As many of you have seen, the VPIRG door-to-door campaigners are out again this summer. I tend to find their campaigns pretty facile myself, but am always impressed by the fund-raising machine so I started looking around at their website to learn more about how they do what they do and where my money would be going.
Well, for a watchdog group, they get a little out-of-focus themselves: http://www.vpirg.org/resources/
For example, their 2013 Annual Report -- the most recent on their website — reports 2013 expenses of $1,587,532 which they break down into three categories through the pie chart I've attached.
According to the chart, a full 30% of expenses (or about $475,000) are for “Management … Fundraising & Membership” with the rest spent on “Programs.” This means about a third of every dollar donated just goes to the feeding the machine.
I'm guessing they chose the term “Management” here to distinguish it from the overall salaries or labor needed to actually pursue these individuals “Programs." That means 14 cents of each dollar donated -- totalling a little under a quarter million dollars annually -- is just going to pay the top folks who are spending a third of VPIRG's revenue on raising more revenue and paying themselves.
Maybe VPIRG is fighting the good fight and I'm not accusing anyone of dishonesty, but the cynic in me can't help noting the salepersonship of it all.
For instance, again from their 2013 Annual Report, they trumpet:
"In July, we released the U.S. PIRG report Apples to Twinkies 2013, which revealed that federal subsidies for commodity crops are subsidizing junk food additives like high-fructose corn syrup at a rate that would buy each American taxpayer 20 Twinkies per year."
Maybe VPIRG helped pay for the report or maybe VPIRG helped write it, but releasing someone else's report hardly seems like a major feat. Now I'm releasing this U.S. PIRG report to you all: uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/Apples_to_Twinkies_2013_USPIRG.pdf
And under a section aptly called "Wind," their Annual Report states:
"In one of the key votes of the legislative session, Senators voted 16-14 to strip the most offensive provisions out of an anti-renewable energy bill — S.30. This legislation threatened to block wind, solar and other renewable energy sources of various sizes, and would have represented a major retreat from Vermont’s commitment to clean energy.
With a clear majority of Vermonters demanding more clean energy, not less, VPIRG and our allies worked with Sen. Bernie Sanders and climate champion Bill McKibben to ensure that senators got the message. Up until the final minutes of the debate, VPIRG’s organizers, advocates, student interns and member activists led the charge to defend Vermont’s clean energy future from the threat of the anti-renewable bill."
The story here -- like most of what gets peddled as "anti-" anything -- is much more complex and ambiguous than the VPIRG gloss above. The "anti-renewable" core of S.30 involved an attempt to require large renewable energy projects to certify their compliance with Act 250 environmental regulations during Public Service Board permitting and was prompted by local "Vermonter" backlash to several large wind farm projects. VPR ran several good, balanced, stories on this debate and a straightforward summary of the issue can be found on VTDigger: http://vtdigger.org/2013/03/18/business-blowback-over-proposed-wind-and-energy-bill/
Anyone who has chafed at how the state has eclipsed local planning and permitting in favor of telecommunications towers knows exactly how this plays out. Vermont's well-established and carefully crafted traditions of local planning and state-wide permitting to protect local residents from the enviornmental impacts of large-scale development are set aside for our own good so big broadband and wind energy projects aren't burdened by the time and expense of giving local residents a voice in the permitting review. One side's "anti-renewable" is the other side's "anti-environmental." If all the answers were so easy, who would need VPIRG?
Donating to VPIRG is a personal choice and I'm not telling anyone they are wrong to do so. I'm just pointing out that a good third of that donation is going to be spent on literature spinning the expense and asking for the next one.