Photo by Bruce Parker
CANVASSING CONTROVERSY: Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG, is on the defensive against lawmakers who say the group’s summer canvassing campaign uses deceptive tactics for lobbying and publicity purposes.
By Bruce Parker & Michael Bielawski / March 9, 2016 / News /
Vermont Public Interest Research Group is seeking summer workers who can raise money and warn Vermonters about climate change. But some lawmakers claim that the group’s annual canvassing drive uses deceptive tactics.
It’s the time of year when VPIRG recruits college students and recent graduates to join its summer canvassing program.
According to the environmentalist group’s new job posting, workers can earn between $6,900 and $13,600 from May to September by biking, camping and walking door-to-door to sign up new members. Those accepted into the four-month-long program will be “leading the way on bold action to combat climate change and strengthen our local economy,” the posting states.
But some lawmakers say VPIRG used last summer’s canvassing effort to falsely portray Vermonters as carbon tax supporters, both in a postcard-related lobbying effort and in a high-profile media event at the Vermont Statehouse.
“Some of (my constituents) said they absolutely did not remember anything about someone stopping by,” state Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell, told Vermont Watchdog. “Others had a vague remembrance of somebody possibly coming by on a bike, but they didn’t authorize them to put their name on a postcard.”
Higley became aware of the issue after he responded to postcards delivered to him by Energy Independent Vermont, a broad coalition of which VPIRG is a member.
As Higley called constituents whose names were on the cards, some said they didn’t sign any cards. Others said they didn’t know the door-to-door solicitation had anything to do with supporting a carbon tax.
“The ones that had no recollection of this at all were upset that their name, address and phone numbers were used,” Higley said.
On Nov. 30, as the United Nations Climate Change Conference began in Paris, representatives of VPIRG and Energy Independent Vermont stood on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse with 180 boxes of postcards and petitions addressed to lawmakers. The roughly 25,000 postcards in the boxes — gathered during the summer canvassing drive — were said to show local support for a carbon tax.