The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

This series is an expansion of my reporting inIn These Times magazine (August 18th, "Do You Have a Minute For...?") about two offices of the Fund for Public Interest Research that voted to unionize and were subsequently shut down.

As I noted in the first post, the Fund is perhaps the single largest employer of progressive activists in the country - through the entire PIRG/Fund world, thousands of would-be progressive leaders pass every year.

Part Two of the series introduced the Los Angeles door canvassers who "broke the Fund/PIRG model" by staying with their jobs for the long-term.

Part Three traced the path that led them to petition and vote for a union.

Part Four introduced the Los Angeles Telephone Outreach Project employees, who raise the "real money" in the Fund/PIRG model, and who followed the callers' lead toward a union.

Part Five is about how each of these unions was busted by the Fund management.

Lockse, an 8 year PIRG/Fund veteran, wrote a compelling "tough love" response to these incidences here.

This post is about the questions that the callers and canvassers are asking about the PIRG/Fund network. It is a long list of questions, some of which are answered -- many of which are not.

I realize that this issue is not quite at the top of MyDD readers' must-read lists, perhaps because it is about a group of people who are not in the media, not in office or fighting for office, and not online. But think of it this way: if the blogosphere is the intelligentsia of the nascent progressive movement, these fundraisers are its toiling proletariat. Vital, but nearly invisible; in dire need of empowerment. This issue might not be as glamorous as setting the progressive agenda for the next two years, but it shapes the generation of our activists and affects the health of our grassroots for the decades to come...

This post is very long. I thought about apologizing for that, but then I decided I'm not sorry. Grab a cup of tea or something.

- / -

Consider the immense knowledge of waste, fraud, negligence, and other misdeeds which employees of corporations, governmental agencies, and other bureaucracies possess. Most of this country's abuses are secrets known to thousands of insiders, at times right down to the lowest paid worker. ... The complicity of silence, of getting along by going along, of just taking orders, of "mum's the word" has been a prime target of student activism and a prime factor leading students to exercise their moral concern. -- Ralph Nader, Action For A Change

  - / -

In 2005, the Los Angeles Telephone Outreach Project calling room was put to work exclusively on "an emergency campaign" to raise money to post a full-page ad in the West Coast edition of the New York Times, in support of Environment California's 'solar roofs bill.' "So we're tearing through the lists for three weeks," recalls Marcy, "asking people to give 500 or 1000 dollars, since it's an emergency. And our office raised something like 70 thousand dollars [a good week is usually 40-50k] but then when the ad came out, there were all these big celebrity sponsors in big letters at the bottom, people like Ed Begley Jr, at least thirty names, and then there was the Environment California logo in the corner."

For a year afterwards, the callers' scripts claimed that Environment California drafted the bill and had successfully lobbied it into law. They have several records of member complaints over this.

"People would say that it was fraudulent of us to be claiming that! Not only had the bill not been fully passed, but they'd ask us to tell them how Environment California was involved in it, other than our advocates jumping into a photo op with Davis. And of course we had no idea how it was involved. Did Environment California contribute some money to that emergency ad? Probably. But what about the rest of those 'emergency' funds?"

The callers and canvassers have a long list of questions like this. I find some of their questions to be better than others -- but considering this group of people raised hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars for these organizations, only to have their human rights violated by representatives of those organizations, I think these questions deserve whatever kind of hearing they can get.

   - / -

Neither the canvassers nor callers have any access to the internal workings of the PIRG/Fund network. But the callers--unlike the canvassers--do speak on a daily basis to a broad section of the PIRG/Fund membership base. In fact, the TOP callers work more closely with that base than any other Fund/PIRG staff. If the Fund was indeed trying to punish the callers, it was tipping its hand in the process.

It started with the membership renewals. In the previous post, Marcy and Joe explained that the "lists went from awesome to awful overnight" after the union vote. In part, they meant that while they were calling lists of members who were supposedly due to renew their membership with a donation, the callers suddenly started to come across an unusually large amount of people who claimed to only just recently  have renewed. Of course, in any large database, duplicate entries can be expected -- but suddenly something seemed to be wrong.

"There were an awful lot of these errors," said Joe, and just like the payroll dysfunction and erratic reimbursements, "they all seemed to benefit the organization."

And weeks after the callers had reported the problems, without sign of improvement, they took it upon themselves to compile information about members who might otherwise be inappropriately solicited. On scraps of paper, napkins and receipts, the callers began a surreptitious inventory of complaints from their members -- members who had spent hours trying to cancel their "sustainer" automatic-deduction memberships; members who had thought they'd cancelled but were renewed anyway; members who had cancelled and were being called as if they were still members; members who had asked several times over not to be called; members whose names appeared in calling lists for PIRG organizations that they claimed to have never joined in the first place; members of CalPIRG who'd been called by USPIRG, Environment California, and Pesticide Watch just that week. Marcy's had several cluttered cabinets full of these scribbled notes and photocopies of other material that had been submitted to the NLRB.

"It had always seemed so sloppy to me," admitted Joe, "but I'd still assumed that overall it was a good operation, they just didn't have their act together." After the callers had run up against the union-busting tactics, that assumption vanished. "The fact that they put so many resources against us in such a concerted way...that experience really brought it home. I came to believe that all those mistakes, the working environment, it all seemed deliberate. And once it started affecting my pay, and my money was being stolen - well, that's when I really tried to figure it out."

  - / -

Simply figuring out the structure of the PIRG family tree is a difficult task. First of all, there is the odd PIRG that is not at all connected with the others - like the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, MPIRG (in which, ironically, the campus organizer staff successfully unionized several years ago). But for the most part, the Fund for Public Interest Research is "the glue" that holds together the state PIRGs plus a large number of other organizations, all of which are chartered and managed by the same handful of people.

Marcy wrote me a list of the state PIRGs under the FFPIRG umbrella:
Alaska PIRG (AKPIRG), Arizona PIRG (AZPIRG), Colorado PIRG (CoPIRG), Connecticut PIRG (ConnPIRG), Florida PIRG, Georgia PIRG, Illinois PIRG, Iowa PIRG, Maryland PIRG (MaryPIRG), PIRG in Michigan (PIRGIM), Missouri PIRG (MoPIRG),  Massachusetts PIRG (MassPIRG),  New Jersey PIRG (NJPIRG),  New Mexico PIRG (NMPIRG),  New York PIRG (NYPIRG) [ed--sort of], North Carolina PIRG, Ohio PIRG, Oregon State PIRG (OSPirg), Pennsylvania PIRG (Penn Pirg), Rhode Island PIRG (RIPIRG), Texas PIRG (TexPIRG), Vermont PIRG (VPIRG), Washington PIRG (WashPIRG), Wisconsin PIRG (WisPIRG)

Originally, these state PIRGs were almost all loosely-affiliated, student-run, volunteer-based organizations--a true state-level grassroots movement. But (and this is some history that the callers might not know) as the 1980s came into swing, these organizations found their funding sources under attack by conservative college groups led by people like Jack Abramoff and Karl Rove. The Fund was created to provide a steady stream of resources through a nationalized canvassing platform; the state PIRGs came to rely upon this funding stream, and because of its success, more PIRGs were created and the national structure was forged. Thus began the consolidation and centralization and that defines FFPIRG today. (The odd PIRG, like NYPIRG, opted out of this centralization, and remains somewhat independent.) The above list is not exhaustive; new state PIRGs are still being launched.

At this point, these organizations are (despite their figurehead student boards) little more than headless bodies, or rather, legs on the bodiless head that is USPIRG. And the crown of that head is the National Associations Organizing in the Public Interest (AKA National Association of the Public Interest) -- NAOPI. NAOPI is the national platform that calls the shots. NAOPI isimpressively un-Googleable.

Honestly, I can't say what, exactly, NAOPI is -- and I've spoken with people who've been senior PIRG management since the mid-90s. Nobody seems to be totally clear on what it is, except that it controls everything.

   - / -

"Why were we calling on behalf of a forest protection campaign for Iowa PIRG?" asks Joe. He adds dryly: "There are no forests in Iowa."

Now, here's where I have to be skeptical of my fellow skeptics.

It could be that all state PIRGs are working on a nationalized campaign to save America's forests.

One might believe that PIRG's conception of "the environment" is abstracted and fetishized, externalized into something out there that needs to be protected, reduced to an idea that can be signed off on with a check -- the kind of arbitrary campaigns that both preserve the "growth" of environmental groups while killing environmentalism, as Shellenberger and Nordhaus argue in "The Death of Environmentalism."If you just give us more money to save the forests, we will fight and win--despite the fact that we will just be doing the same things that have lost for twenty years. One might agree that this is bad for the environmental movement, and that Iowa PIRG's members would better serve the public interest--and would be better served as citizens--by supporting an organization that actually engages them and their community toward meaningful, tangible actions. But there's a big leap between ineffectual and scam.

On the other hand, Iowa PIRG is clearly not going to be the organization that does the work that saves the national forests.
"So who knows where the money goes? The members don't know. I tell them it goes to 'get stuff done,' but I don't know."

So I tried to find out where the money in a state PIRG goes.

I called up Missouri PIRG, which is apparently an organization that has 13,500 "members." These people became members when they were canvassed on the street by Fund canvassers. As of 2005, the callers reported that MoPIRG did not actually have an advocate on staff. So what, exactly, were those 13,500 members supporting? They were supporting the further development of MoPIRG, to get more members and hopefully hire an advocate. But when I spoke with MoPIRG this month, they still did not have an advocate on staff. In the meantime, the nice campus organizer who spoke with me on the phone said that she helps work on something called the New Energy Future campaign, and that "everyone" around the country is working on the campaign. Later in this year [ed--if she hasn't quit yet] she expects to "work with legislators" and "create an accountability moment" where the New Energy Future will be rallied into fruition.

This "campaign" exists, and somewhere there is some "work" being done on it. But Missouri PIRG and Iowa PIRG recruit "members" for these same campaigns every year, constantly, a never-ending cycle of forest, ocean, air, energy campaigns. The "New Energy Future" is not yet upon us. But did the woman on the phone know exactly what happens to the money that the Fund canvassers raised in Missouri to "speak up an take action on their [members'] behalf"? No, she did not.

Does the IowaPIRG campus organizer know that TOP callers are calling IowaPIRG members to ask them to help save the national forest?

 - / -

A new part of the PIRG family tree from which the TOP callers spent a lot of time hanging are the Environment [State] groups. The PIRG-splits.

"As soon as I started working there," said Joe, "they were splitting CalPIRG into CalPIRG and Environment California."

Around that time, CoPIRG split into CoPIRG and Environment Colorado. Quite recently, other PIRG-splits have included Environment Georgia, Environment Maine, Environment Florida, Environment Maryland,  Environment Illinois, Environment Texas and, why not mix it up a little, Penn Environment.

Whereas PIRG groups used to engage in both consumer and environment advocacy, the `splits' now divided those missions cleanly: state PIRG groups still release credit reports and disputed research about college textbooks, while the Environment [State] groups cover...you know. And the people in the Environment [State] groups are the same people who were in the state PIRG groups -- same advocates, same members. Or, from a different perspective: twice the membership.

See, when the state PIRG groups split, all existing PIRG "members" were "grandfathered" in to the Environment [State] groups--meaning that for the first year their "membership" in the PIRG-split group (i.e., the newsletter/donation form they get four or so times a year) was all free. Then the following year, Marcy and the other TOP callers now could be calling them twice: once to renew for the state PIRG, and once to renew for the PIRG-split. And now the Fund has another set of organization names--new, more appealing names--under which it can run its canvasses.

Was this illegal? Nope. It was clever, is what it was.

"Most people hear `Environment California' and think `oh, sure, I know you guys,' even though it's the first time we were talking to them," said Marcy, who found those campaigns to be particularly easy to call into. Marcy befriends most people instantly, and can give the warm, comforting impression that the person is already quite familiar with whatever it is that she is talking about. Details like 'what is this organization, and what does it do' simply don't matter all that much when Marcy is talking to you about the environment.

"I'd been raising them so much money for so long, and I'd had my doubts before," Marcy says, "but now that I was looking at it square in the face, I just didn't know where it was all going. I'd been there on the phone telling people `we won this with your help, and now we need you to do this other thing,' but the more I looked, the more I just saw smoke and mirrors, just this big circular pattern."

- / -

Supposedly, Environment California's big shining success was that California solar roofs bill for which the TOP raised money so furiously. After several years in which the bill was shot down, taken apart, and forced to regroup, it has finally passed.

I have a PIRG pamphlet ("30 Years of Action in the Public Interest") that lists this victory, along with a set of achievements and victories won by these organizations. But if you look chiefly at the list of the last fifteen, twenty years, almost all of the victories have words like "helped" and phrases like "and a coalition of."

PIRG does have lobbyists; PIRG lobbyists do write reports and send letters to legislators about various policy initiatives. That much is fact enough. Who do these lobbyists report back to? Not the membership. Not the individual state PIRGs. The lobbyists brief the callers and the canvassers every few months, often over the phone, and the briefings are "not much more specific than the raps."

As a result, the canvassers, callers, and directors alike cannot say in any substantive way what it is that the lobbyists and advocates actually do by way of the funds that are raised. The calling raps, like the canvass raps, claim that the campaigns are working to "show" how much support there is, to "hold politicians accountable" and to "get legislation passed" - but beyond those claims, they are almost entirely devoid of information about the campaign at hand. Callers are actively discouraged from getting into time-consuming discussions about the issues and campaigns in detail. As for those members who ask about, say, what a PIRG advocate does and how the campaigns work (in greater detail than "lobbying" to "get" important bills passed) - "those people are supposedly `not worth our time,'" says Joe.

That strikes a chord of recognition with me -- canvass directing for GCI in 2004, we always used to say that Republicans are "not worth our time."

  - / -

Here's something that is supposedly worth the Fund employees' time: postcards.

Aside from donations, postcards are the primary form of "political action" that the Fund claims it offers forth to the public in the public interest's service. The Fund canvassers will gather signatures on these postcards - quarter-sheet statements of support for or against given legislation. Postcarding sessions are those "volunteer activities" that will push a Field Manager's work week up to 60 hours, a director's work week up to 80. The idea is that postcards are a tactically-valid display of popular support, the voice of the citizens, only not quite as imposing as a petition, and much easier than asking for money -- it's just asking the signer to include their contact information.

"Then months later we'll call them up," said Marcy, "we'll call them our members, and ask them to support the organization with a donation." Sometimes, they would be calling people on behalf of organizations or campaigns that were for causes entirely unrelated to the matter on the postcard. More troubling still, postcards for the Sierra Club and other Fund clients would somehow find their way into the PIRG calling sessions.

One thing is for sure: this is resourceful list-building. And, conveniently, PIRG organizations also receive "postcard grant" funding from foundations like Pew.

But once the callers were paying closer attention, they realized that these postcards' path went from the street, to the office to be processed for information and called, and only to be left en masse in a back room. The shelves and floor were "totally packed with boxes," said Marcy, "all these thousands of postcards left to rot."

Have PIRG and PIRG-related organizations "presented" giant sacks of postcards to legislators and committees and press conferences before? Yes. What is the political effect of these sacks full of postcards? It's unclear. But it is clear that PIRG employees spend a considerable amount of time collecting and processing them, and that the Fund does bring in a considerable amount of money from them. And it seems likely that a union might make it difficult for the Fund to wring significant amounts of "volunteer time" from its employees at the postcard table.

  - / -

One of the callers' favorite examples of what they believe to be fraud is the Green Life.

Every few months, LA TOP would start calling to raise money for the "Green Life." They say they were always unclear about what the Green Life was.

"The Green Life is supposedly this big internet campaign to do all these things in support of sustainable industry and living and so on. Our raps say, 'we hold corporations accountable for their environmentally unsound activities.' Ok, so go to the web site - what is it? It's just a series of pamphlets, standard-issue environmental magazine copy, repackaged into a web site and left alone. The same pamphlets they used in EcoPledge and Earthday 2000."

From what I can tell, that wasn't always entirely a fair description -- the Green Life was at one point at least marginally more than a series of pamphlets, as there was a blog (of sorts) that went dormant earlier this year, and a couple of other blog-like features that died before then. The Green Life's presence on the internet is close tonil.

"What does it need -- $30 a year in web hosting fees to keep doing what it's doing?"

Members of the Green Life received no informational packets or newsletters of any kind--though they did receive emails. At one point there was at least one full-time employee for the Green Life--that is no longer true. It appears that the Green Life is a ghost.

But was it a scam? Well, it was an idea. Not a very clever idea. The idea failed. That is not inherently a bad thing. Big companies have to take risks in order to grow and they will inevitably fail sometimes. But if Green Life was a risk-taking enterprise that PIRGers cobbled together and abandoned just as promptly, why were PIRG donors were being asked to front the money -- lots of money, Marcy says, big donations, five hundred or a thousand, or even a hundred a month -- as if it were already established and functioning and "winning"? Why was LA TOP raising money for it after it had apparently died? Could it be that some of those members are still paying monthly dues to a ghost?

Could the same money that was raised for the Green Life, under the auspices of exposing corporate greenwashing, have also gone to create the corporate-whitewashing site CanvassingWorks.org?

  - / -

There is Green Corps, the environmental activist training program, which has alumni in almost every major progressive organization.

There is the National Environmental Law Center, a "litigation center" that does seem to do a good amount of legal work on environmental causes. "But were NELC lawyers the ones who worked for weeks to kill our petition?" asked Christian. "Were those the lawyers who swamped the NLRB with boxes of evidence against the TOP callers' charges?" asked Marcy.

There is Earth Tones, an old-school long-distance calling company that gives all of its proceeds to PIRG.

There is the PIRG Fuel Buyers, which provides discounts on oil to its consumers.

There is a string of initiatives--some reported successes, some almost wholly forgotten--like EcoPledge; like Earthday 2000; like Toxic Action Center; like Pesticide Watch; like the New Voters Project (which is rumored--yes, rumored--to have "misplaced" the massive voter file from its "hugely successful" 2005 GOTV drive).

There is Telefund, a for-profit sister to the TOP, which telefundraises for scores of progressive organizations, including the DNC and Mother Jones magazine (which, unfortunately, seems resolutely uninterested in deploying its trademark investigative journalism onto PIRG/Fund). Telefund was built upon PIRG's human resources; back in the day, TOP calling was siphoned off to Telefund, to get it off the ground; even today, when carrying a light client load, Telefund has reportedly taken on work for PIRG and PIRG-related organizations. (Telefund seems to bust unions too.)

There is Grassroots Campaigns Inc, a for-profit subcontractor that provides field campaigns for organizations like the DNC and MoveOn. (MoveOn PAC's Field Director, Adam Ruben, was once the national Field Director of U.S. PIRG and the Organizing Director for Green Corps.)

There is Grassroots Voter Outreach, which is a kind of corporate turnkey that allowed the staff of the non-profit non-partisan Fund to take a "leave of absence" and start work with the for-profit partisan GCI for MoveOn in the 2004 election.

There is Environmental Action, which was originally an influential special interest outfit in the 70s that helped pass the Clean Air Act. Environmental Action ultimately went defunct, but a few years ago, the mantle was picked back up as a PIRG project. Environmental Action is now based in the MASSPIRG office. It has a handful of employees, if that. (The Environmental Action website still describes the 30 year-old history of the original group, as if it is the same group still running. 'Unfortunately, three decades later, environmental and political problems remain...') This is a savvy business trick. PIRGers took the name of a moribund entity and relaunched the brand, deploying it into their canvass model to bring in more donors. Grassroots Campaigns Inc canvasses for Environmental Action--especially in seasons when GCI has no other clients to work for. The Fund has canvassed for it as well. That means that a PIRG organization pays a PIRG-related for-profit company to canvass, in the process generating donor lists for Telefund.

There is now a lobbyist on staff at Environmental Action. There is even a MySpace page. But what is the "impassioned, results-oriented activism" that has been enabled by the tens of thousands of people who have given to Environmental Action via GCI canvassers? The people don't know. The canvassers don't know. GCI's Canvass Directors don't know. The MySpace page doesn't say.

  - / -

The members of the late LA Fund union have a simple, clear answer as to where the money goes:

Green Century Funds. It's a PIRG-owned mutual fund.

"It's all right there - you can see that there's upwards of fifty million dollars invested in corporations like Procter & Gamble, JP Morgan, McDonalds, Toyota. Merck."

Christian finds this evidence to be damning on its face.

"Supposedly it's for shareholder activism," he said, shaking his head. "But shareholder activism requires a token amount of shares in a company - not tens of millions of dollars." That means that PIRG is yielding investment profit from the very corporations it is supposedly trying to hold accountable.

I actually think the callers are jumping a step too far here. I made some calls, but mostly it was a couple of chance encounters that put me in touch with people who might understand this: Green Century Capital Management has around $2-5k invested for the purpose of shareholder advocacy in these and other companies -- not egregious amounts. Its record for shareholder activism does exist, and in fact that record looks more concrete and impressive than anything that State PIRG have accomplished in the last ten years. It's widely rumored that PIRG has a massive chunk of assets lying around somewhere, but that chunk doesn't seem visible in Green Century.

So there is no readily available evidence that the entire thing is "the biggest scam in the history of modern progressive politics," as one of the people I interviewed for this story put it emphatically. After all, if anything, one would hope that a network this large would have a big stash of resources. In theory, that's healthy. The thing is, no one seems to be able to account for this money. Can anyone blame the callers for taking that jump?

In the end, I told Christian and Marcy that I think the money trail is a distraction--and that their situation, and to a lesser extent the situation of most of the entry level workers in PIRG/Fund, is inexcusable regardless of how much money was backed up in there. But it remains a giant question mark and that big-piggy question mark has a whole host of smaller question marks suckling up to it -- many of which would be asked in the process of staff unionization. Lockse, who very well may have busted a few proto-union drives in her own day, asked a good amount of the questions herself on this blog:

[D]oes Fund/PIRG/GCI have the resources to run better campaigns? Does Fund/PIRG/GCI have the money to not just give its employees the cafeteria option of health care--but to actually pay for it? Does it have the money to create a well-staffed and technologically-adept administration, so that its employees aren't plagued regularly with mistakes? Does it have the money to reimburse its employees fairly for gas, to pay up-front for the expenses of running an office, to equip them with the proper resources that they need? ...What are the formal channels through which the Fund/PIRG/GCI can receive, evaluate, and act upon feedback? Could the leaders keep more and better staff, and get better work done, by making the job more sustainable ( i.e. less than 12 hours a day, 7 days a week)? Can we build a progressive movement without respecting the commitments and intelligence of the people working within it? And what will it take to get Fund/PIRG/GCI to uphold their own responsibility over the progressive movement's most important natural resource?

- / -

The big question still hangs in the air between me and the callers and canvassers, I play the skeptic's skeptic once more:

"If it's a scam, who benefits?"

"Doug Phelps," Christian and Marcy said without hesitation, in unison, as if the answer was obvious.

And the answer isobvious -- even though it's tweaked in rumor and masked by layers of puppet fabric -- but I have intentionally reported up until this point as if the answer was irrelevant. I have focused on what is visible on the ground -- on what is claimed and what is actually accomplished and why there is such a big gap in between.

At a certain point, the "who" can no longer be ignored.

Doug Phelps is independently wealthy -- so it is said, even by those who are critical of his model. It's inherited wealth -- but that, it turns out, is a PIRGer's urban myth. Phelps came from a humble upbringing before ultimately attending Harvard Law and consolidating power over the PIRGs in the early 80s.

He gives all of his salary back to PIRG -- so it is said, also as if fact. But that is simply not clear - especially considering the sheer number of interconnected organizations over which he has control.

He walks the walkahisma told us, soon after calling me "a few tacos short of a combination plate."He did jail for Native American rights -- this urban myth is a new one, and my sources were very amused.
[He] told people they were lucky to be paid at all since he was originally paid in postage stamps -- so wrote an anonymous GCI staff member to me, describing a central-HQ meeting in Boston that Phelps called in the midst of the stringofpostingsbyMoveOn Operation Democracy veterans about the various deeds of waste, fraud and negligence on that campaign. also gave the bushian you are with us or against us line, the tipster said, signing off: staff not happy. (By now, most of that staff is already long gone.)

Doug Phelps, who made the deal with Terry McAuliffe to launch Grassroots Campaigns Inc and send thousands of its canvassers into the streets to "beat Bush" by raising 21 million dollars that did not go to the 2004 election. Doug Phelps, who made the deal with Adam Ruben, his former employee and current MoveOn PAC Political Director, to launch MoveOn's 2004 Leave No Voter Behind campaign, and who I personally--for whatever it's worth, cards on the table--hold responsible for that campaign's total collapse.

Doug Phelps, he of the email address Pirg1@[xxx].com. He works twenty hours a day and sleeps with one eye open.

That last one I actually kind of believe, which makes the idea that this is a scam even stranger. Phelps is at the top of everything. He controls NAOPI, he's the chair of USPIRG, he controls Green Century Capital Management, the chair of Green Corps; Grassroots Campaigns Inc is his, Telefund is his. All the executive managers that busted the LA unions answer to him. And he is hands-on. No important decision seems to be made in any of these organizations without going through him. So what if he has a massive loft in Denver and a friggin mansion in California--aside from the yearly PIRGathon bacchanalia in Aspen, he cannot possibly find much time to enjoy the spoils, what with all the strings that he is pulling.

So if it's not a scam, then what does it amount to? No one knows  but Doug Phelps, and while most people have an awed respect for the man, few seem to trust him.

"It's just like Keyser Soze," Marcy said, several times in our conversation, in reference to the Usual Suspects. "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

Personally, my impression of Phelps now is not all that much different from my first impression, while cheering for him in the Milwaukee convention center at the launch of the disastrous Leave No Voter Behind campaign. General. Businessman. Mastermind. And if the business of saving the world is a jungle, Phelps is deep in the heart of darkness.

- / -

I will try now to be clear on what this post is about.

I am not at all convinced--as are some of the people I've interviewed for these posts--that this network of organizations is "the biggest scam in the history of modern progressive politics." That explanation just isn't a satisfying answer to all these questions -- and the questions are, after all, the titular subject of this post.

I would imagine that at least one or two of these questions have answers that would satisfy a PIRG donor.
I also have a strong hunch that the sum total of the answers to these questions would not satisfy a PIRG donor.

Does it matter? If the relatively small group of PIRG lobbyists that do exist are, in fact, as resourceful and ruthless and stealthy in their lobbying as the Fund managers were in preventing their employees from securing better working conditions, then perhaps this whole system is--means be damned--a vital force for positive change. I would be foolish to say that's impossible--I doubt it, but I just don't know. And on the other side are a good many PIRG/Fund/GCI people who believe it with the kind of faith that does not need nor tend to seek knowledge.

But yes, to definitively answer at least one of the questions in this post: it does matter whether these answers would satisfy a PIRG donor.

 - / -

So in one last attempt at fairness, I asked the LA Fund employees to put me in touch with some actual PIRG "members."
(You didn't think that I would write all this just to let a bunch of ex-employees, myself included, take potshots, did you?)

Specifically, I wanted to speak with members who would know something about the public interest matters in which these groups are acting. Since both the canvassers and callers had worked on Environment California and its solar roofs bill, in fact worked down the hall from the lobbyists who are supposedly responsible, I focused there.

First I contacted a professor emeritus of environmental science at a major California university. He was more than happy to talk at me for forty minutes, almost without stopping. Here is the most concise excerpt I could pick out:

"So they hire these young people who have a gift for sales, and they put them to work. Years back, this rather attractive young woman came to my door and gave me a big song and dance and some literature about all sorts of stuff that they're doing in Washington, what they're doing in the state capitol, and I let them take a rather large amount of money from my bank account for a while, before I began to realize that I've seen no shred of hard evidence that they're doing anything."

You mean in the policy realm, I ask.
"Yes, they're totally unknown in the policy world. I took that donation seriously, because believe me this world needs us to be saving the environment right now, it needs us to be saving our country. But I asked around and none not one of my colleagues could say what this money was doing -- and I know some very important people, son, do you understand? So we have come to believe that all they're doing is collecting money to support some top brass's large salaries. And I wonder, what did they teach that young woman who came up real close to me with her song and dance? What did they tell her about what she was doing?" I noted that the professor seemed to find this question to be even more troubling than the question about what was happening to the money she took from him.

In the end, though, maybe a professor emeritus of environmental science wouldn't necessarily be qualified to comment on environmental policy matters. The other person I contacted, however, certainly was: he was a former PIRG donor who now has a deep involvement with the solar energy industry in California. I asked him about Environment California's "baby," its big victory, the solar roofs bill:

"Absolutely, Environment California deserves a share of the credit [for the solar roofs bill] - they were not the only ones, by any means, but yes, they were definitely out there doing legwork."

He followed this with a remark upon the "funny system" of PIRG organizations, and I prompted him to continue:

"So they employ hundreds of people in a purely fundraising capacity - but they only have a tiny number of people with a policy role. And there's no system of accountability for those people."

When I asked whether that lack of accountability might affect the PIRG lobbyists' effectiveness, he said from what he saw of their work, it certainly seemed that way:

"They don't solicit any involvement from their members or partners, to give them the chance to impact what the strategy is. Because there's no channels for communication, information doesn't make its way up. Because only a few people make the decisions, there's no deliberation on how to move forward. And instead of moving in concert with other groups and interested parties [in the solar energy bill's case], and instead of talking to the industry, they got way out in front. Part of that, I will say, was an admirable sense of ambition [ed--go big or go home is the phrase used in PIRG/Fund] -- but they didn't understand the issues as well as they might have, and they would have done better work moving forward in harmony with the other groups. That brought on a number of failures and setbacks, and the need to regroup."

He made it clear to me that his view of these groups has softened in the last year or so:

"People make mistakes--and I do think that they've learned from their mistakes."

That's encouraging.
And would their efforts improve if their organization was more open and democratic in structure?

"I don't know," he laughed. "Democracy is a messy thing."

Tags: canvassing, FFPIR, Fund, Fundraising, grassroots, Green Life, Labor, NELC, PIRG, telefundraising, union-busting (all tags)

Comments

40 Comments

Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

A few things might happen now.

They will attack you personally. They'll say that you're making up conspiracy theories, that you're a loser with too much time on your hands.

They'll assert that there's "great work" being done by PIRG people--which, as it happens, I believe that there is. Some. And I think that, to some degree, you do too. The question you are asking is how much, and at what cost. But that is a matter of weighing ends and means--which, as you know, we simply don't do.

So I think it's more likely that they will ignore you. And let's be honest, you're walking right into that by writing a post that's over 6000 words. Although mine was pretty manageable and they're ignoring me too.

But maybe there are a handful of people out there who are finally asking the questions themselves. Then it will have been worth it.

by Lockse 2006-12-01 11:33AM | 0 recs
Advocacy

OK, so how do we translate these concerns (which I share) into something more significant -- either undermining the PIRG/Fund apparatus or building something else that works better?

Did any of the phone / canvass folks from L.A. express an interest in establishing an organization that does advocacy work in a way that corrects PIRG's flaws? Organizing under the right union (maybe the Teamsters, maybe SEIU or someone else -- I'm thinking a CTW union would be best) would probably give you a strong base to work from, and might even be willing to invest in lists from progressive organizations and publications in order to establish a more ideal base for organizing in the future.

by scvmws 2006-12-01 12:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Advocacy

There are a number of possible ways to hold the company accountable to its staff.

Open letters can pressure clients and funders to ensure that the campaigns being run for them are being run responsibly. There has recently been some talk over at ChangingGrassrootsCampaigns, a listserv that a number of concerned alumni and others have been using, about how such a letter might be crafted and who would sign it. You can join the listserv here - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CGCI/ - or you can contact me at lockse@gmail and I will keep you updated.

There have already been some minor progress that we've pushed forward. We  understand that GCI's MoveOn 2006 management was at least marginally less --- although many of the people now talking about writing letters are Call for Change vets, so clearly there are still big problems. Even more notably, GCI now pays its canvassers at least minimum wage, after its DCCC/Madison debacle. I think in a big way this blogging effected that change. It's just a minor step forward, of course.

I think the first major step is a comprehensive audit (financial, managerial, and programmatic) by an independent party.

I'm also of the opinion that this problem is so large - so many people come through the system, and it has such major contracts, that the "start another organization" tack is a nice sentiment but somewhat beside the point. The PIRG/Fund negative externalities are what concerns me.

by Lockse 2006-12-02 05:36AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

I think funders need to understand the problems with these structures too. That will be a hard message to communicate.

by Our Gal in Brooklyn 2006-12-01 01:50PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Lets not forget who is at the top of this pyramid scheme, Millionare Doug Phelps. He has a multimillion dollar loft in Denver plus a huge estate in California, who know what else. He is the CEO of Telefund, GCI, The Fund, GreenCorps, and Green Century Fund.  He is a Harvard law school graduate and a very cunning business man.  I would encourage all of you to do your homework on this gentleman.  He sort of a ghost in the machine.  Why is he not mentioned on any of the web sites for these corporation and non-profits he runs?

Green Century Fund a Doug Phelps company, has a little over a Billion dollars investmented in some great green companies.

Green Fund Information-
http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/8 77232/000094822105000118/0000948221-05-0 00118.txt

Companies support of republicans, many are Green Fund Stocks.
http://www.rushlimbaughonline.com/articl es/boycottcompanies.htm
http://www.boycottbush.net/index.htm

by gci is hurting america 2006-12-01 02:56PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

As someone who worked for Enviornment CA during one of the campaigns for the solar homes bill (when it was SB1), I can tell you that the ECal did a lot of work to support the bill.  I've become very disillusioned by the Fund and I generally agree with a lot of what you say about them.  But I had extensive policy briefings about the bill and about the fisheries bill we later pushed.  These happened at staff meetings in Berkeley and were led by staff from the Sacramento policy/lobbying office (the solar homes briefing was led by Bernadette Del Chiro (sp?) and I think Dan Jacobs).  I know there were a lot of canvassers who could raise money while being either ignorant about the cause or mistaken about the policy details, but I did a lot of research about the bill and had a great deal of it in my canvassing binder.    

Also in my binder were the annual reports Ecal sent to its members from the previous two years.  This line that the membership doesn't know what Ecal is up to is really off base since the annual reports are like 30 pages long. Sure, they don't provide the balance sheet.  But they do detail the accomplishments of the organization and, while potentially hyped, it's not the same thing as no info at all Furthermore, Ecal sends its members monthly (maybe bi-monthly, I forget) newsletters.    

Also, I went to some meeting in Santa Barbara and the local Assemblyman Pedro Nava spoke about how helpful Ecal had been.  Furthermore, my Assemblywoman's Chief of Staff was familiar with the work of Environment CA, so it's not some sort of shadow organization with no activity.

In addition, I was always told that Ecal's strength was in putting people on the street.  I know with the fisheries bill, we worked with Oceania and other groups who had nowhere near the street presence we had.  Our office would talk to over a thousand people a week.  That's a lot of grassroots lobbying.  My co-workers would take out their phones and have people call their elected representatives about certain issues on the spot.  I'm not sure how much that translated into lobbying success, but I do know that it's not nothing. Furthermore we generated a lot of earned media that other groups weren't generating.

Although it was about a report put out by USPIRG and not ECal, I personally was part of a press conference that generated a story that aired during the evening commute on KGO.  And I know CalPIRG generated a lot of press when it came out with a study on textbook prices.        

Finally, irrespective of what TOP did with the CalPIRG lists, your history is not accurate compared to what I was told by my LTC (like a Lead Field Manager, but for a street office, and not a PRIGbot by any means), my CD and AD, or people I met on the street.  As I understand it, everyone who was a member of CalPirg before the split was given the option of staying in CalPIRG or joining ECal.  I believe you had to opt-out, so a lot of people who were CalPIRG members became ECal members without any activity on their part.  But it wasn't done by fiat.  Or at least, I had people on the street tell me that they stayed members of CalPIRG, and they had no incentive to lie to me.  That said, it makes some sense that ECal was the default organization. For one thing, as a new organization it did not have the grants that CalPIRG had, which was a significant source of their funding last time I checked.  

Also, because CalPIRG remained the default organization on college campuses (in essence, ECal didn't split from CalPIRG on campuses) the campus organizations had a steady steam of funding coming from voluntary student fees (i.e. they had funding like other clubs on campus).    

Anyhow, I appreciate the series but I think you might have over-interpreted some anecdotes on this one, or at least made overly-broad assertions.   I know it's possible that I am the one who's wrong, but I did my homework as best I could at the time, and I am a little wary of your reliance on a few sources since I know a lot of the canvassers in my office (even those who'd been doing it for over a year) were often deeply mistaken about what was going on.  Usually, that worked to the benefit of the Fund (e.g. my LTC made less as an LTC than he would have as a vanilla canvasser or TC even though he had way more responsibility).  But sometimes people simply had bizarre factesque conclusions that became the conventional wisdom in the office until someone checked it out.  
 

by Matt Lockshin 2006-12-01 04:21PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Thanks for sharing your experience, Matt -- that was interesting to read about.

I need to get meta about this post for a moment: up until this installment, every post I've written has been based more or less within what is known. This is the first post that grapples directly with what is unknown; that is why it's really a series of questions. I will admit up front that everyone I've spoken with has imperfect knowledge of the situation--and of course, my knowledge is only as good as theirs.

That said, I think the reporting I've done also largely corroborates your experience. I specifically chose to focus on anecdotes about the solar roofs bill because i did hear about it from a variety of sources - and the last person quoted in the post, who is a PIRG donor who works in the solar energy industry, is as credible a source as anyone you'd find. He says two things: a) Environment California does deserve some credit for being out there doing work and b) the inherently closed and unaccountable structure that encompassed Environment California, like all of the PIRG/Fund family, ultimately made its effort significantly less effective and even problematic for other groups.

I believe that his assessment, compounded against the Fund's deeply problematic labor practices, makes us justified to question the entire means vs ends equation regardless of whatever good work might be getting done. I recognize that everyone in these organization is busting their ass, and I know that a few of them are doing really good work. I hope that those people can recognize that these questions are about the sum of the parts, rather than about them personally. A failure to make that distinction is, frankly, part of the problem. (Not a jab at you - I think it's ironic that you've been more substantive and thoughtful in this response than anyone who's come here to defend PIRG/Fund itself.)

(Lastly, I'm still not sure what it is that I got wrong about the CALPIRG/EC split - as you said, CALPIRG members were automatically granted a year's worth of membership to the new organization, which they could opt-out of. But if I'm still misunderstanding here, or if there's a specific statement that appears too broad to be true, please point it out -- it's important to me that I have it right.)

by greg bloom 2006-12-02 05:49AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Two points.  

First, with respect to the CalPIRG/ECal split, I think what I understood was that people were NOT grandfathered into ECal and that they were given some option about whether or not to affiliate with ECal as opposed to CalPIRG. So as I understand it,  the membership was divided into two organizations with each current member at the time of the split allowed to choose which organization to affiliate with (with the caveat that folks had to opt-in to remaining a CalPIRG member).  So although it may be true that the TOP folks could hit up the old members twice (once for CalPIRG and once for ECal), the split did not automatically double the membership.  Furthermore, although TOP almost certainly netted more money from calling twice rather than once, it does not follow that the two organizations had equal membership or that most members of the old CalPIRG chose to join both organizations.  In fact, I heard that canvassing for CalPIRG after the split was very difficult (environmental issues being sexier than consumer protection).  So though TOP might have been able to get X% of new ECal members to also join CalPIRG, I think their effectiveness was more a function of the size of the donation than the raw numbers of members. And whatever their effectiveness, it's hard to believe that CalPIRG's membership will not decline substantially over time as old members stop giving for one reason or another faster than new members are signed-up.

Second, instead of talking to an ECal/PIRG donor who works in the "solar energy industry," or a environmental science policy expert (I hope that characterization is fair for the ex-prof of environmental science) why don't you call up the people who would know whether ECal was effective at lobbying for the bill in the legislature?  

These would be: other lobbyists (although they might have an inherent conflict-of-interest in giving ECal a fair assessment), the legislators who supported the bill (especially the two co-authors), and the legislative staff in Sacramento.    

For all we know, the person you spoke with who worked in the "solar energy industry" was unhappy because ECal wasn't lobbying for policies that would help his bottom line as much as the bill that was passed.  Or maybe he didn't pay attention to the various changes the bill went through as it go introduced, reintroduced, and finally passed over the course of a number of legislative sessions.  And if he was paying attention, who was he getting his information from and what were their interests in the bill compared to ECals?  

As for ECal not being known in the policy world, that's hardly surprising coming from a former professor.  The policy world is full of people with PhDs who do academic research and present their findings in peer-reviewed journals and at conferences.  I read a thirty page article about the cost-effectiveness of subsidizing solar energy in Japan and Germany and another about how subsidies for solar energy translate into job creation compared to subsidies for other energy sources.    

As far as I can tell, nobody at ECal or USPIRG, presents themselves as policy experts on that level.  Instead, they look at the research done in the policy world and translate it into legislation.  So in effect they're lobbying organizations, not policy centers.  This is consistent with their 501c4 status and everything I was told and observed in my four months working for the Fund.

I can tell you that the first time I ever heard of phthalates came from an ECal/PIRG person working Sacramento on a bill to ban them in child toys (something ECal is apparently still working on.  The same conversation also educated me about perchlorate in drinking water, which is also still on their agenda.

Now it may be that as lobbying organization ECal is crappy.  It also may be that it's not democratic enough in it's decision-making process.  But there are much more direct and substantive ways to assess the merits of the organization.  

From what I remember, ECal rated it's power in a legislative district in terms of three factors: 1) the responsiveness of the elected official in question to past lobbying, 2) the amount of earned media that could be generated in a campaign in the district (based on past performance), and 3) the numbers of members of ECal in the district.        

These metrics are not necessary criteria for judging the efficacy of an issue group like ECal.  But it's hard to argue that a group that is able to engage in a lot of grassroots lobbying, that can generate earned media, and that has good relationships with legislators is ineffective.      

by Matt Lockshin 2006-12-02 10:48AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

there are much more direct and substantive ways to assess the merits of the organization.

That's true. I didn't write the post to directly assess the merits of this organization, and I think this is a bit off-topic (not that I mind, it's interesting!). But you know, I do think that someone involved in the solar power industry is exactly the kind of reliable source to comment on the effectiveness of ECal's solar energy lobbying; and specifically, in our conversation he made it clear that he had been following the bill in its many different forms. Look, in the end, he even made it clear to me that he gives ECal some credit for that campaign, despite his larger doubts about the viability of the entire machine.  

In the meantime, I went back to my interview notes from my talk with the professor -- he's a consultant to several big NGOs, wrote speeches for some of the most important environmentalist politicians in the last 30 years, and was once a keynote speaker at Earthday. I think he's qualified to speak about the viability of the PIRG machine in general, although I'd give the solar industry man more weight with specific regards to ECal.

I do have other sources who are arguably relevant, but they called people names and were generally kind of mean about it all. So I'll keep that out of it.

by greg bloom 2006-12-02 02:42PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Matt you sound like a great canvasser and I would have loved to have you on staff.

I do think it's revealing that you had to do "research" to be able to do your job as good work. When you say that the canvassers had incorrect information and "bizarre factesque conclusions," I don't believe that this is their fault. As a manager of many canvass offices, I know how much information is withheld from the staff, at all levels, and this is very much symptomatic of the larger problem.

Also - thanks for bringing up the x-factor: students (of which this organization was built upon). The student chapters originally hired lobbyists themselves (and money from the student chapters continues to fund state lobbying efforts), and lobbyists were accountable to the students. This is an important part of our legacy - and I am concerned about what this split has done to student power in the organization. It seems like another step down the path of removing and isolating student chapters from the actual work that is done. (I actually don't know, and would like to know, whether the students have a voting presence in ECal, as they do on the CALPIRG board.)

Unfortunately, even in my day, the big pink elephant in the middle of the room is that the student boards in PIRG have just become a sort of rubber stamp which allows the entire operation to continue to carry a "grassroots" banner. This is actually a whole other post, but I do want to mention it because up until this point it has been largely neglected from the discussion, and if anything it's what I feel most passionate about.

by Lockse 2006-12-02 06:10AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Matt you sound like a great canvasser and I would have loved to have you on staff.

I appreciate the compliment and I like to think I was a good canvasser.    

I do think it's revealing that you had to do "research" to be able to do your job as good work. When you say that the canvassers had incorrect information and "bizarre factesque conclusions," I don't believe that this is their fault. As a manager of many canvass offices, I know how much information is withheld from the staff, at all levels, and this is very much symptomatic of the larger problem.

I totally agree.  I think there are big problems with the Fund.  I left on good terms with my CD and ADs, but I had some real issues with the way the organization conducted its business.

On a different note, I was canvassing as a volunteer with the local Young Dem Club about local elections.  About four of us went out including someone who had been in charge of a GCI MoveOn office.  She was my friend's roommate I knew her socially.

So we go out and I had like four or five people on one street who slammed the door in my face in a three-hour period. And in total, I only spoke to about nine other folks.

I went back to the group's rendezvous place afterwards kind of bummed, and mentioned that I thought that one street must have been over-canvassed because every third house had a "no soliciting" sign and because of how rude people were to me on that one street compared to the other streets.  

After I said that, the GCI person turned to me and told me that it's not the turf, it's the canvasser, and that if any canvasser came back to her office saying what I had said, she'd fire them.  

It's an interesting insight into how completely ridiculous the Fund-model of canvassing can be and how little some of the folks rate the people who work for them.    

by Matt Lockshin 2006-12-02 11:16AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Right, I think a lot of this comes back to cost benefit analyis.  I think we all recognize the good work that gets done.  The question is can it get done without burning out staff/donors/volunteers at quite the same rate.  I hope the answer is yet.  But how do we get there?  What are some concrete requests that can be made to take steps in that direction.

by dansomone 2006-12-01 04:22PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Great series!

I wonder...is there anything that might get some state attorney general to investigate this group?  Is there even a mechanism for going after non-profits which spend only a tiny fraction of their money actually doing their misssion?  Or do we face the impossible task of educating millions of people each year on which groups are and are not effective?

by Go Vegetarian 2006-12-01 07:15PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Well, I'm not a lawyer, so take this with a grain of salt.  

Non-profit corporation executive's have both a duty of care and a duty of loyalty to an organization.

The duty of loyalty is not likely to be relevent, it mostly has to do with outright fraud, or stealing corporate opportunities.

The duty of care, however, means basically that the executives need to use corporate assets to reasonably advance the non-profit mission.  This would be a very hard case for a district attorney to win.  Someone would have to go find the PIRG charter, see what it says about building a grassroots movement, and then do some analysis of burnout rates to successes like bills passed.  Even if the PIRGs were worse compared to other groups (like say, Acorn), and we don't know if they are, I think it would be hard to show that they were clearly "unreasonable."  The only way I could see a clear violation of the duty of care is if the PIRGs didn't keep track of the number of people leaving staff, and I think that's pretty bloody unlikely.

by dansomone 2006-12-03 08:06AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

What do you mean by "stealing corporate opportunities"?

Also, what if Phelps used PIRG resources and organizations to launch for-profit organizations from which he personally benefits? (i.e. the Fund --> GVO --> GCI/Telefund)

by greg bloom 2006-12-03 09:09AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Again, not a lawyer, but this is pretty basic stuff, so I'll try.

stealing corporate opportunities would be something like if an engineer working for a company hears about another company that needs a particular product his company makes, and instead of working with his company to provide it, does it on his own.

The idea of using nonprofit resources to start a for profit business is... tricky.  There are definately legitimate/legal ways to do it, and definately illegal ways to do it.  However, since Telefund started years ago, and GCI started before GVO, I don't think that is applicable here.

If you want an in depth analysis, I would need a lot more information on who provided which resources, an hourly wage, and another year and a half to actually get my law degree.  :)

by dansomone 2006-12-03 11:25AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

if an engineer working for a company hears about another company that needs a particular product his company makes, and instead of working with his company to provide it, does it on his own.

So, if Phelps had PIRG organizations "hire" Telefund instead of using TOP, in order to keep money flowing through the for-profit off-shoot, that could be problematic. But if there is a definitely legal way to do it, then Phelps probably would have done it like that, something like making the Fund or whichever board sign off on the deal in advance. And I have a feeling that GVO made the Fund-to-GCI non-partisan-to-partisan staff switch pretty airtight when it comes to the legal.

Of course, that doesn't mean the alumni or funders would be happy with it. It's just a question of whether the people who matter can muster the chutzpah to stand up for the sake of this cause/company to which they've devoted themselves.

by greg bloom 2006-12-03 11:58AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

If the PIRGs hired a for profit to do work, that would most likely come under the "business judgement" rule.  It's a pretty strong defense for corporate boards.  As long as the for profit was actually doing the work, and there was no fraud, and the board was told what, if any relationship there was between the non profit and the for profit, its probably perfectly legal.

by dansomone 2006-12-03 02:24PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

ACORN pays employees 15k so that they can share the same living experiences as their targets. Their targets are exploited colored communities. Is that what ACORN wants of its own people? PIRG is shady but not as terrible as ACORN

by jigsah hooha 2006-12-16 05:38PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

The vast majority of the money raised by the PIRGs goes to fund their staff.  They've got several hundred full-time staff around the country; it's expensive to keep that many people employed full-time.  Of those, about 100 are advocates (PIRG lingo for lobbyists), 25 or so are field organizers (they do local media outreach and coalition building around campaigns, organize local activists, etc.), 100 are campus organizers (working with student volunteers on college campuses), 40 or so are fellows (advocates in training), and the rest do various other stuff.

As for what the advocates do: they're the staff who are in the legislature day in and day out working to help generate good bills and get legislators to vote for them.  Working with legislators to write bills; lobbying legislators to try and get their votes; publishing research to support those bills; and so on.  There are 15 or 20 in DC working on federal issues, and the rest are spread out around the state capitols.  In a big state like California, there are 7 or 8 advocates.  (All of this is on the PIRG and Environment websites for anyone who wants to look at this further.)

On the Solar Homes bill, the Environment California advocate on that campaign was deeply involved in the passage of that bill - from helping influence what was included in the bill, to meeting repeatedly with legislators to secure their support, to meeting with the governor's staff to get his support, etc.  Not to mention the thousands of phone calls, letters, and emails that Environment California members sent off to legislators and the Governor in support of the bill.  If you ask anyone who was closely involved in that bill (the legislators who sponsored the bill, the governor's environmental advisors, the committee chairs who held hearings on the bill, etc.), they'll tell you that Environment California was a key player.

It seems strange for experienced TOP callers to be saying that they don't know what the advocates do.  When I worked in a canvass office for PIRG, the advocates dropped by every couple weeks to tell us how the campaign was going (I'm sure this happened less in office that were further from the state capitol).  We'd look forward to their visits to get an inside view on how the bill was faring.  From what I hear, these briefings from advocates still happen.

Also strange is that idea that anyone is raking in money off PIRG or Fund fundraising.  Even the most senior staff in the organization make a relatively low salary (mid-five-figures plus benefits).  No one, including Phelps, is getting rich off this stuff.  (As for the argument that Phelps is a ghost, his photo and bio is right there on the USPIRG website.  And on the Green Corps website.  And on the Green Century Fund website.)

by jamesad 2006-12-01 07:54PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Yes there are advocates on staff. Yes they work on legislation. Yes they publish reports. Yes Dan Jacobson was involved somehow in the passage of the bill, and yes Environment California was a player. Yes this is all on the websites. And yes, james, this is all acknowledged in the post.  

By pretending otherwise, you're insulting our intelligence and demonstrating my post's point about the institutional incapacity for critical thinking.

But look, many of the people who spat the rap in these threads in the past are now emailing me and asking how they can help push for these questions to be answered and problems resolved. They stuck around long enough to move beyond the knee-jerk response and start asking the questions themselves. Will you?

by Lockse 2006-12-02 07:18AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

I get what you are saying her Lockse and it is not that the questions should not be asked it that people should not make unfair claims like James pointed out. Your whole "tone" when someone gives the "rap" come off like it does no matter that people are confused or make up claims about Doug or PIRG seems a little off. Ian post is a prime example.

How is it not important that people know the facts or what is good about PIRG? Also, when there seems to be some people (not you or Greg) that seem hell bent on go after everything and find something wrong with everything that PIRG does. In paticular the whole they just raise money to raise money and do not actually do anything theme that some people have when talking about PIRG. That is total BS and should be addressed over and over again.

Of course what is GOOD about PIRG is going to be in the raps they use. The whole that just in the rap thing is just an eazy cop out for not addressing what someone defending PIRG is talking about. "That is just in the rap" is not a real defense.

Talk about what they said, do not tell them that they are meaningless until they start asking the questions themselves.

by gobears 2006-12-02 07:41AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

gobears, I agree with you in part: it's not helpful to the conversation to scream and yell that this entire system is one big scam that is stealing from its workers and its members. The truth is much more complicated.

But I hope you understand why people get so angry about this, and who they are getting angry at. This work is hard and important, we all know that. Many people in these discussions have been in numerous campaigns, and they know the difficulties that come with the territory -- and yet they also know that the experience in a PIRG campaign is, for a majority of participants, uniquely frustrating and alienating. In large part, this is because of the PIRG mentality that holds that "we have campaigns to win, and the campaign is more important than the people working on it." That precept is problematic in a number of ways.

Ultimately those problems fall into two camps: the ends are unknown and potentially compromised (the question of "what work is actually being done, and how effective is it?" -- james can assert, but that's all he can do, and neither he nor anyone else has any way to affect positive change if the work is in fact not being effective), and the means are very costly (i.e. an inordinate amount of canvassers walking away from the job not just saying "that's not for me," but "that took advantage of me and I don't think anything came of it and I might as well not bother with this any more").

I think you understand canvassing well enough to be able to accept that yes, in a sense, the PIRG canvassers are actually just raising money so that more money can be raised. That's written into the numerical structure of the PIRG/Fund model -- and it's also at least partially true of any modern canvass fundraise models. But other canvass models (like the Greenpeace canvass, for instance) place a much higher emphasis on education and engagement, and they invest in their workers. (We've had the conversations before about what might make for a better canvass.)

Here I'm asking whether the major problems PIRG/Fund has with labor, as well as its limited and narrow canvass model, can be traced back to the management and corporate structure that makes the entire system unaccountable to members or workers.  Up until this post, I've mostly talked about the means; here, I ask a number of questions about the ends. And those questions do not imply that PIRG advocates do not exist, or that none of them are effective in any way. But even when I found someone from outside of the organization who was happy to give a PIRG organization that basic amount of credit (and that was not an easy thing to find), he pointed out that the org's lack of accountability made it significantly less effective.  

So that's where I want this discussion to be at, and I hope you can meet us there: this work is important, but is it possible that resources are being inappropriately implemented and no one is being held accountable for that waste and negligence?

by greg bloom 2006-12-02 08:42AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

All though I have not commented until know I have followed you since you started. So I did read what you had to say about making a better canvassing model.

I take issue with many things you have said, but some people take unfair shots at the model and it is not fair or productive. On top of that people like James point it out and usually Lockse says that they are insulting people by brining it up or they are just using the rap. Why does she not jump on Ian for being insulting for making something up or just being wrong? If, you defend PIRG for one second on theses threads you are either called a PIRGBot or told that what you are saying is not important, insulting or off subject. However if you want to point out something wrong have at it. How can excluding for the most part what is good about PIRG make this converservation better?

In Lockse last post :

http://old_yeller.mydd.com/comments/2006 /11/30/1408/6965/20#20

I this comment Old Yeller stated that:

Anyone who doesn't feel filthy inside after a few evenings of that (canvassing) either doesn't have a heart or should take up panhandling as a profession.

So s/he may think that canvassing is hard, but I do not think s/he thinks that it is important.

There are a lot of people out there that I think feel more like Old Yeller than feel like you Greg.

One more point canvassing does raise money to raise more money often through further contact where a good amount of money is raised. There is a big difference between that and raising money for the sake of raising money when not actually doing anything. A lot of people do not seem to get that.

by gobears 2006-12-02 11:19AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

gobears, you're right--I don't agree with Old Yeller's comment at all, and it escaped my attention until you and Matt had already replied. (I did go back now and give it an unfavorable rating.) I take the canvass very seriously, and believe that it can be a real force for positive political action. That's why this discussion is so important to me. If there's a possibility that all or even most of this hard work is actually being squandered, I want to know for sure, and I want something to be done about it if it's true.

I also want to see a discussion about positive models, and I think that after all this, Greg owes it to us to spend some time looking into positive canvass models that are more effective and respectful of their workers ($20/hr is pretty much ridiculous though).

by Lockse 2006-12-03 04:41AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Lockse, I'm trying to figure out where in my post I insulted your intelligence.  I've read it twice, and I'm at a loss.  Regardless, I apologize - that wasn't my intention.

I saw several questions raised in the initial post and the comments that I felt competent to answer (who are the advocates?  how many of them are there?  what was Environment California's involvement in the Solar Homes campaign?  where does the money go?  who's getting rich off the PIRGs/Fund?), so I tried to join the conversation.  I hoped that clearing up some of those questions and providing more information for people would help make this a more productive discussion.

I'm pretty sure I didn't say anything bad about you or insult you in my post.  Accusing everyone who says something positive about PIRG of an "incapacity for critical thinking" doesn't do much to foster a dialogue.

by jamesad 2006-12-02 06:46PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Let's say that three years ago, I was a canvass director in California, and one of my canvassers came up to me and said: "I don't understand. How are we actually helping anything? And is there someone on top who is profiting off of this?"

I would have said pretty much exactly what you wrote. And that would have been a fine answer to give.

But that's not what's going on here, and I don't think it's a valid response.

I'm not sure what my reaction would have been if, three years ago, I suddenly came upon this post. I know it would have been really hard to process, and I guess having taken part in this discussion for so long, I might have lost some perspective on that. So I'm sorry if my tone was off. But I really am frustrated with your response.

Every piece of actual information you shared with us was acknowledged in the post--even the fact that Environment California was actively involved with passing the bill. You're repeating that information as if it is new to the discussion and can "answer" the questions, but you're ignoring the series of questions that remain.

Your implication that the callers' accounts are "strange" seems to imply that there is something potentially untrue about them--but you don't get specific about their stories, except to mention that yes, those briefings (which they mentioned) do occur and you found them informative. And then you also call "strange" the "idea that anyone is raking in money off PIRG or Fund fundraising." That is exactly the word Greg used himself. It is a strange idea, and if it's true then it's sad, and outrageous. This post is trying to take the rap that you laid out here and acknowledge that a) neither you, me, him or most anyone else knows for sure, and b) there are enough questions out there to give cause for some pretty reasonable doubt. You were simply reassuring us that there's nothing to worry about. Really? There's nothing to worry about in any of these posts?

by Lockse 2006-12-03 04:29AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

I guess I had the word "stange" on the brain.

In the first instance: by "strange", I just meant that the callers' experience didn't jive with my own.  As a canvasser, we heard from the advocates pretty often and got campaign updates from them on a regular basis.  I don't know which experience is more common, just that the callers' experience is not universal.

In the second instance: by "strange", I meant that it's baseless to claim that the senior staff are making a fortune off PIRG or Fund or GCI fundraising.  As I said, even the most senior staff at PIRG make five-figure salaries, often much lower than comparable staff at other big non-profits.  Greg's post mentions accusations that have no evidence and generally make no sense to me.  Statements like the following, which refers to the question of whether PIRG/Fund is a scam that's padding the pockets of Phelps: "No one knows but Doug Phelps."  Which, of course, is not true - in fact, lots of people know.  Each individual PIRG has a board of directors, as does the Fund and each of the various PIRG-related groups mentioned in the post.  In most cases, it looks like those boards of directors are made up of senior PIRG staff working at that organization; in some cases, there are board members who do not work for PIRG (looks like people from other non-profits, mostly).  From the looks of it, Phelps isn't even on the board of most of these groups.  By law, any board has to review and approve the budget for their organization.  Between all of those boards, you have at least a hundred people who are intimately involved in the budget decisions of the various groups involved.  Perhaps you believe that all of those people (non-profit activists from across the country, some of whom don't even work for PIRG or the Fund) are involved in funneling money to Phelps as part of some grand conspiracy.  That seems ludicrous to me.

As for your question: "Really? There's nothing to worry about in any of these posts?"  Sure, there are things to be worried about.  It seems like there are disturbing examples of poor management in both canvass and calling offices, and I hope the Fund and GCI are taking those complaints seriously.  And I think it's totally valid to debate how to run an effective canvass.  But I don't find most of the other claims believable or worthy of discussion (claims that the PIRGs are a scam, or financially irresponsible, or corrupt; as well as claims that the PIRGs' campaign work isn't effective).

by jamesad 2006-12-05 07:54AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

It's 'strange' that you allude to Greg's post so non-specifically.  You make it seem like he's making accusations or passing on unchallenged accusations about senior management salary in general. Greg is not asserting that the entire operation is scam - in fact, he occasionally even corrected or at least questioned the accusations of the LA employees and others in the comments.    

In the meantime, the state PIRGs themselves might not be kicking Doug any money, but Telefund and GCI are for-profit organizations owned by him. Telefund and GCI both do work for PIRG organizations, and also use resources of PIRG organzations to attract other clients. There are very few people involved in the budgetary decisions of these organizations. Even on the major non-profit boards where budgets are approved and clients like Telefund are signed off on, Doug pulls all the strings. He got rid of people who would resist a long time ago.

FYI, I was on one of those boards that you say are so effective in monitoring the money flows. I saw budgets, but mostly just to rubber stamp them. I never saw where the money really went or how it broke down. I know of maybe three or four people who did; I could be wrong, but I highly doubt the 'circle of access' goes far beyond those people. And I like those people, but I'm not sure that they ever act or speak independently of Doug. Not any more.

So is this 'ludicrous' and 'not worthy' of discussion, or would you just prefer not have to consider the possibility?

by Lockse 2006-12-07 08:43AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

The vast majority of money raised does not go to pay their staff.  It goes into 'the Fund' which siphons it into Green Century Balanced Funds ($2 billion plus dollars strong, so far).  The higher ups (like Phelps)live off of the interest and dividends. Let's not forget that Dougie lives off of the for-profits Telefund and GCI, also, which steal member-prospect-names from his non-profit groups like Pirg (illegal).The pittance that stays within each office to pay for staff is budgeted down to the penny, which is why supervisors feel the need to fail to reimburse canvassers appropriately for gas, steal breaks from callers (Doug has been found guilty and ordered to pay, by the Cal.State Labor Commissioner on 2 counts with 2 callers, so far). This is not heresay, it's on state record, now.  He is a labor-code violater.

Pirg has 1 lobbyist per group registered in the state of Cal.    From insiders in Sacramento, that lobbyist is not doing much of anything, has no presence, and is there as a token of all of the fundraising.  No one in Sacramento even knows who Pirg is.  They just attatch themselves to the hard work of others (like Env. Ca. taking credit for Solar Roofs, when it was NRDC and Sierra Club who did the work and actually spent money on the issues). What is on the Pirg and Env. Ca. websites is always just propaganda, taking money while Pirg markets around the issues to get contributions. It's all talk.  This is why Phelps never responds when asked to prove that membership contributions ever get spent on solving the issues. The money is being stockpiled in Green century Funds and elsewhere, for the personal benefit of the few (Faye Park, Doug Phelps, Janet Domenitz). Pirg is just paid to mimic the work of the real groups. They literally cut and paste from the info of the real groups, and send it out to members as 'results sheets'.

What's strange is that the Calpirg and Env. Ca. advocates hardly ever came around and spoke with the L.A.top.  The only time they did, was when they wanted the callers to do extra fundraising.  For example, when they were trying to fire up the callers to ask $15 donors to give $5000 for an emergency ad pushing the Solar Roofs bill in the west coast edition of The New York Times.  When all of the major contributers of that ad had their names lisdted at the bottom of the ad, it was yet another sign that the fundraising was, as always, just a bussiness opportunity for Phelps. The callers raised much more than Env. Ca.'s share of the ad had cost them. This is nothing but sheer marketing opportunity, which is all that Phelps' Pirg ever does. The advocates rallied the room, in a case like that.

Otherwise, they never came around, and when they did, they never had intelligent answers to any of the intelligent questions raised by the top.  It was always just circular spin, nothing more.

Phelps behaves just like a phantom-ghost (except when it comes time to take credit for the hard work of real organizations, with clever spin).  For example, regarding the cases by many L.A.top callers of unpaid breaks and unoffered meals, Dougie Phelps sends grant-writers downtown to the Ca. State Labor Commissioner.  He never shows up.  He's been found guilty and forced to pay 2 callers, so far, upwards of $4000.00.  When the truth about what he is and what he does (like violating labor law that any dingbat employer would know not to do), he's nowhere in sight.  Phantom. Phantoms pass the buck, and that's all he ever does.  Phantom.

by Witness for the Prosecution 2007-01-13 11:05AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

First off, another thank you to Greg for continuing to focus on this issue.  

Second, I did canvassing in the early 80s for a Maryland bottle bill coalition.  It was an independent canvass of which there were many at the time.  I know from experience how hard door-to-door canvassing is.  I would not do it again.  At the same time I saw how effective it could be.  It takes real focus for a canvass to both educate its members and do real organizing as opposed to just taking money.

Because of my experience, I have always paid attention to what is happening in the canvassing world.  From the mid-80s on, the word I always heard was that the PIRG canvasses treated their workers badly.  So everything Greg says fits with my historical experience.

Finally, when I read this post in its entirety, I am horrified by the totality.  It is ironic, indeed, that Greg begins with a post about the "complicity of silence" in corporations that shields wrong-doing because he could be describing the PIRG/Fund/GCI/Green Century operation.

Yes, good things happen in that operation, but one could say that about Proctor & Gamble when one focuses only on the output of product. The Fund etc. is no better than one of those large corporations.  The "product" of the Fund is good lobbying, but it happens by creating lousy conditions and low pay for workers, being secretive to donors, and by preventing communication from flowing in any direction other than up the chain of command.  

I would support any effort to expose this travesty .  As I said in an earlier post to an earlier diary of Greg's, it seems that the most likely route is to organize the clients of the Fund (Sierra Club, Human Rights Campaign, etc.) to pressure the Fund by threatening to pull out and start their own canvass.  Of course, that will not change the PIRGs, which are totally inhouse.  I would love to see an investigative journalism story or stories by a progressive publication and/or an investigation by a state attorney general's office.

by chrisdarling 2006-12-03 06:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

This work is not for everyone. It is a lifestyle job. Think of all the most effective activists you know, and they are people that did it without a union, and mostly without any compensation, though dangerous consequences.A canvassing office or telephone fundraising office is not a day care for underachievers, or people in need of vocational sympathy. The problems in this country demand powerful, well built progressive machines that can survive economically, as they can with the models you so heavily criticize. One thing that can be accomplished through these models is to weed out the vast many people who lack the potential to succeed in grassroots politics. Those that succeed (and there are plenty) become skilled organizers who can then impact on a larger level with- as you know- pretty intense experience behind them.

ALSO- GCI is mot PIRG.

by jigsah hooha 2006-12-16 11:57AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

In response to 'jiogsah hoohah' from Sat. Dec.16, 06... it's obvious that this work isn't for everyone.  It's also obvious that it's a lifestyle job.  Everyone in L.A. knew this.  This is why they chose to work there.  They were trying to avoid 'sell-out' jobs.  They wanted to make a difference with an organization that was making a difference.  They made the wrong choice, answering the Pirg ad.

The fact is that most of these canvassers/callers were educaated,overachievers, often doubling their quotas. These were not boiler-room-rats demanding your sympathy.  Their work ethic was and is high.

The sad testament is that Wendlandt/Phelps types viewed these canvassers as if they were underachievers in need of vocational sympathy.  This is why the snot-nosed upper echalon were appalled when these highly qualified, confident, self-aware workers unionized.  The snot-nosers felt that the workers didn't deserve to be dealt with honestly.

These workers were (and still are) powerful, well built, progressive machines within themselves, and don't have to lie or spin to create a false image of themselves.  It's Pirg/Fund/GCI/Green Century that is a broken machine, ever since Phelps (the real story here) came into ruling-power.  Pirg is no longer, nor will it ever again be, what it was designed to be in the 70's.   Now, it is nothing more than a greedy, capitalist, machine, scraping break money, unoffered meal money, uncompensated gas money (and much more) off the backs of what they call "underachievers in day care."  Phelps' Pirg creates this whole dynamic for itself.  Everything that Phelps touches, gets tainted.  It makes no difference if GCI is (on paper) not a Pirg... it's owned and operated by Douglas H. Phelps... and so are you.

You see, 'these underlings' in L.A. did not lack what it takes to succeed in 'grassroots politics'... it's just that 'grassroots politics' is NOT what Pirg is doing.  Therein lies the letdown (the space between your propaganda and the reality).  These 'vocational lackies' did lack the self-deprication which would allow a worker to continue to accept shorted paychecks, failure of reimbursements, cheating on Cal. labor laws (Phelps stole their breaks and unoffered meal periods and has been found guilty on both counts with 2 plaintiffs, so far... many more to come).

Too bad those who succeed in Pirg must lie to their workers to become 'skilled organizers'.  The personal price is just to high to pay.  You don't really have anything to gloat about.  Lies and deceit... any animal can pull that off.  

by Witness for the Prosecution 2007-01-13 08:41AM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Truth Be Known

Joined: 29 May 2006
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2007 9:01 pm    Post subject: Pirg's (Phelps') desperation     Reply with quote
Well, Dougie Phelps must indeed be feeling desperate, as usual. Another L.A. t.o.p. caller (the 3rd of many more to come), has been awarded money by the State Labor Commissioner. We will e-scan the state's award for our viewers in the next few days, so that you all know that this, like all of the other info on our website, is legit... not heresay!

The amount of the award is $3596.00, the judgement was given on 12-6-06, and it is for penalties against Doug Phelps' Pirg for failing to give paid breaks and offered meals to this caller, as per Cali. state labor code (that any dingbat employer would be aware of)! Doug Phelps' Pirg was found guilty, and was ordered to post the entire amount of $3596.00 as bail, immediately, while Doug Phelps' Pirg had 21 days to appeal.

Doug Phelps' Pirg did not appeal, he knows that he's guilty, as charged, of violating the law. What is histerical, though, is Doug Phelps' perverted twisting of the law, regarding this, and everything he touches (what a wasted Harvard law degree... benefitting 'the bad guys'... namely Phelps).

He sent $3049.00 as bail to the state. He took out tax deductions from the payroll check (really supposed to be a money order), that he posted. This is a pitiful attempt to stall the paying of the plaintiff, who hasn't worked for Dougie sinced 7/31/06, when the L.A. office was closed (re: the award was decided upon on 12-6-06). Obviously, though, an award by the Cal. State Labor Commisioner is not eligible for tax deductions like a payroll check would be. Phelps probably thinks that since he wrote out the check in Dec. of 2006, he can try to slip this in on the x-caller's W-2 form as if it was payroll. Vengeance is thine... right Dougie.. you poor, little man!!! It should be noted that this caller was among the most outspoken in the union effort in L.A. Dougie's little ego just panicked when the state ordered him to pay this caller $3596.00. He had to pull something, you know.

So, the call has been placed, to Tracy Bolotnick in Boston, (Doug Phelps' Pirg's lawyer), by the Labor Commisioner, regarding the $547.00 that Pirg deducted as payroll income from the plaintiff's award. The plaintiff obviously will be quadruple checking her 2006 W-2 form, to make sure that Phelps has not fraudulently added the Labor Commisioner's $3596.00 award to plaintiff's W-2 as taxable income. The x-caller (awarded plaintiff) has plans to report to a Federal branch of the IRS: a) Phelps' fraudulent attempt to deduct payroll taxes from the State's award to plaintiff b) any excess 'so-called' income fraudulently included on her W-2 form from Dougie's Fund for Public Interest ... (or as many folks now realize...THE LOOT FOR DOUG PHELPS 'PRIVATE INTEREST') !! c) some other vital info that the callers had collected over the years, regarding the questionable 'non-profit' status of the group, and their many questionable marketing/info sharing practices, and more. All of the callers are going to the IRS on this one.

Today's date is Jan 13, 07, and it's been 38 days since the state awarded the caller her victory over Phelps. If Phelps does not supply the additional $547.00 that he is trying to scam off of this plaintiff (and scamming the state), it just goes on to COLLECTION. How PITIFUL is Phelps, risking collecions and further bad credit for Pirg for the sake of further scamming this or any x or current employee. Poor, small man!
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by Witness for the Prosecution 2007-01-14 08:45PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Sorry, meant to write that the above by Truth Be Known is from another website discussion board (ffpir.us)

by Witness for the Prosecution 2007-01-14 08:48PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

The following is a portion of a post from another website discussion board (ffpir.us)

Mr. Brightside

Joined: 26 Apr 2006
Posts: 7

PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 9:56 am    Post subject:     Reply with quote
Doug has proved that he can play games with the State of California's understaffed and overworked Labor Commissioner. Heck, he's even taken on the pitifully squandered federal government agency that is the NLRB (Dick Cheney's America has really served the likes of Phelps, who has always seen his employees as office supplies, like something that he can purchase in bulk from CostCo or Staples.)

But is Douglas H. Phelps equipped to take on the Internal Revenue Service for cheating on his taxes? I don't think so. They will topple him in a New York minute.

The fact is, Doug is trying to pass off this caller's reward check as a payroll check, and he is blatantly cheating the IRS.

Let's see you take on Celebrity Death Match with the IRS, Dougie.

The IRS will kick your ass, my dear criminal.
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by Witness for the Prosecution 2007-01-14 09:01PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Come to think of it, it's not only will the IRS who'd be very interested in Phelps' violations.

The California State Bar Association will be very interested to know what Phelps has been up to, as a lawyer.  His National Environmental Law Center (NELC) has been so very busy, and all, using those membership contributions to find ways to cheat employees and the public, across this great nation.  The Colorado State Bar Association would probably be very interested, as well.

by Witness for the Prosecution 2007-01-14 09:33PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Truth Be Known

The following is from another website's discussion board (ffpir.us)

PostPosted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 5:17 am    Post subject: Phelps' Pirg has previous tax violations on record     Reply with quote Edit/Delete this post Delete this post
For a good time, google Montpirg (for Montana Pirg). Phelps' Pirg has I.R.S. violations on record from 1996-1997. Among the many, their excuse for ommitting some large contributions from their form 990, was that their tax accountant had "run out of room on the form 990." Always the desperate, seemingly dingbat excuses! Greedy makes desparate.

I'm sure that if we all dig, we'll find many, many more. Many violations could be under several different groups' names (re: Phelps groups use many 'alias names' to shroud the fact that the monies that come in to any Phelps group are common monies). How do ya think that Phelps' possession called Green Century Balanced Funds ballooned into at least $$ 2.5 billion dollars? It's probably much, much more.

He far surpasses the old tactic that some of the groups (like Sierra Club) use. They have a very modest amount of stocks in large corporations, so that they may have some voice in the policies/tactics of the corporations.

The amount that Phelps' groups raise (of which about 85% gets invested and played in the stockmarket, namely, Green Century Balanced Funds), is money never spent solving the issues that he markets around for contributions. These stockholdings have become gigantic, and have far surpassed the innocent, 'public interest-oriented' reasons for playing the market with the loot. Now it's mostly for the obsene, private interest of Phelps. Interest and dividends off of that baby must allow one (or two) to live high HOG, huh?!

Again, it's one set of violations found, so far, Montpirg 1996-97. Enjoy.
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by Witness for the Prosecution 2007-01-16 07:29PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

A few brief points here:

-A canvass office makes enough money to pay for the canvass office, period. In fact, some don't make enough to pay for the canvass office. Rent, utilities, congressional scorecards, literature to leave at every door, staff salaries to pay, accounts for the phones, the computer, the clipboards and materials used on them - If The Fund wanted to make profit margin they would just do direct mail and leave the canvass out of it. In fact they don't because their model is based on the principal that democracy starts at the door, and the best way to engage in citizen lobbying is a face to face interaction.

-People who are employed by The Fund know this before they even come in for their paid observation day: They have to fund raise or they can't stay on staff because a nonprofit that is not supported by foundation grants can't afford to pay people who can't fund raise. They can still volunteer, come in to write LTES, do post carding drives, run the phone banks, and other unpaid activities, but they cannot canvass to make their daily bread. Everyone who is hired knows this. They take the job knowing this.

- The canvass offices DO win campaigns. This is indisputable.

- If you really want to write conspiracy theories, why be negative? Maybe Doug Phelps is a modern day Robin Hood of sorts - he is raking in billions of dollars in an effort to attempt corporate takeovers of every single billion dollar multinational so that he can personally ensure that their policy changes over night when he wins.

I mean look at that guy who started the north face, he is buying up acre upon acre of land all over the world, and especially in South America, to prevent multinationals from clear cutting and raping the lands. it happens people. Sometimes money CAN be used for good. Imagine that.

by TheJudasCurse 2007-06-28 09:51PM | 0 recs
Re: The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

Just to respond to the last comment here are a few "fact" you have omitted.

1.  Many Canvassers ARE NOT told about the quota system until AFTER they are lured into an "observation" day(this is mostly the pre-recruits from college campuses).

2.  Even those that are informed about the quota system, they ARE NOT told it is up to the "directors" on whether they will get their 3 days to make staff(as outlined in the staff policies), and so are under the impression they WILL HAVE 3 days to make quota.

3.  No matter how "just" the end, Justice, in the Platonic sense of the word can never be obtained by going about it using unjust means, to do so is nothing but Sophistry!

4.  You never responded to the accusations about Phelps' investment fund, which does include around 2 billion dollars in investments in many corporations that have a reputation for giving large donations to the GOP(and more than just an activist share, 2-3%)

5.  You miss the major issue being discussed, regardless of whether you buy into the Phelps as "Mr. Burns" claim, the questions being raised about the ethical implications of not just the means, but the real quantitative ends(like those the Fund/PIRG's champion so much) are questions needed to be asked to substantiate the claims made by the Fund/PIRG's.  

6.  This also brings up the issue of the lack of civic engagement cultivated within the Fund/PIRG model on the level of the canvassers.  From Tocqueville to Putnum to Activism, Inc, without a real connection between the issue, those doing the organizing, and those being organized to take action, how can their be "true" progressive movement taking place on behalf of a civic body?

7.  The Canvass does break even(and some offices like Boston usually run in the red, while other smaller ones make small profits), that is not disputed by any of the posters, and the Fund is not the body claiming to bring in the large amounts of money for Phelps; the claim being made(and not one I am ready to put my faith in yet) is that the Fund and/or PIRG's use the canvassers to build up a membership base which the "for profit" organizations and the TOP(a not for profit wing of the Fund which has a much lower overhead and uses the same member lists of the door/street canvass offices) use to make substantial profits, which are then invested in a substantial mutual fund company GCF(which is owned and run by Mr. Phelps, check the SEC if you doubt this).

8.  Just to give myself some legitimicay, I was a director with the Fund for a summer, so many of the stories, concerns, questions raised here I have also discussed and researched with many of my remaining friends on the canvass.

by dolphannut1313 2007-07-21 05:55PM | 0 recs

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