Consider the HISTORY of governance of the organizations that generate the majority of the PIRG movement's considerable income. These include the Fund For Public Interest Research (The FUND), USPIRG, MASSPIRG, CALPIRG, Green Century Funds and others. Historically, Doug Phelps has held or does hold the Chair or President's position of each of these organizations.
At the same time, look at ownership of Telefund and GCI -- two privately held businesses that represent the largest canvass and phone operation in the country. Phelps owns both.
While this may all be legal, the question of whether it is appropriate is of major concern to more than just a few. No one could disagree that on the face of it, this kind of set up is at least ripe for abuse by anyone in Phelps'position.
For some history -- In 1993, MASSPIRG, building on the success of its new kind of door to door canvass and a new PIRG campus organizing model,launched the Fund For Public Interest Research (the FUND). Built with the resources MASSPIRG harnessed from its canvasses and campus organizing, The FUND was set up to provide the PIRG movement with technical assistance to build up the infrastructure and resources of the movement in states and nationwide.
Phelps came to MASSPIRG in 1979. He had attended HLS, done some student organizing at UMASS Amherst, and set up a public interest law program. He, along with a team including Mindy Lubber, Ken Ward, Elise Jacques, and Susan Birmingham, built both MASSPIRG and then the FUND.
Just 11 years later Phelps started Telefund as his own private company. To start Telefund, he used technology developed during the previous 5 years by the FUND and MASSPIRG, hired away top senior PIRG and FUND staff, and shifted business from the PIRGs to Telefund. At the time, he was Executive Director of MASSPIRG. While he deliberately did not hold a formal position on the FUND at that time, there is no question, to anyone familiar with modern PIRG history 101, that he ran the show with respect to the FUND. He ran every FUND meeting, he made every decision, and most importantly, he signed the paychecks.
Telefund could not have been started without taking clients, technology, and key staff from the FUND. It is clear how Phelps benefited from this -- as sole owner of Telefund. How did the PIRG movement benefit?
In 2004, Grassroots Campaigns was launched using the same development model as Telefund: take the FUND/PIRG technology, key staff, and in this case the reputation of the PIRG/FUND and start a privately owned business to run canvasses and voter identification projects for the Democratic Party.
The GCI canvasses were started on the back of the PIRG/FUND canvasses. Not only that,the GCI canvasses could not be sustained today if not for the PIRG/FUND canvasses whereby office directors move from operation to operation depending on what works for GCI.
There are many to whom it seems quite obvious that many many key decisions made by Phelps in the interest of Telefund and GCI are DECIDEDLY NOT in the interest of the PIRG movement.
How is it in the interest of the PIRG movement to shut down and transfer its staff to do the work of the private company of Doug Phelps, GCI and GCI's various permutations?
How is the relationship between the PIRG/FUND organizations and GCI's electoral activity helpful to the PIRG? It is highly illegal for non-profits to engage in electoral activity. Secrecy and obfsucation are the tools necessary to maintaining the ability for GCI to use the PIRG to tap electoral clients.
No one begrudges PIRG directors and leadership from making top public interest salaries.
However, to many it does not seem healthy for one person in the movement to be making literally millions of dollars a year off the work of the movement while the majority of the staff struggle. Many are concerned that although he most certainly will not release or make transparent his income from Telefund and GCI, Douglas Phelps, the Chair of USPIRG, the FUND, does reap millions in personal profits every year. In what way does this make sense for the progressive movement or the PIRGs?
Privately, many in the larger PIRG family think he should resign all of his positions with the PIRG movement so that there can be no appearance of conflict of interest between the interest of his business and the PIRG movement's interest.
Many think he should resign all positions within the PIRG movement in order to create the appropriate distance between the PIRG movement and GCI's increasingly visible electoral activity.
Many think he should resign because he has built something more akin to a cult rather than a healthy and dynamic organization which can tolerate dissent.
The question of how and why Phelps was able to amass such power and is able to personally profit so greatly off the PIRG is complex.
One thing for sure is that Phelps has used the movement's resources to buttress himself legally. He has had some of the best legal minds available work to cover him, although not necessarily cover the PIRG. The PIRG/Fund organizations are at risk.
Big picture, responsible scruitinty would at least raise serious questions regarding:
mangement practices that run towards the cultish;
serious conflicts of interest with respect to millions of dollars raised from the public; and
potential illegal electoral activity.
To the extent that professionalized door to door and street canvasses developed by the PIRG/FUND are increasingly being used to increase the small donor base of the Democratic Party, this situation should be of concern to the Party.
Will Phelps voluntarily resign even if the risks to the PIRG outweigh the benefits? Quite the opposite. With a vengence, he will go after any person or persons with the courage to raise this as a rational possibility.
Could someone on the PIRG/FUND staff or a signficant funder or client, please call for full disclosure of the relationship between Doug Phelps as sole owner of Telefund and Grassroots Campaigns Inc (the largest combined canvass and telephone operation in the US) and the positions he holds with the family of PIRGs including Chair of the Board of USPIRG, The FUND, Green Century Funds, Greencorps, NAOPI, CALPIRG and CALEnvironment, etc. etc. etc?
There are certain myths about the situation with Phelps that are so patently false they raise deep alarm bells as to the level of denial and the lack of transparency occuring in the PIRG/FUND movement.
Myth #1: Phelps is wealthy because he inherited his wealth. False. False. False. Phelps had no money when he was hired by the PIRGs and has never received money from his family. Quite the opposite:
His multi-millions and his lofts and houses are as a result of the profits from Telefund and GCI. He doesn't take a salary because he takes the profits. He is not an employee of Telefund and GCI who is on salary -- he is the owner of those businesses and therefore owner of the profits.
Look, let's get real here: These multi-million dollar companies could not have been created without appropriating the technology of canvassing and phoning from the FUND. These companies could not have been created without key senior staff siphoned off from the PIRG and the FUND. And, at least in the case of GCI could not be sustained without use of the FUND canvasses today. The PIRG/FUND movement was used to create these private businesses and the movement continues to be used to drive profits for Douglas Phelps --- to the tune of multi-millions. This may not be illegal, but is it ethical? Is it transparent? Does the staff and the public and the funders understand that this is the reality on the ground, ie that the same person who holds every significant position of authority in the PIRG/FUND movement is also the sole owner of Telefund and GCI? Is it perfectly transparent that Phelps used and uses the PIRG/FUND movement to continue to build up his businesses? Is it perfectly transparent how exactly this in the best interest of the PIRG movement?
Myth #2: Phelps works 20 hour weeks. This is a joke. Phelps can certainly focus intensely when he needs to, and is genius at creating the sense of working all the time, but if you look at, say, a typical day in the life of Phelps in Santa Barbara -- let's see -- he'd get in at 11am, drive to UCSB for one of the best bean burritos in the world with a young female personal assistant around 1pm, "oversee" 3-5 personal assistants at any one time to pick up laundry, organize personal schedule, to get his videos and busied himself with the purchase of property for himself and family members from the Telefund profits. He'd leave at 5 to take swing dancing lessons. I suppose if you count his attending the numerous PIRG/FUND parties and gatherings of young people that happen consistently in the PIRG, of his hanging out cavorting with the new young Greencorps organzers, work, then you could add some serious hours to his work day.
Myth #3: Phelps is a real leader and the PIRG/FUND couldn't get along without. Get real: This is a man who consistently takes credit for other people's work, lies like a banshee, a guy who has stolen technology, names, who is despised by many many many but who surrounds himself with a bunch of loyal sycophants that in the words of Jerry Brown "all who have those particularly dead PIRG eyes."
we are talking about a man who will leave an entire senior staff waiting for hours and some times days while he sleeps in or gets his thoughts organized, who will make on a whim a several hundred person organization change travel plans (and force staff to personally cover the cost to do it who will, just to show who is boss, hold back already agreed upon salary increases for entire staff's for years at a time while enriching himself, who spends most of his time plotting against his internal enemies, a person very few like or feel any affection towards, a man who uses fear, humiliation, and bullying to get his way. We are talking about a man who truly creeps out more than a majority of the senior staff and alumni women. Alot of women won't be alone in a room with him. How's that for leadership?
Name one PIRG person who has challenged Phelps on one issue of import and I'll show you a staff person who regardless of how slow or overt the process, was ultimately villified and/or forced to leave the organization.
Myth #4. Because Phelps was a significant player in the 1960s, he is therefore entitled to make every significant decision within the PIRG/FUND movement, treat staff like like shit, use the organization as his personal playground, and become a multi-millionare in the process. First of all, who ever heard of Phelps' impact on the 60's??? He was in the area when Wounded Knee occurred and along with a bunch of other college white boys tried to help. What exactly does this entitle him to today?
The situation with Phelps and the PIRG movement is a disgrace to the progressive movement, and the top will be blown off one of these days if one of the key funders, clients, or staff members doesn't act first.
I've been following this discussion for months now and there 800 pound elephant in the room everyone keeps ignoring.
Who owns Telefund? Who owns GCI? (answer: Doug Phelps)
Why were Phelp's two for-profit organizations allowed to be built off the back of the PIRG movement for the last 10 years?
Of the $22 million raised to "defeat Bush" in 2004, how much went to the DNC?
AS SOLE OWNER, HOW MUCH PROFIT DID DOUG PHELPS REALIZE FROM GCI in 2004?
And, why is the PIRG movement allowing itself to be used to make one individual a multi-millionaire? Why is moveon doing the same thing?
Follow the money. Decisons about canvassing and organizing are being made on the basis of how to maximize profits for Telefund and GCI and therefore Phelps.
FOLLOW THE MONEY.
PS. Lockse -- chin up. Any criticism of the PIRG/FUND or Phelps for profit companies will generate deeply personal attack. There are hundreds of former PIRG staff who can personally and painfully attest to this fact.
If you weren't hitting a nerve, you wouldn't be attacked so personally and gratuitously. It is sadly typical of the organizational culture.