Donald Ross

Photo credit: Bruce Gilbert

Left-Wing Activist

Former Director, NYPIRG

Founder, Malkin & Ross

Founder, M&R Strategic Services

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Donald K. Ross was a political consultant, lawyer, and left-wing political activist credited with proposing the model of the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) in the 1970s alongside activist Ralph Nader. The PIRGs, state-based policy advocacy groups, operate under the national U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US-PIRG); US-PIRG and numerous other left-wing policy advocacy groups, including the canvassing services group Fund for the Public Interest, are controlled by the umbrella group Public Interest Network. Ross died in 2022.1

Personal Life

Donald Ross attended Fordham University in New York and was student body president at the university in 1965. He took the New York state bar exam in 1970 prior to beginning his career in left-wing community organizing with NYPIRG later that year. 2 Ross reportedly has “a Peace Corps background.” 3

Ross was married to Helen Klein Ross, a novelist and poet. They had two daughters. In 2010, the couple purchased the historic Connecticut mansion, Holleywood, for $900,000. 4

Ross died in 2022.5

Early Career

Action for a Change (1971)

Donald Ross is credited as the linchpin responsible for helping to create community organizer Ralph Nader’s model of the public interest research groups, or PIRGs. In 1970, Ross joined Nader’s early PIRG movement in Washington, D.C. and was tasked with designing “an effective, enduring model for student activism.” Ross developed a model built upon “citizen action,” the ethos governing all of Nader’s later activist groups, including Citizen Action of New York (which Ross later led). In 1971, Ross coauthored Action for a Change with Nader. The book serves as a manual for the public interest research groups “and a blueprint for founding new PIRGS,” building upon his initial designs:  6

Any model would have to take account of that perennial problem of student activism — final exams, semester breaks, and summer vacation — as well as deal with the constant turnover of membership as graduating seniors moved on. In time, Ross learned about the origins of the great English universities in Oxford and Cambridge: students literally hired their professors to teach them what they wanted to know. “Why not extend the metaphor to citizen action,” Nader and Ross reasoned, “and hire ‘coaches’ to teach activist skills?”

The idea would inspire the organizational structure of the campus-based Public Interest Research Groups [PIRGs] . . . . Each local PIRG would be financed and run by students, but guided by a professional staff of attorneys, scientists, organizers and others. Funding would come from modest annual fees of $2 to $5 automatically billed to all students on campuses that had approved the PIRG by a majority vote. Students who did not want to pay the fee could so indicate on their college registration form or tuition bill — the so-called negative check-off system.

Ross was instrumental in organizing the initial student movements in Oregon, Connecticut, and Minnesota which later culminated in the Oregon Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), Connecticut Public Interest Research Groups (CONNPIRG), and Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. 7

New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)

Ross worked as the founding executive director of New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) from 1973 to 1982, where he reportedly grew the organization to 180 staffers operating out of 31 offices. 8 Barack Obama, then a student at Columbia University, worked full-time for NYPIRG as a community organizer from February through May 1985. 9 Ross later worked as director of Ralph Nader’s group Citizen Action of New York. 10

In 1971, Ross co-authored Action For a Change alongside Nader, a book credited as a kind of manual for the then-new network of Public Interest Research Groups they had founded. In More Action For a Change (1987), journalist Kelley Griffin noted that Ross, “a native of the Bronx with a law degree from New York University and three years’ experience in organizing PIRGs nationwide . . . was a natural candidate to heard NYPIRG” as well as its lobbying program in 1973. Ross also aided activists in establishing the Oregon Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) in the 1970s, one of the oldest and largest state PIRGs, as well as the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. 11 12

Some of Ross’s goals for NYPIRG were outlined in a February 7, 1975 article in the Albany Student Press discussing the group’s “financial troubles.” 13

Donald Ross, the executive director of NYPIRG . . . was one of the original Nader’s Raiders and he helped to form the Citizen Action Group [Citizen Action of New York] under [Ralph] Nader. Ross spoke of the frustration which often plagues contentious NYPIRG members.

New York is the only state which has decentralized PIRGs [public interest research groups] throughout the state. Ross called NYPIRG the “New York pioneer of mass involvement of students.” The University of Buffalo has one of the largest PIRG groups [sic] in the country.

Workshops of interest to the PIRG members were held all day Saturday. Dennis Kaufman, a PIRG attorney, spoke on public interest litigation. Kaufman emphasized that the most difficult aspect of public interest litigation is the establishment of a ”standing to sue.” He stressed that the last resort for reform is the legislature. NYPIRG has students working as legislative interns and lobbying at the capitol.

Three films were shown during the conference. The first film was I.F. Stone’s Weekly, a documentary about a journalist whose main objective was to expose scandals and dishonest politicians.

Two other films were shown which warned the NYPIRG members of the dangers of nuclear energy. Sunday morning at the NYPIRG state board meeting the issue was raised whether or not NYPIRG should lead a campaign For a moratorium on the construction of nuclear energy plants. It was noted that if the plutonium in the energy is exposed to the air an entire city could be wiped out and the area would not be liveable [sic] for a half-million years. Due to protests from several potential nuclear physicists from R.P.I. the motion was tabled . . . .

One theme was apparent throughout the conference. NYPIRG is desperately in need of money. Don Ross urged passing an amendment which would mandate that any school belonging to NYPIRG contribute two dollars per student per year. The amendment, which would sever Albany’s membership, was tabled for further consideration.

Ross reportedly spoke with President Jimmy Carter in May 1979 outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., where he “told Carter that while they approved his campaign promises, they did not approve his present policies.” 14

He urged Carter to fire Energy Secretary James Schlesinger, shape up the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and come out unequivocally against any new nuclear plants. Ross and others with him stated that the anti-nuclear effort would move into the early presidential primary states, starting with New Hampshire, and make the issue of unsafe, uneconomic atomic energy one that no candidate [in 1980] could ignore.

Citizen Action of New York

Ross is credited with helping to found Citizen Action of New York, a group he led as executive director following his tenure as executive director of NYPIRG.

Later Career

Rockefeller Family Fund

From 1985 to 1999, Ross was chief administrative officer for the Rockefeller Family Fund. 15

Malkin & Ross

Also see Malkin & Ross (For-profit)

Ross was the co-founder of Malkin & Ross, an Albany, New York-based lobbying and government affairs firm created in 1984. Malkin & Ross lists clients including Food and Water WatchVera Institute of Justice, Sierra Club, and Make the Road New York; it’s first large client was reportedly the New York Trial Lawyers Association. 16 17 18

Arthur N. Malkin, Ross’s business partner and the firm’s co-founder, reportedly worked for Ross as legislative director for NYPIRG beginning in 1979. 19

M&R Strategic Services

Also see M&R Strategic Services (For-profit)

M&R Strategic Services (MRSS) was Ross’s Washington, D.C.-based lobbying and government relations firm and an affiliate of Malkin & Ross. MRSS notes campaigns and left-wing groups it’s consulted for, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), Sierra Club, GLAAD, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Population Connection, Oxfam America, Planned Parenthood,, and Earthrights International. 20 The group also opposed the Trump administration’s decision to undo the creation of several national parks in the final weeks of the Obama administration. 21

Past MRSS clients also include AARP, Alliance for Justice, Bread for the World, Environmental Defense Fund, Human Rights Campaign, NARAL Pro-Choice America, League of Conservation Voters, National Environmental Trust, the Bauman Family Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Public Interest Projects (NEO Philanthropy). 22

In 2018, the Packard Foundation reported a $50,000 grant to MRSS “for public opinion polling and other research on views of science”; in 2018 it reported another $150,000 grant to the firm for the same purpose. 23 24

Since 1996, MRSS has donated $41,735 to Democratic Party political candidates, including 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 25

In the 2018 midterm election, MRSS received $1,335,417 in payments from left-wing PACs and labor unions, including Planned Parenthood Votes, the SEIU, League of Conservation Voters, Win Justice PAC, United We Can, American Nurses Association, and It Starts Today. 26

Ties to the Professional Left

From 2004 to 2009, Ross was a member of the Greenpeace board of directors; in multiple years he was also board chairman. 27 Ross was also a member of the board of directors for the League of Conservation Voters from 2004-2010. 28

In July 2014, a report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works recorded that Ross was part of “a narrow set of individuals whose careers are part of the fabric of the far-left environmental movement . . . [who] exercise outsized influence regarding the distribution of funds” by groups like “Environmental Grantmakers Association, Democracy Alliance, and others.” 29r


  1. Karlin, Rick. “Longtime Activist, NYPIRG Founder Donald K. Ross Dead at 78.” Times Union. Times Union, May 18, 2022.
  2. David Bollier. Citizen Action and Other Big Ideas (Chapter 8, The Citizen Movement Expands).
  3. Ralph Nader. “CCAG.” December 18, 1972. Accessed June 25, 2019.
  4. Elaine Louie. “Holleywood Ending.” New York Times. May 14, 2014. Accessed May 29, 2019.
  5. Karlin, Rick. “Longtime Activist, NYPIRG Founder Donald K. Ross Dead at 78.” Times Union. Times Union, May 18, 2022.
  6. David Bollier. Citizen Action and Other Big Ideas (Chapter 8, The Citizen Movement Expands).
  7. David Bollier. Citizen Action and Other Big Ideas (Chapter 8, The Citizen Movement Expands).
  8. “Donald K. Ross.” LinkedIn. Accessed May 21, 2019.
  9. Donald Critchlow and W.J. Rorabaugh. “Takeover: How the Left’s Quest for Social Justice Corrupted Liberalism.” Intercollegiate Studies Institute. 2013.
  10. “Donald Ross (archived).” Malkin & Ross (Archived Page). Archived August 15, 2018. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  11. Kelley Griffin. More Action for a Change. Dembner Books. 1987.
  12. Dan M. Burt. Abuse of Trust. Regnery Publishing. 1982.
  13. Randi Toler. “Future Pondered at NYPIRG Conference.” Albany Student Press. February 7, 1975.
  14. Ralph Nader. “What Carter Missed at the Capital.” May 12, 1979. Accessed June 25, 2019.
  15. Ken Silverstein. “Rockefeller Foundations Enlist Journalism in ‘Moral’ Crusade Against ExxonMobil.” The Observer. January 6, 2017. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  16. Greg David. “The lowdown on a so-called consumer advocate.” Crain’s. March 1, 2011. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  17. “Client List (archived).” Malkin & Ross (archived page). Archived August 15, 2018. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  18. “Client List (archived).” Malkin & Ross (archived page). Archived July 16, 2015. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  19. Greg David. “The lowdown on a so-called consumer advocate.” Crain’s. March 1, 2011. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  20. “Work.” M&R Strategic Services. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  21. “Protecting National Monuments.” M&R Strategic Services. May 14, 2018. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  22. “Recent Clients (archived).” M&R Strategic Services (Archived Page). Archived March 3, 2009. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  23. “M&R Strategic Services.” Packard Foundation. 2018. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  24. “M&R Strategic Services.” Packard Foundation. 2018. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  25. “M&R Strategic Services.” Center for Responsive Politics. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  26. “Vender: M&R Strategic Services.” Center for Responsive Politics. 2018 Cycle. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  27. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990) (multiple). Greenpeace. 2004-2009. Schedule A, Part VII.
  28. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990) (multiple). League of Conservation Voters. 2004-2010. Schedule A, Part VII.
  29. “How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.” U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. July 30, 2014. Accessed May 22, 2019.
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