New Jersey Libertarian Party

The Party of Principle

PIRG Illegally Skims Money from Students

NJPIRG Stealing From StudentsStory Updated 8/12 and 8/17 - Correspondence Added

Rutgers has been billing students to support the legislative lobbying group, NJ Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG). Each semester an item is added to each student's bill with the description "NJPIRG". To not pay this fee the student (or the parent paying the bill) needs take action to have this fee removed. Not only is this action unethical, it is also illegal.

State law (18A:62-22) requires that any fee for organizations "which employ legislative agents or attempt to influence legislation" is only authorized by having "the student add the charge to the total amount due." This requires a positive check off for the fee. The law also requires specific language to be included on the bill.

Optional fees shall be accompanied by a statement as to the nature of the item, and that the item is not a charge required to be paid by the student but rather the student may add the charge to the total amount due, and that the item appears on the bill at the request of the student body, and does not necessarily reflect the endorsement of the governing body. - N.J.S.A. 18A:62-22

Rutgers is in violation of the law. They have a negative check off and do not include the required language.

NJPIRG, along with other state PIRG chapters have lobbied public institutions to automatically bill students a fee that is forwarded to the state chapter of PIRG. In my case the fee was $11.20 for the Fall 2015 semester. The fee can be removed - but only if it is noticed and the appropriate boxes are checked when paying the tuition balance.

13A:62-22 was added to the NJ statutes on March 31, 1995 by Assembly bill A380. The explanatory statement for the bill states:

Currently, fees for organizations which attempt to influence legislation are included on tuition bills at some institutions as "negative check-off" fees. This means the person paying the tuition bill must elect not to include the organization fee with the tuition bill. This bill would change that procedure to a positive check-off, so that the person paying the tuition bill must elect to include the fee with the tuition payment.

Rutgers University is breaking the law with their current billing practice. According to the Rutgers Tuition and Fees page, the fee is categorized as one of their "Optional Fees". The required language is nowhere to be found and those paying the bill have to take an action to have the fee removed.

PIRG was started by Ralph Nader in 1971 as a lobbying organization to affect public policy. Most of the money dishonestly taken from students is sent to lobbyists in Washington to support partisan causes.

This chicanery is being used at public colleges all across the country. According to an article from 2003, their method of extorting this fee consists of first attempting to have the fee be mandatory for every student. They do this with either petitioning, referendum drives, or pleas to the administration. If this fails they then attempt to make the fee as a "negative checkoff" where the students are automatically billed unless they opt out. Other efforts include making the fee mandatory, but allowing students to approach PIRG for a refund.

At each Rutgers campus there is a referendum of students that is held every three years. The referendum requires greater than 25% of the student body to support the automatic charging of this student fee. The last vote in 2013 was subjected to allegations of mismanagement. Also note that 18A:62-22 only authorizes a positive check-off for this type of fee if approved by a "majority vote of those students voting in an official student referendum," not 25%.

NJPIRG spends a large amount of their effort lobbying students into supporting this fee. In 2013, NJPIRG hired outside contractors to run the referendum.

Its ironic that an organization that purports to stand for fairness is using deceptive measures to fund its lobbying efforts. PIRG has been critical of universities and banks for using deceptive billing practices while they are doing the same thing.


The following OPRA request has been submitted on 8/12/2015:

Susan G. Glick
University Custodian of Records

Ms: Glick:

Please accept this e-mail as my request under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. Please send all responses and responsive records to me via e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Background:

NJ 18A:62-22 was modified in 1995 to require specific language regarding optional fees supporting organizations that “employ legislative agents or attempt to influence legislation”. In addition the law authorized only that the “student may add the charge”. The required language is not present on Rutgers billing statements and the billing method used by Rutgers has the charge automatically added requiring the student to take action to remove the charge.  I’m trying to determine the rationale used by Rutgers for not including this language and to determine how much NJPIRG has received.

Records Requested:

  • All emails and correspondence regarding compliance with the placement of optional fees for NJPIRG on tuition bills
  • All emails and correspondence between Rutgers and NJPIRG regarding the placement on tuition bills and regarding collection of that fee
  • All checks or records of payments from Rutgers to NJPIRG for 2013, 2014, and 2015

Thank you,

Richard J. Edgar
8 Arneytown-Hornerstown Road
Cream Ridge, NJ 08514


From: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Subject: RE: Rutgers Budget Question
Date: Mon, 17 Aug 2015 15:43

Dear Mr.  Edgar,

The NJPIRG fee appears on student term bills in accordance with the Rutgers Board of Governors Policy on Special Student Organization Funding.  The policy can be found at http://policies.rutgers.edu/sites/policies/files/10.3.3-current.pdf.

The policy applies to student organizations, how they are to be registered and approved and how they may receive funding from student fees.  The policy calls for an approved organization to be listed on the term bill, and, in the case of NJPIRG,  students are provided with the ability to indicate that they do not want fees to be dedicated to these organizations by use of a negative check-off procedure.

The annual PIRG fee is declined by approximately 50% of the Rutgers student body.  Obviously, our students are well informed and willing to consciously decline to fund the organization

The fee provides NJPIRG with approximately $550,000 per year over recent years with $551,000 in FY2014-15 and $537,000 in FY 2013-14. Funds from the student fee may be used for educational, research and programming activities, but may not be used for lobbying purposes. NJPIRG provides separate organizational structures and separate accounting for NJPIRG Student Chapters and NJPIRG Citizen Lobby.  Support for campus-based, New Jersey-based and national efforts varies from year to year.

I hope this additional information answers your questions about this procedure and provides sufficient explanation of why it is structured the way it is. I understand that you also made an OPRA request concerning this issue.  Again, I hope that this information satisfies that request too.

Regards,
Nancy Winterbauer


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To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Subject: RE: Rutgers Budget Question
Date: Mon, 17 Aug 2015 16:27:27

Thank you for your response.

I'm still interested in having my OPRA request fulfilled.

It appears that Rutgers is operating against the law. In 1995, A380 was signed by Governor Whitman. The explanatory statement for the bill states:

Currently, fees for organizations which attempt to influence legislation are included on tuition bills at some institutions as "negative check-off" fees. This means the person paying the tuition bill must elect not to include the organization fee with the tuition bill. This bill would change that procedure to a positive check-off, so that the person paying the tuition bill must elect to include the fee with the tuition payment.

The bill and NJ Statute 13A:62-22 require that when ever a fee that is raised for an organization "which employ legislative agents or attempt to influence legislation" is only authorized by having "the student add the charge to the total amount due." This does NOT allow for a negative check off, rather a positive check off.  There is no provision in the law for separating the use of the funds.

In addition the 13A:62-22 requires specific explanatory text to be included with the bill. This text is not to be found on the billings from Rutgers.

Richard Edgar


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To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Subject: RE: Rutgers Budget Question
Date: Tue, 18 Aug 2015 15:24

Dear Mr.  Edgar,

Rutgers is not operating in contravention of the law.  When N.J.S.A. 18A:62-22 went into effect in 1995, NJPIRG chose to delete lobbying activities from its concept plan.  Like you, Rutgers questioned the separation of NJPIRG’s lobbying and educational activities and took steps to move to a positive check-off system for NJPIRG in compliance with the new law.  In response NJPIRG sued Rutgers and the court granted NJPIRG’s application for a preliminary injunction, finding that there is no question that PIRG’s structure and activities are not covered by 18A:62-22.  As a result, Rutgers is indeed fully compliant with the law and has been so for two decades, as confirmed by a court of law.

The instructions for the Rutgers bill are included in a related link noted on the bill.  This link contains detailed information on the charges contained in the bill including the optional fees which include the NJPIRG fee.  As I noted earlier, half of  Rutgers’ students chose not to pay the PIRG fee,  so students are making that choice based on the information presented to them.

I would appreciate your clarifying what additional information you are seeking in your OPRA request beyond what the PIRG fee generates for PIRG annually that I have already provided to you.

Regards,

Nancy Winterbauer


R. Jay Edgar notes: I found a copy of the Concept Plan referred to by Ms. Winterbauer. It appears to me that the primary role of NJ PIRG is indeed to attempt to influence legislation. This is obvious from the Concept Plan and an inspection of their website. I have not yet found out more details on the lawsuit NJPIRG initiated against Rutgers.

Supporting Documentation and References

DocumentDescription
Online Bill Summary Screen shot Shows vagueness of NJPIRG line item charge
I'll Speak for Myself: Compulsory Speech and the Use of Student Fees at State Universities - Rutgers Law Review 1999  
Assembly Bill A380 - 1995 A380 Signing Statement
Online Payment Adjustment Screen Shot Shows vagueness of NJPIRG line item charge
Rutgers Printed Bill Shows vagueness of NJPIRG line item charge
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Guide to Student Fees, Funding, and Legal Equality on Campus  
NJPIRG Concept Plan (2013) Shows NJPIRG's determination to affect change of legislation

 


Full disclosure: for a brief period during my more foolish days I was an employee of NJPIRG. My job consisted of being dropped off in affluent neighborhoods with a petition. I went door to door having people sign the petition and donating money. My pay consisted of a small percentage of funds raised. This never amounted to be more than the minimum wage at the time. I saw no other evidence of activism at the time other than fund raising.

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