The Devil is In the Details

Yesterday we examined a new organization, the Humane Society for Shelter Pets. If you’re not familiar with their high-priced campaign of deception against the Humane Society of the United States, read our previous article for the background.

The Humane Society for Shelter Pets (“HSSP”) says they have no connection to the anti-animal welfare organization, the Center for Consumer Freedom. We find this assertion a little… shall we say, less than credible?

Here’s why.

HSSP has hired Berman & Company to run their organization’s public relations and marketing campaign.

Berman & Company is a major (and very expensive) lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.. The company is the brainchild of Richard Berman, a well-known lobbyist sympathetic to the concerns of anti-social corporate interests and anti-animal causes. The Center for Consumer Freedom (“CCF”) is a major client of Berman & Company, paying them a tidy sum of $1,461,597.00 for “management services” last year — not including Berman’s salary as “Executive Director” of CCF.

The services of Berman & Company do not come cheap. And they don’t work for free. Yet it would appear that HSSP has no problem affording this very expensive corporate PR firm.

If HSSP had been around for a while, and had time to build up a substantial donor base, this little fact would be less interesting. However, in its very first week of existence, HSSP was able to afford the services of one of Washington, D.C.’s most expensive, most infamous PR firms.

Ironically, HSSP claims to exist for the purpose of helping get donations to local shelters. The presumably hefty fees they are paying Berman & Company could help a lot of shelters, but instead this supposed non-partisan non-profit has chosen to use that money to attack a major animal advocacy and welfare group.

So, inquiring minds wanted to know, where is HSSP getting their operating money from?

Veterinary Practice News covered the debut of HSSP, and dropped a clue to one possible source of HSSP’s funds:

The organization is funded by individuals, corporations and foundations that are supporters of the pet industry, according to HSSP co-director Jeff Douglas.

Which “supporters of the pet industry” would have both money to burn, and a burning grudge against the Humane Society of the US? Could it be the puppy mills and irresponsible breeders who account for more than a quarter of the pets in shelters?

Exotic pet breeders and their trade groups aren’t happy about the HSUS pointing out the dangers of having a tiger in your backyard.

Shamed pet store chains who purchase from pet mills and perpetuate the puppy mill trade have an axe to grind too.

HSSP, as is usual in Berman’s long line of nonprofit puppet websites, have not disclosed exact sources of their funding, as is common among most legitimate nonprofits. Nor do they seem to be in any hurry to do so. Which leads one to wonder: Why so secretive?

What, exactly, does the Humane Society for Shelter Pets have to hide?

Update: HSSP’s Form 990 tax returns have been released, and to no one’s surprise, Richard Berman’s name appears on the form — along with $765,000 in payments to Berman and his for-profit PR firm.

Shelter Advocates, or Corporate Puppets?

It appears there’s a new non-profit in town…

In a flurry of expensive ads in several major newspapers, the Humane Society for Shelter Pets has announced its arrival. However, seasoned animal advocates are justifiably wary of this seemingly warm and fuzzy charity.

It turns out that the Humane Society for Shelter Pets (“HSSP”) has no connection with any animal shelters. It doesn’t run a shelter, nor does it fund any shelters. Instead, its Mission Statement claims it is “dedicated to creating a sustainable base of local support for the nation’s network of local pet shelters through grassroots advocacy and outreach”.

While this may seem like a praise-worthy mission, a little poking around on the site shows that:

  • The HSSP website is full of anti-HSUS rhetoric.
  • It cites the Center for Consumer Freedom almost exclusively.
  • It relies on three polls to support its claims: two were commissioned by HumaneWatch, and the third was actually written and conducted by HumaneWatch. (HumaneWatch refuses to reveal the wording and results of the polls.)
  • It focuses almost entirely on the HSUS, ignoring other national groups.
  • It provides no services to shelters whatsoever. Its sole purpose is to attack the HSUS.

If you’re familiar with the deceptive marketing and “educational” non-profit websites that are the hallmark of the Center for Consumer Freedom (parent and puppetmaster of HumaneWatch), you’re probably thinking you’ve seen this all before. You’d be right.

HSSP’s initial press release lists its address as “1090 Vermont Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 United States”.

That address happens to be the street location for Richard Berman’s PR firm, Berman & Company. It’s also the street location for the Center for Consumer Freedom, the Center for Union Facts, the Employment Policies Institute Foundation, and the American Beverage Institute, among others – all Berman-run front groups.

To be fair, HSSP denies that Berman has anything to do with the daily operations of the organization. However, they do admit to “hiring” Berman & Company as their PR firm. Which leads us to another question…

Why would a supposed animal advocacy organization hire a PR firm with documented record of working vigorously on ANTI-animal causes?

It doesn’t make sense. And that’s not the only question that needs answering.

For example, where does a brand new “grassroots” non-profit get the money to launch a major advertising campaign, in its very first week of existence?

HSSP isn’t saying. Their supporters or partners aren’t listed on their web site. Nor is there a way to look at any of their documentation. Presumably one would have to file a FOIA request – just like with all of Berman’s shell operations.

Furthermore, we already know that Berman & Company does not work pro bono. They are strictly “pay-for-play”. Nor do their services come cheap.

So where does a brand new “grassroots” non-profit get the money to hire one of the most expensive PR firms in Washington, D.C., in its very first week of existence?

HSSP isn’t disclosing that, either.

On HSSP’s Facebook page, several people inquired about the confusing name of the group. Since they clearly do not support the Humane Society of the United States, and since they are not associated with any local humane societies, it seems strange that they would choose to name their organization after an entity they clearly despise.

Additionally, several posters noted the similarity of the rhetoric used on the web site and in the ads to that used by HumaneWatch, and inquired whether the organization was part of, or associated with, HumaneWatch.

None of these seem like unreasonable questions. Yet all of these posters were immediately banned and blocked from the FaceBook page. Again, this is a classic HumaneWatch response to questions, and the similarities are inescapable.

The refusal of HSSP to answer the most basic questions about their agenda and associations has already drawn the attention and suspicion of influential voices of the animal welfare community.

Diana “Didi” Culp: HSUS ex-employee, puppy mill legislation opponent, and co-director of HSSP.

HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle didn’t mince words:
But now Rick Berman has outdone himself. Now, this Beltway con artist -– who has probably spent as much time as anyone in recent years fighting against animal welfare -– has formed a new supposed animal welfare charity. He’s calling it the “Humane Society for Shelter Pets.”

Neither did Karel Minor of the Humane Society of Berks County:

[The CCF] knows that by making big scary claims and using big numbers they can make people think, even animal people, that HSUS is the problem and keep HSUS on their heels. That is the real reason behind it. When they create sweet little pro-shelter animal websites, using testimonials by HSUS ex-employees (beware testimonials by ex-employees- what did you think of your last boss?), they aren’t doing it to help the animals, they are doing it to muddy the waters.

Pack Mentality author Tom Grady asked HSSP spokesman Jeff Douglas about the allegations. He dodged the question:

HSSP and the Center for Consumer Freedom are separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

Berman and Company is the communications firm that was brought on by HSSP during its inception to manage its campaign due to their extensive work in this issue area. HSSP has an independent board and is managed by me — a long-time veterinary advocate — and former director of education for the Humane Society of the United States Diana Culp.

Obviously HSUS will try to paint HSSP as a group run by Rick Berman to avoid answering the real questions about their misleading fundraising practices. And while Rick Berman’s PR firm has helped bring HSSP to fruition, this group is a product of the efforts of a group of individuals with deep ties to the animal welfare community dedicated to improving the well-being of shelter animals across the country. Who we hired as our PR firm should be immaterial to the project.

Douglas’ last sentence is particularly interesting. No competent executive would ever think that the reputation and history of the PR firm you choose to represent your organization is “immaterial”.

You are known by the company you keep. When you claim to be on the side of animals, but hire the foremost defender of animal cruelty on the planet, your credibility vanishes like nonprofit donations into Richard Berman’s bank account.

On the other hand, stating that HSSP and CCF are separate organizations is immaterial. The dubious nonprofits run out of Berman and Company’s office are all separate organizations on paper, yet they employ the same staff, operate out of the same office, and funnel money into the pockets of the one seedy individual.

They may be separate organizations, but there’s little doubt about who’s really pulling the strings.

Tomorrow, we’ll examine who’s backing this deceptive group, and explore a comment by HSSP’s co-founder that reveals more than he intended.

Another Weak Thread in Berman’s Web of Lies

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has been a perpetual thorn in Richard Berman’s side. For years, they have exposed his questionable nonprofits and ripped the mask off his industry-funded front groups.

Berman’s groups depend on deception and anonymity to perpetuate their misinformation, so every time CREW points out the artificial nature of Berman’s astroturf, the gnashing of teeth can be heard clearly throughout Berman & Company’s office.

CREW’s effectiveness in elevating Berman’s blood pressure can be seen in CCF’s newest smear campaign, The deceptive website adds to a list of more than 100 dishonest front groups and campaigns run by the D.C. lobbyist and PR millionaire.

Berman’s anti-ethics website boasts that it’s funded by “donations from foundations” (likely Berman himself). The main thrust of the website’s misinformation is that CREW targets a disproportionate number of right-wing politicians and groups. That’s not surprising given Berman’s long-standing connections to extreme right-wing political groups and causes, especially those undermining worker benefits and wages. The “proof” presented on the site consist of the usual Berman dirty tactics: innuendo and misleading, cherry-picked statistics.

Good luck with that, Rick. CREW has more integrity, respect, and credibility than the liars for hire at your PR firm ever will.

For example, CREW has never tried to pass off an opera singer with a criminal record as a research expert.

They have never impersonated medical professionals on blogs in order to lie about their credibility.

They have never diverted millions of dollars in donations to unrelated right-wing causes, and they don’t funnel millions of dollars into the founders’ bank accounts through questionable nonprofit schemes.

They have never defamed rescuers, they have never advocated discrimination against AIDS patients, they have never been forced to retract false accusations of terrorism, never had their official YouTube channel shut down for abuse, never been blasted by a news organization for lying to reporters, never had to settle a libel suit to avoid a massive judgment…

Can you and your corporate front groups say the same, Rick?

No, you cannot.

Meet the new boss … same as the old boss?

Retraction and Clarification

On May 19, 2011, HumaneWatch Info published a blog entry about Will Coggin, a Berman and Company employee. The post described Coggin’s involvement in a series of controversies during his college days at the College of William and Mary.

Unfortunately, we got many of the details wrong, unintentionally confusing the facts of two separate controversies, as well as the nature of Coggin’s involvement in each.

The staff of HumaneWatch Info prides itself on honesty and accuracy, and we sincerely regret any confusion resulting from the erroneous statements. We have removed the erroneous blog post and offer the following collection of third-party reports in its stead. We invite you to read through the facts of these cases and to evaluate the context, extent and propriety of Coggin’s involvement in these scandals for yourself.

We close with a final note regarding Richard Berman. Mr. Berman — through his attorneys — objects to our opinion that he is a “liar for hire”. This does not change our view of his ethics in the slightest. However, we feel compelled to clarify that the misleading statements we alluded to were in fact issued through his PR firm and its many front groups, and we cannot attribute them to Mr. Berman directly. We therefore withdraw our characterization of him as a liar, and clarify that he is the head of an empire of more than 100 industry-funded front groups and campaigns based on deception and dishonesty.

We trust this will soothe Mr. Berman’s wounded ego, and allow him to continue waging war against the health of Americans and the welfare of animals everywhere.

Sons of Liberty Remorseful about Game, but Pleased with Dialogue
Last week the Sons of Liberty saga continued in a series of meetings with students, the Student Assembly and the administration. The spillover stemmed from the 8 November anti-affirmative action bake sale at which the Sons of Liberty, an official student organization, sold cookies and brownies in groups of four for $1 for whites, $0.75 for Asians, $0.50 for African Americans and Hispanics and $0.25 for Native Americans, while playing a game called “Ghettopoly,” viewed by many to be racist and offensive.
Bake Sale Reignites Controversy
“I guess by the technical, legal definition we did discriminate,” Coggin said.
Affirmative action policies on stage at University Center
Will Coggin (l), president and co-founder of the Sons of Liberty, and Adam McCool offer treats for purchase at race-weighted prices.

Rape Charges Dropped In W&m Assault Case
A frat party rape case that sparked a study of alcohol use at the College of William and Mary last fall ended Wednesday when all the sexual assault charges were dropped, and the man accused of the rape pleaded guilty to two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Woman files $800,000 defamation lawsuit against student newspaper
A student newspaper is being sued for $800,000 on allegations that the paper published defamatory statements last year about a rape victim. […]Remnant editor-in-chief Will Coggin did not return calls for comment, but he told the Daily Press Thursday afternoon that the newspaper staff would review the complaint today. ”We feel like we’ve done everything right,” Coggin said in the article. ”We’re prepared to defend ourselves.” The Remnant ran into trouble in February when newspaper staff posted fliers around campus naming another alleged rape victim.
Student Publication Sued
The Remnant wrote, “[P]olice are speculating that like many other wannabe victims and con artists, [Desiree Nall, president of the Brevard Chapter of the National Organization for Women] was trying to draw attention to an issue she thought was important,” in the story in question from the issues “Nasty, Brutish, and Short” section. The story continues, “Fortunately, in this case, a specific persons name was not dragged through the mud, unlike the case of Kenneth Ian Lang, the only real victim from last years fiasco. The Remnant is grateful that this fraud is being charged and urges the same for the girl who lied last year.”
Woman Sues W&m Newspaper, Staff
Remnant Editor in Chief Will Coggin said Thursday afternoon that he was unaware of the lawsuit. He could not be reached Friday. “We feel like we’ve done everything right,” Coggin said Thursday. “We’re prepared to defend ourselves.” […]The Daily Press is withholding the woman’s name because the newspaper generally does not identify people who say they have been raped.
Circuit Court for Williamsburg/James City County The Remnant, Kevin DeAnna, Marcus Epstein, Will Coggin, Liz Kveselis, George McCallister, Defendants.

Assault Gets Even Uglier: Controversy escalates over sexual violence on campus.
On February 15, students saw more flyers. This time, however, the flyers announced a news exclusive by The Remnant about developments in the now infamous rape case. Vague new sources reportedly revealed inconsistencies in the accuser’s version of events. A web link to a more detailed online article appeared at the bottom of the flyer. “Until now, students knew precious little about the specifics of what occurred that night. Statements by some of the involved parties, obtained by The Remnant, specify some of the critical facts that caused the charges against [the accused] to be dropped,” Coggin stated in a press release on February 15. Defending the continued coverage, he said, “The student body needs to be kept informed on this crucial matter.” […]Neither the flyer nor website coverage included the source of the so-called “breaking news.” In fact, the source calling into question the events was the civil lawsuit filed by the accused. The Remnant report omitted this important fact, but included unnecessary details about the accuser, including her home address.
Employee wrong to tear down student newspaper fliers, university says
A newspaper editor used an early-morning stakeout to catch a university employee last week in the act of tearing down fliers posted by newspaper staff that named an alleged rape victim. Will Coggin, editor of The Remnant, a student newspaper at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., waited for more than two hours in the chilly morning air before spying a university employee who removed several fliers from a communal posting board at about 7 a.m. Coggin said when he ran up to the employee and confronted him about tearing down the fliers, the man said he had been instructed to remove “foul material.” Coggin then followed the employee, snapping photos with his digital camera as the man threw away a handful of fliers and retreated to a campus facilities building. He said after he followed the man to his office, peppering him with questions, the employee threatened to have him arrested if he did not leave the premises.
Judge Dismisses Defamation Suit Against W&m Rape Accuser
A dismissal order signed by Charles City County Judge Thomas Hoover on Sept. 5 states that the case was dismissed without prejudice “upon agreement of the parties.” The suit stems from an Oct. 28, 2005, incident at an off-campus sorority party hosted by John Gerdelman, a member of the university’s Board of Visitors. A 20-year-old female student accused then-senior Patrick Decker of raping her, but the charges were dropped Jan. 4, after prosecutors found conflicting and insufficient evidence to support a charge.


Meet a CCF Minion
While in college, Coggin was also the editor of a student libertarian newspaper, The Remnant. A woman who reported that she had been raped sued Coggin and the paper for “embarrassment, humiliation and mental suffering” following articles that he published about her implying that she was lying.

Do HumaneWatchers know where THEIR money is spent?

Anyone who is familiar with Richard Berman’s enterprises knows that deception is the key to his astroturf empire.

But seldom have we seen evidence of his deception shown as blatantly as in the Center for Consumer Freedom’s 2009 tax return.

The CCF — also known as HumaneWatch — describes its mission as “research and education on food, beverage and lifestyle issues”. But according to CCF’s tax return, a staggering 86% of donations to the organization were redirected to Berman’s union-busting campaign, the Employment Policies Institute Foundation (EPI). 86 cents out of every dollar donated to HumaneWatch or CCF was used to undermine working wages, employee health care, and labor unions.

How many HumaneWatch donors know that “educating consumers about lifestyle issues” means lobbying to strip workers of their health benefits and wages?

The remainder of CCF’s donations were redirected to Berman’s for-profit PR firm, Berman & Company, Inc., to the tune of $1,461,597.00. That left CCF $779,222.00 in the red for 2009, a shameful performance record that would earn it the lowest possible rating in any charity evaluator’s system — if CCF were significant enough to warrant an evaluation.

If there’s one lesson we can take away from this, it’s that Richard Berman cares about human rights as little as he cares about animal rights. What Richard Berman cares about is money, and finding creative ways of diverting it into his personal bank account.

Because Berman thrives on deception and obfuscation, he does not makes the tax returns for his “nonprofits” available online. However, we have assembled the most recent tax returns for his money-making enterprises in the Document Library.