issues, and I’m all about spending the money so students can do that. No matter how much you say otherwise, paying professional advocates is not doing that. It’s like making your own outline versus buying a commercial. Most of the value is in creating the outline, not the finished product. That is lost when someone just buys a commercial outline, and that is analogous to hiring professional advocates. Professional advocates are where the bulk of the money for OSPIRG goes, and why I’m against it. If you are willing to vote for such a thing in all situations, ok, you’re being viewpoint neutral and I just completely disagree, but if you are voting for OSPIRG’s because you think they provide a service based on the issues they advocate, you are suggesting those who advocate a different or contrary issue are performing a disservice. That is viewpoint discrimination.
Another thing I hear is, “You’re not going after OSA and USSA and they’re just like OSPIRG!” No they’re not. From the perspective of a student service, they are opposites. OSA and USSA like an organization coming before us saying “We’ve got a great training program. We’re all about training students how to effectively lobby and then giving the experience to go lobby in Salem! This is a valuable service for students and an important skill to have, and we just need some money so we can provide this training and experience to your students!” My response would be “done! You got my vote.” That is completely different from students saying they’re passionate about an issue so they have a right to use a mandatory fee to pay someone to advance their political agenda. I don’t care how many students agree with the viewpoint, the advancement of a political agenda is not a student service.
That brings me to a final point. Unlike OSA and USSA, OSPIRG is a 501(c)(3). I assume most of you don’t speak tax law, so a 501(c)(3) simply means a charitable cause. You donate to them, you get a tax deduction for donating to charity. That’s all well and good, except Senate Rule 12.5(a)(M) says “at no time may incidental fee monies be donated to charitable causes.” You might be thinking “this isn’t a donation, it’s a contract.” I hate to break it to you, but donations are contracts. For example, if someone donates to the UO Foundation for a specific project, that is a donation. It’s also a contract because if the UO Foundation misuses the money, the donor has recourse. The way a contract is not a donation is if a quid pro quo (this for that) is involved. For example, we contract with the Emerald, and they publish us newspapers. We contract with SASS, and they provide us free sexual assault support services. We contract with OSPIRG, and most of the money goes to professional advocates trying to create what some people consider a “better world.” Giving an organization money in exchange for bettering the world, THAT IS A DONATION. Not only do I find this expenditure fundamentally wrong for it amounts to coerced speech, but it potentially violates the Senate rules. I urge a no vote in the strongest possible terms.