The MSA vote scheduled for February 22, 2005, over whether to allow funding for a PIRGIM pilot chapter has been postponed. Here are the arguments on each side that have led to that decision. Elliott Wells-Reid is "petitioner" and PIRGIM is "respondent."
Petitioner’s Statement of the Facts

Petitioner asks this court to enjoin the Michigan Student Assembly (“MSA”) from considering, on February 20, 2005, the Resolution to Fund PIRGIM (“Resolution”). Petitioner submits that MSA would jeopardize its federal tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Code of Taxation. Moreover, even if this is not the case, petitioner submits that remitting to a political lobbying organization the mandatory funds collected per semester violates the Free Speech guarantee under the MSA Bill of Rights.

CSJ has jurisdiction to hear this matter under MSA Comp. Code. III(C)(2). Petitioner’s submission involves the imminent consideration of a resolution arising under the MSA’s powers under the Constitution, and involves (in Part B) a constitutional claim. Danger of violation of the MSA Constitution is imminent, therefore CSJ intervention is necessary and appropriate.

A. Contributing money to PIRGIM, a 501(c)(4), would jeopardize MSA’s own 501(c)(3) status.

The Federal Code of Taxation prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from donating money to political causes. PIRGIM possesses both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) statuses. As there would be no discretion over moneys given by MSA, MSA would endanger its 501(c)(3) status by disbursing money to an organization that is a 501(c)(4). Even if the CSJ finds that PIRGIM’s 501(c)(4) status is not problematic, CSJ should enjoin consideration of the resolution because PIRGIM, by its own admission, lobbies public officials on a variety of issues.

PIRGIM might argue that although PIRG itself is a 501(c)(4), the chapter at the University would not be. This is inconsistent with language on the PIRGIM Web site, which indicates that the state and local PIRG groups work closely with the national PIRG organization, a 501(c)(4) organization. See, e.g., (“PIRGIM Education Fund works closely with PIRGIM, a 501(c)(4) organization that offers a unique blend of political strategists and policy experts backed by a professional field operation.”)

B. It is a violation of the MSA Constitution’s “Guarantee of Free Speech” to contribute mandatory MSA funds to an organization that lobbies public officials.

PIRGIM, in its own materials, admits that it lobbies public officials. MSA, through students’ accounts, collects fees to fund the operations of the MSA itself and to fund student groups. See MSA Const. art. II, §§ B-C. If MSA were to devote a portion of these funds to a group that lobbies public officials, MSA would violate the MSA Bill of Rights, specifically, the right to free speech. See MSA Const. art. IX, § (a). cl. 1 (“Freedom of Speech. The right to express their views on any subject without penalty except where the form of that expression endangers life, property, or the equal rights of others.”) The freedom of speak implies the freedom not to speak. It is a violation of this precept to require students to contribute money to MSA and then to turn that money over to a group that lobbies, even if that lobbying is not the primary purpose of the organization.

Response to Petitioner’s Statement of Facts

A. Contributing to Student PIRGIM, a 501(c)(3), would not jeopardize the Michigan Student Assembly’s 501(c)(3) status. The Federal Tax Code does not prohibit “donating money to political causes.” C(3) status prohibits certain specific political activities, such as lobbying and working on partisan campaigns, and contributing to organizations which do these things, but does permit certain activities that would commonly be considered work on a “political cause” (Section 501(c)(3) Organizations, Chapter 3, page 45) (Submitted).

PIRGIM does not possess both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) statuses. In fact, there is no legal entity, “PIRGIM,” but instead there is the PIRGIM Education Fund C(3) and PIRGIM Citizen Lobby C(4), which are independently incorporated nonprofit organizations which work closely together.

Petitioner makes numerous references to “PIRGIM” or the “national PIRG organization”. None of these organizations exist. Therefore, there is no “national PIRG organization, a 501(c)(4) organization.” On both the state and the national level, both C(3) and C(4) PIRG organizations work together as is permitted by law.

According to tax code, 501(c)(3) restricts an organization’s ability to influence legislation, but does not outlaw it. The law states that influencing legislation must not be a substantial part of the activities of the organization. There is a debate among nonprofits over the interpretation of “substantial.” Student PIRGIM will be conservative in this regard and will not lobby at all.

The other claim made is that a C(3) organization working closely with a C(4) organization puts the C(3) status at risk. This is not true and there is no evidence supporting this claim. In fact, almost all nonprofit advocacy organizations possess both C(3) and C(4) status, including State PIRG organizations. Student PIRGIM staff will carefully document the time they spend working under each tax status (Example submitted).

As no evidence has been presented concerning the legality of C(3) and C(4) working closely together, the only allegation that can be made is that we will violate our C(3) status. There is no history of any Student or State PIRG violating these tax laws. To claim that we will do so violates our right to the presumption of innocence (Michigan Student Assembly Constitution, Article XII.A.13, “Due Process”).

B. Petitioner claims that funding a Student PIRGIM chapter will violate the Michigan Student Assembly’s “Guarantee of Free Speech.” As proven in Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, Petitioner v. Scott Harold Southworth, et al., this argument was rejected unanimously by the United States Supreme Court.

The United States Supreme Court argued that it is within the mission of universities to foster a “marketplace of ideas”, and that student fees may be used to fund and form political and religious organizations as long as they are dispersed in a viewpoint neutral manner:

“The First Amendment permits a public university to charge its students an activity fee used to fund a program to facilitate extracurricular student speech…It is all but inevitable that the fees will result in subsidies to speech which some students find objectionable and offensive to their personal beliefs.”

The only restriction is that it is done in a viewpoint neutral manner. Funding decisions are made on the mission and goals of the group and not on its viewpoint.

Petitioner is passing judgment on an organization that has no set ideology. The policy decisions and campaigns a student PIRGIM chapter would make are based on the students sitting on the Student Board, and not a pre-set agenda. Student PIRGs have a history of working on issues and public interest issues in particular, but have no set definition of what that is, and the understanding of “public interest” can change as time does and the students involved do.