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OSPIRG. Returning? [Link Updated]

The Athletics and Contracts Finance Committee’s benchmark proposal has fallen into the Commentator‘s hands, and it includes 100% funding for OSPIRG at $117,000.

You can find the full proposal here.

The benchmark includes increases for every contract except the United States Student Association. The largest increase, besides refunding OSPIRG, is for LTD, but that is a story for another day.

Some choice portions of the document include ACFC Chair Bri Woodside-Gomez’s incorrect assumptions on why OSPIRG was defunded in the first place and her defense of full-funding:

OSPIRG historically has been one the most controversial issues ACFC deals with. It was defunded two years ago due to a number of concerns regarding the tangible benefits it brings to campus, its presence on campus, and the appropriateness of using i-fee to fund it.

Since OSPIRGS [sic] defunding they have worked to make several changes to address these concerns. They have become more open to changing their campaigns to focus more on issues that directly affect students. OSPIRGS tag is currently working on amending the contract in order to ensure the University receives heightened presence from OSPIRG’s staff on campus. OSPIRG submitted a budget that asked for $117,000, the campus body is still very much in debate over whether OSPIRG merits this amount of money.

Any research into the history of OSPIRG’s defunding* (both times) would show that the problems with OSPIRG far exceed the three concerns mentioned above. (Indeed, the post directly below this one by my esteemed colleague Alex Tomchak Scott outlines one in particular — the viscous ambiguity that lies between the Student PIRG and the State PIRG — but that is not the only one that has gone unmentioned in Bri’s assessment.)

With all increases accounted for, ACFC is looking at an 8.2% increase over last year’s budget, which is illegal, at least by the ASUO’s own rules (from the ASUO Constitution):

6.15 The ASUO recommended incidental fee assessment for each of the following Major Programs:
1) ASUO programs,
2) Athletics and Contracts Finance Committee,
3) Department Finance Committee, and
4) the incidental fee portion of the EMU budget; shall not exceed a 7% increase over the previous year’s student incidental fee assessment, unless individually approved by an initiative or referendum held under Section 14 of this Constitution. If placed on the ballot, the measure shall specify the exact amount in both percentage and dollars by which the 7% limitation will be exceeded.

Apparently, ASUO senators don’t read the rules, as we can see from some internal correspondence. The following is an email from ASUO Senator Jeremy Blanchard (Seat 10: Department Finance Committee) to the rest of the ASUO Senate:

I would like to clarify from my understanding: The only actual rule we have to follow is that the ACFC+DFC combined do not total an increase of more than 7%.

The individual budgets of ACFC & DFC could increase however they want. This works the same way that we can increase some programs by 0% and other programs by 50% or 100% even though the PFC benchmark is less than 7%. All that matters is the total.

The reason it’s ACFC & DFC rather than all the committees combined is because they used to be one committee (the ADFC). The clark document still has them as one so they can grow a total of 7%.

I’m fairly sure this is correct, but I’d be happy to hear how others understand it.

Personally, I’m happy we’re exploring our options and trying to find solutions that haven’t been tried before. I’m excited to see the breakdown of the ACFC benchmark and I’m very open to an 8% increase if it is reflected in a worthwhile benefits to students. I also believe that the ACFC has done great work and has confidence in their recommendation and that benefits that students at the UO will receive.

Thanks, all!

Blanchard is wrong here. The shift he’s referencing happened during the 2007-08 school year under then-ASUO President and now-Oregon Student Association Executive Director Emily McLain. At the time, the ASUO was broken into three budgetary groups: the EMU Board, which remains largely the same; the Athletic Department Finance Committee, which existed only to work on the Athletic Department contract; and the Programs Finance Committee, which included everything else (the department distinction was nonexistent at that time).

The ADFC never included departments or other contracts, so assuming the two could be lumped together into one for state approval purposes** is asinine.

Unfortunately, the Clark Document (which gives the ASUO its autonomous power by the administration) seems to still be confused about these shifts:

H. Recommendation Format and Criteria
Incidental fee allocation recommendations shall be aggregated by four major categories: (1) EMU; (2) ASUO programs and services; and (3) Intercollegiate Athletics (4) Departments. Each of these categories is considered a Major Program. For the purpose of this document, EMU shall include EMU activities and services; the ASUO Major Program shall be comprised of educational, cultural, and student government activities, registered and recognized student organizations, and all other non-EMU or non-Athletic department programs and services funded in whole or in part with incidental fees; and Intercollegiate Athletics shall be known as the Athletic Contracts Finance Program.

Obviously it was edited quickly to include the new finance committees, and it wasn’t done remarkably well (or in a way that makes any sense), but if we are to take this paragraph to heart, the budgetary lines are even stricter. PFC’s 7% growth cap would include not only the PFC programs, but also every department and every contract that is not the Athletic Department, guaranteeing an even smaller increase.

Aside from the illegality of funding everything the ACFC is proposing here, bringing OSPIRG back to campus is a bad idea. First, their relationship with the State PIRG and the U.S. PIRG is shady at best. From Friday’s Ol’ Dirty:

[OSPIRG (both student and state) Executive Director David] Rosenfeld said the student-focused OSPIRG is an entirely separate organization from the state-focused Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, also called OSPIRG, and the U.S. PIRG.

But the groups often pool resources to hire lobbyists, researchers and other professionals.

The student and state OSPIRGs also share an office at 1536 SE 11th Ave. Suite A in Portland.

In a 2008 tax return, the student group listed a $30,811 salary for health care advocate Laura Etherton, who is also listed on the state PIRG’s website as a state PIRG advocate for health care.

The same tax return also revealed that $85,916 of the student PIRG budget was paid to the U.S. PIRG organization, which is headquartered in Boston, for consultation purposes.

Rosenfeld said that in extenuating circumstances, students on the state student PIRG board can vote to transfer funds to pay for other organization’s immediate needs.

The tangible benefits are also in question — no matter how many campus-relevant issues you tackle, you are still using student money to pay someone’s salary (lobbyist? advocate?) with no way to definitively say whether or not they are actually doing any good. Even if legislation OSPIRG is fighting for passes, who is to say it had anything to do with OSPIRG? Indeed, who is to say that OSPIRG’s involvement didn’t serve as a detriment to the process?

Furthermore, students already pay for an organization to lobby on our behalf — the Oregon Student Association. Is OSPIRG not a duplication of services in that regard?

This whole process makes me sick to my stomach. OSPIRG’s tactic over the past few years has been to stick around until students forget why they were defunded and persistently come to the ACFC with puppy-dog eyes and hopes of wooing student representatives with talk of saving the world via $117,000 for advocates in Salem.

Sorry, kids. We’re not buying it. Your past follows you everywhere, and as long as the Commentator is around, there is no escape.

*A not-so-comprehensive list of articles about OSPIRG’s defunding from the Oregon Daily Emerald and the Oregon Commentator:

**A short story about how your incidental fee amount is set: student groups/departments/contracts present budget proposals to their respective finance committees, either PFC, DFC, ACFC, or EMU Board (a.k.a. Major Program Budgets); the Major Program Budgets determine how much they are going to give each program; that total amount is approved by the ASUO Senate; it is then approved by the ASUO President; it is then approved by the University President; it is then approved by the Oregon University System, who divides the total number by projected enrollment for the following school year and sets the fee accordingly.

  1. The Real Jim Jones says:

    Drink the kool-aid and give us liberals some money! Nevermind its ridiculousness. Drink up. These college kids will pay for me to complain sloppily to state legislatures. Nevermind that I would do the same thing anyway because I also get paid by State OSPIRG and USPIRG. Haha! I want more! Sip on the kool-aid, don’t spill any. Fuck your couch Eddie Murphy! We’ve been defunded

  2. CJ says:

    @George: Obvious troll is obvious.

  3. Law Dude says:

    Benchmark is also invalid under the Clark document, and possibly the OARs. Both override the Green Tape. It is too late in the year to amend the Clark document. Therefore, these kids are crazy. Also, to increase the funding you would need unanimous vote by committee, one vote = zero OSPIRG

  4. George says:

    you guys waste a lot of time thinking about this stuff, huh. Dont you guys have social lives? At least the old commentator people would talk about booze and shit.

  5. Lyzi Diamond says:

    Link fixed.

  6. Andrew says:

    your PDF link to the ACFC benchmark memo is broken.

  7. Steve Toyota says:

    Frankly, I don’t see how OSPIRG can stay around like they are, especially when they are under a potential threat of a RICO charge. While AG John Kroger may not do something, I know the US Attorney’s office is looking into OSPIRG and it’s potential criminal liabilities.

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