A state-wide, student run lobby for consumer and environmental protection is facing a challenge form several state legislators and conservative student groups, who claim the organization is unfairly funded by fees on student term bills.
The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG) has recently chalked up two major lobbying victories with the November passage of the bottle law and last month's funding of an investigation of hazardous waste disposal around the state.
Many State House observers contacted said that MassPIRG now plays a significant role as a consumer advocate. With its lobbying and a major public information campaign. MassPIRG "was our biggest ally," in the bottle bill passage, said Brian R. Hardy, a spokesman for Gov. Michael S. Dukakis's office of environmental affairs, last week.
But conservative student groups led by the Massachusetts College Republican Union--the undergraduate branch of the National Republican Committee-have said that the consumer group is ideologically aligned.
MassPIRG is "far to the left of liberal," said James E. Higgins '83, chairman of the Republican union, yesterday.
As part of a national Republican campaign against the 21 PIRGs around the country, the state Republican union is opposing funding of MassPIRG's 11 campus chapters and the establishment of new branches. Higgins said. Harvard has no PIRG chapter.
"I don't object to their trying to espouse their viewpoint, unless they do it with other people's money," he explained.
MassPIRG's work involves research, legislative lobbying, and organizing public support for consumer issues, but the group is non-aligned politically and does not endorse candidates or comment on obviously political issues such as budget proposals. Richard J. Hannigan, one of the group's organizers, said this week.
He added that the group's positions are progressive, but that in the case of the bottle law, many Republican leaders supported MassPIRG's efforts.
In a separate challenge, some state legislators are trying to limit the part of MassPIRG's budget that comes from students' tuition bills.
Most of MassPIRG's $1 million annual budget comes from private donations, but abut one-third of it is generated from a $2 to $3 charge on the semester tuition bills of students at schools with campus chapters.
State Rep M. Joseph Manning (D-Norfolk) introduced a bill in November which would require a positive indication on a state university student's term bill to send money to MassPIRG.