Public Citizen - Organization Investigation

Table of Contents


Public Citizen: Public Watchdog Profile

In 1971, American political activist Ralph Nader founded Public Citizen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “defend[ing] democracy, resist[ing] corporate power and work[ing] to ensure that government works for the people – not for big corporations.” 

Although Nader parted ways with Public Citizen in 1980, the organization remains inspired by his mission to protect the interests of the public. 

Public Citizen has two branches: the Public Citizen Foundation (501 (c)(3)) and Public Citizen, Incorporated. (501(c)(4)). They operate very much from a single unified front, sharing the same president, goals, website, and Public Citizen name.

Mission “Corporations have their lobbyists in Washington, D.C. The people need advocates too.”
Members and supporters 500,000
Financial data (2019) Revenue: $13,176,217 ($13.2 million) Expenses: $12,931,689 ($12.9 million) Total liabilities and net assets: $29,283,779 ($29.3 million)
Locations Washington, D.C., and Austin, TX
Current president Robert Weissman

Public Citizen Foundation’s work centers around “research, public education, and litigation in support of [their] mission.” Due to its status as a 501 (c)(3) organization, the Foundation can lobby only in a very limited capacity. 

Public Citizen, Inc. (or just Public Citizen), as a 501(c)(4), primarily focuses on lobbying Congress and federal agencies to promote government and corporate accountability.

Billions of government revenue are being held in tax havens. 

Don’t believe us? See what your fellow citizens are saying on the Zero Theft Movement platform…

Standard Disclaimer

The Zero Theft Movement does not have any interest in partisan politics/competition or attacking/defending one side. We seek to eradicate theft from the U.S economy. In other words, how the wealthy and powerful rig the system to steal money from us, the everyday citizen. We need to collectively fight against crony capitalism in order for us to all profit from an ethical economy.   

Terms like ‘steal,’ ‘theft,’ and ‘crime’ will frequently appear throughout the article. Zero Theft will NOT adhere strictly to the legal definitions of these terms (since congress sells out). We have broadly and openly defined terms like ‘steal’ and ‘theft’ to refer to the rigged economy and other debated unethical acts that can cause citizens to lose out on money they deserve to keep.  

Is Public Citizen’s Lobbying All That Different?

chart of total lobbying spending
Data and chart from Open Secrets

Open Secrets, a research group dedicated to “tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy,” has tracked Public Citizen’s lobbying activities for decades (as seen from the graph above). According to Open Secrets’ data, Public Citizen spent $420,000 on lobbying and had 14 lobbyists under its employ in 2020. 

As it pertains to funding, Discover the Networks, ‘guide to the political left wing,’ claims Public Citizen has received big-money backing from a number of liberal organizations, magnates, financiers, and special interest groups, including but not limited to the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

So, what makes Public Citizen’s lobbying ‘ethical’ or ‘above board’  vs. the lobbying the group has condemned.

Public Citizen explains its position as follows: “…when the lobbying profession becomes too closely tied to money, it can lead to corruption. Meaningful lobbying reform should protect the right of all persons to lobby but attempt to break the potentially corrupting nexus between lobbyists, money and lawmakers.”

The act of lobbying, according to Public Citizen, is not a problem in and of itself. In fact, it’s protected under the First Amendment. Lobbying becomes problematic when one side, either advocate or critic, has the wealth to essentially ‘rig the system,’ gaining undue advantages to influence legislators and regulators.

Depending on the issue, Public Citizen’s lobbying efforts might not align with your beliefs. And yes, the organization has received financial support from big-money groups. For a complete record of what Public Citizen has lobbied for, you can see lists for each year here.

Nevertheless, when it specifically comes to the matters of eliminating crony capitalism from the U.S. economy and ridding moneyed interests from politics, Public Citizen has not wavered. It has built a track record of fighting to establish a government that legislates based on our best interests, not corporate interests.


Check out our article on lobbyists if you’d like to learn how lobbying can be used for good, and bad

Public Citizen’s Past Work & Victories

Past Work

Public Citizen, over its 50-year run, has developed a handful of ‘side’ or ancillary projects. Most, if not all of them, have just become a part of the organization’s regular efforts. 


Commercial Alert

Commercial Alert, a project Public Citizen started in 2011, endeavors to halt “[commercialism] exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.”

In 2018, Commercial Alert made a major push to protect consumer privacy from Big Tech. The project condemned Facebook for the latter’s facial recognition software, which led the company to paying $550 million to settle a class-action lawsuit.

After a few final posts in early January 2019, Commercial Alert has apparently become a part of Public Citizen proper. 

Democracy is for People

Public Citizen began the Democracy is for People campaign to champion a constitutional amendment to overturn a historic 2010 Supreme Court ruling for campaign finance law in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.

Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit organization, challenged campaign finance rules after the Federal Election Commission prohibited it from advertising and releasing a film criticizing then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton too close to the presidential primaries.

The nonprofit won a 5-4 majority decision, ruling that corporations and other outside groups do not have any election spending limitations. 

Democracy is for People, similarly to Commercial Alert, has become a part of Public Citizen proper

The public has voted! Do you want to know how much the Zero Theft Community believes is being ripped off from you and other American citizens?

Recent Victories

Public Citizen has created a timeline of its ‘victories,’ chronicling its own successes as well as other reforms and/or events the organization has deemed positive for the public.

We will cover two of the most recent victories in which Public Citizen played a major part.  

New England Utility Costs

On May 14, 2019, Public Citizen announced that it had saved New England utility customers $6.57 million in 6 states

According to the announcement, a Connecticut-based utility company requested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) provide “$6.57 million in extra profits to build a new substation.” 

Public Citizen caught wind of the situation and protested the request. The FERC reviewed the case and decided against awarding the money the utility company had allegedly asked for. 

The Enactment of HB 504 in New Hampshire

Around a month after the utility victory, Public Citizen reported another win. This time the organization had managed, after seven years of work and 82 local resolutions by its New Hampshire coalition, to get HB 504 passed in the state

New Hampshire went down in history as the 20th state to pass HB 504. Public Citizen, along with its partners, need 18 more states to reach 38. That’s the number of states needed to amend the Constitution

The organization claims that more than $49 million in Congressional election contributions came from outside sources in 2014, “drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens in the state.”

Preserving Revolving Door Regulations on Ex-Pentagon Officials

Public Citizen’s most recent victory came in early June 2020, when it managed to protect revolving door regulations on former Pentagon officials.

‘Revolving door’ refers to when lobbyists and government officials essentially exchange jobs, creating conflicts of interest and potentially, regulatory capture

Defense Secretary Mark Esper was “the top lobbyist for Raytheon, the third-largest contractor for the Department of Defense.” He served as the lead for the following bill, which if it had passed, would have eliminated the cooling-off period for behind-the-scenes work for certain senior defense officials. Passing that bill would have allowed defense industry lobbyists to get easy access to their government counterparts, and vice-versa.

Public Citizen, alongside Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), managed to generate enough public awareness to discourage the Senate Armed Services Committee from accepting Esper’s request. 

Public Citizen and the Zero Theft Movement Unite

Public Citizen’s mission to eliminate big money as much as possible from politics very much aligns with what we at the Zero Theft Movement hope to achieve. The influence of corporate dollars on the U.S. government has led to what we, and others, refer to as a rigged economy.

That’s exactly what ZTM is working to end. How?

Our community works collaboratively on a technologically advanced platform to securely identify, debate, and decide exactly where the economic foul play is occurring through investigations and voting.

ZTM operates solely on donations. Sure, we might eventually have high-profile donors, but they do not get to control or decide what the community investigates and how they vote on reports. Everyone is welcome to participate as long as you act in good faith.

Citizens author theft proposals and the community decides whether that investigation has convincingly proven (1) theft is or isn’t occurring in a specific area of the economy, and (2) how much is being stolen or possibly saved. Through direct democracy, we can collectively decide where the problem areas are and start working on addressing them systematically. 

The ZTM community knows that many businesses, including some corporations, act ethically. We are trying to identify and expose the bad actors, the corrupt executives, and government officials, and hold them accountable. That way, good people and businesses can properly thrive and enjoy the piece of the piece they’re all due. 

Explore the Problem Hierarchy

We have primers on potential problem areas of the economy. Before you start voting, it’s important you get a basic understanding of the issues at hand, so you can be as helpful as possible to other community members. Take a few minutes and come prepared.

Serve your fellow citizens as a citizen investigator

The success of our movement rests in your hands, the leaders willing to dedicate time to conduct investigations into potentially rigged areas of the economy. Lead the movement and help create an ethical economy.

Heroism made easy

Twenty minutes! That’s all the time you need to contribute to our effort. Just review a proposal and vote. Our reports will only gain legitimacy and power with your contributions.

Commitment to nonpartisanship

The rigged layer causes all of us to suffer, regardless of our political allegiances. If we are to eliminate rigged economy theft, we have to set aside our differences and band together against crony capitalists and corrupt officials. 

Beyond Public Citizen…

An educated public is an empowered public. We regularly publish educational articles on, just like this one on Public Citizen. They teach you all about the rigged layer of the economy in short, digestible pieces.