ABC News: Lobbyists Hide Behind Nonprofit Fronts [archive]
Lobbying in Washington is taking a new turn. A growing number of lobbying firms are setting up non-profit front groups to push their corporate messages. We found one example when we began investigating the source of information on a website called Fishscam.AlterNet: The Corporate Bully Whose Front Groups, Willful Distortions and Hate-Mongering Has Poisoned U.S. Politics : Meet Richard Berman
Dr. Evil is Richard Berman, a Washington-based lawyer-turned-hitman for Big Food who pioneered and still deploys many of the most intentionally deceptive, inflammatory and anti-democratic tactics used in corporate propaganda campaigns today. For nearly four decades, Berman’s attacks have tried to smear, discredit and destroy public-interest causes and groups by a toxic brew of industry front groups, distortion-filled attacks, ridicule and bullying to stoke prejudice and hatred as a means of turning the public’s attention and regulators away from his paymasters’ business practices.Boston Globe: Washington’s robust market for attacks, half-truths
Berman gave one of his most revealing talks about his strategy in a locale far from his Washington office. Meeting with a group of Nebraska farmers in 2010, he told them it was more effective to “hit people in their heart rather than their head,” according to a report on the talk by Nebraska Farm Bureau News.Center for Public Integrity: ‘Dr. Evil’ fuels dogfight between AKC, Humane Society
“People remember negative stuff,” Berman said. “…We can use fear and anger — it stays with people longer than love and sympathy.”
Humanewatch.org is vintage Berman. He pays his public relations firm with revenue from the various nonprofits he runs. He creates online “watchdogs” that attack enemies of business, like the Humane Society, health advocates, unions and even Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.CREW: Berman Exposed
Berman doesn’t publicize his customers, but a Center for Public Integrity search of nonprofit files revealed a few….
Each year, Berman, using his front groups to spread misinformation, spends millions of dollars distracting the public with misleading ads.Bloomberg: Fracking Advocates Urged to Win Ugly by Discrediting Foes
As a result of his largesse, in 2006, Richard Berman used $2,000,000 in cash to buy this $3.3 million house.
He said his campaign would follow the playbook from his earlier efforts: attacks on the hypocrisy of adversaries, an undercurrent of absurdist humor and the promise of anonymity for the companies behind it. The recording makes it clear that Berman is pitching for their business, and says some companies have already funded the campaign with “six-figure” payments.Bloomberg: Non-Profit May Breach IRS Regulations
Berman’s “web of organizations clearly, in my view, is operating for his private benefit and for the private benefit of his clients,” Marcus Owens, a former director of the exempt organizations department at the IRS, said in an interview. That’s “a clear violation of the requirements for tax-exempt status.”CBS: Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. “Dr. Evil”
Berman’s the booze and food industry’s 6’4″, 64-year-old weapon of mass destruction. They hire him to front for them in the “food wars.”Columbia Journalism Review: The front-group impresario
“The businesses themselves don’t find it convenient to take on causes that might seem politically incorrect, and I’m not afraid to do that,” Berman says.
Berman’s groups thrive in an era of undermanned and outgunned newsrooms, desiccated by a decade of digital disruption. They also take advantage of journalistic traditions of objectivity, which, rather than setting aside biases to find the best sources of information in search of true facts, all too often devolves into he said/she said quotes that cover purport to cover “both sides” but end up misinforming the public.CREW: Consumer Deception
Not all sources of information are created equally, and Berman’s record is replete with well- documented evidence of mis- and disinformation.
Berman arranges for large sums of corporate money to find its way into nonprofit societies of which he is the executive director. He then hires his own company as a consultant to these nonprofit groups. Of the millions of dollars “donated” by Philip Morris between the years 1995 and 1998, 49 percent to 79 percent went directly to Berman or Berman & Co.Daily Beast: The Sleazy War on the Humane Society
Dog breeders, and especially the American Kennel Club, whose objective is to “advance the study, breeding, exhibiting, running and maintenance of purebred dogs,” are no fans of the Humane Society. One flashpoint in particular: a 13-page report the Humane Society released in July 2012 that accused the AKC of blocking laws that would crack down on puppy mills.Huffington Post: Who is Trying to Destroy the Humane Society?
Berman’s usual strategy is to set up nonprofit “educational entities” and websites such as “Center for Consumer Freedom” and “Center for Union Facts” that claim to be public watchdogs, but whose real aim is to disseminate the views of unnamed corporate interests.Huffington Post: The Other NRA: National Restaurant Association Eviscerates the Rights of Customers, Workers, and Children
“He’s a one-man goon squad for any company that’s willing to hire him,” says Dr. Michael Jacobson, a co-founder of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and a leading safe-food advocate. “Berman is against every single measure, no matter how sensible. He’d have no restrictions on tobacco advertising, junk foods galore in schools. No minimum wage.”
One of the NRA’s favorite mouthpieces is the notorious lobbyist Rick Berman, who revels in his nickname “Dr. Evil” and mounts aggressive campaigns against labor organizations, nutrition groups, and animal welfare advocates while his clients keep their noses clean. Berman has penned articles published in the industry trade paper, the Nation’s Restaurant News, for example, criticizing recent restaurant industry pledges to raise pigs humanely and calling on restaurants to fight back against animal activists, warning: “Operators need to roll up their sleeves before it’s too late.” Berman also loves pink slime and mercury-laden fish. Berman misses no opportunity to slam advocates of sustainable food, touting “modern technology for maximizing the efficiency of [food] processing.” He’s even attacked Michelle Obama for calling on restaurants to serve healthier options for children and families.Knoxville Daily Sun: Flame Fueled by Major Corporations
Berman doesn’t disclose the names of his funders although a partial list of some of his funders was leaked to the media years ago. The list includes: Coca-Cola, Excel/Cargill, Monsanto, Tyson Foods, Wendy’s International, Outback Steakhouse, Pilgrim’s Pride, HMS Host, RTM, White Castle, Perdue Farms, Hatfield Meats, Brinker Int, Quantum Foods, Standard Meat, Applebees, Coldwater Seafood, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Performance Food, Rare Hospitality, and Marie Callendar Pie Shops.L.A. Times: Why is a nonprofit shill for business interests attacking Chipotle?
Although the organization presents itself as a watchdog group sticking up for the little guy, it’s actually a shill for business interests that want to sway public policy while keeping their names out of the news.L.A. Times: Hounding the Humane Society of the U.S.
So-called astroturf groups — fake grass-roots organizations — have been around for decades. They’re a way for business and political interests to dupe the public with skewed facts or outright lies.
The Humane Society of the United States is accustomed to criticism. As the country’s largest, richest and most powerful animal welfare organization, it is a big target. Its successful 2008 campaign in California to pass Proposition 2, which outlawed battery cages for egg-laying hens, was fought hard by the egg industry, which protested that the new law would cripple egg farmers throughout the state.L.A. Times: New CCF Website Targets HSUS
But a series of public attacks by a group called HumaneWatch.org, which have appeared on the group’s website and in the media over the last year and a half, takes the debate to a troubling place. The ads have run in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, USA Today and other newspapers, as well as on a billboard in Times Square.
What’s not reasonable or sound is vilifying the group for its failure to be something it never claimed to be: an animal shelter. Arguing that the Humane Society is failing by not donating enough to local shelters is like arguing that the president is failing to stand up for the poor because he hasn’t volunteered at your local soup kitchen.Minneapolis Star Tribune: Humane Society Fighting a Smear
Dixon is president of the 60-member National Federation of Humane Societies, an umbrella group for the individual shelters. Last month, the federation sent a letter to the Center for Consumer Freedom urging it to cease its “smear campaign.”Mother Jones: Controversial Daily Caller Editor Admitted to Posing As Radical Animal Rights Activist
The campaign distracts from the real work of humane societies across the country, Dixon said, and casts doubt about everyone’s work.
David Martosko—the outgoing executive editor of the conservative Daily Caller and a prominent defender of the news site’s disputed claim that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) paid two women for sex in the Dominican Republic—admitted in a court document obtained by Mother Jones that he used a fake Facebook profile to pose as a “dope-smoking commie” in order to gather information on animal rights activists. The admission came in a May 2011 deposition Martosko gave under oath as part of a defamation case against him and his former employer, Berman and Company, a PR shop that specializes in combating progressive activists who target corporations.Mother Jones: Donor Advisory Group Flags Berman Nonprofits
Charity Navigator has posted advisories for five Berman projects: the Center for Consumer Freedom, which opposes regulation of the food and beverage industry; the American Beverage Institute, another beverage industry group; the Center for Union Facts, which targets unions; the Employment Policies Institute Foundation, which campaigns against minimum wage increases; and the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee, a political action committee targeting Democratic candidates.Dr. Evil’s Payday
Berman’s groups are designed to appear like independent research or grassroots advocacy organizations—and a host of news outlets, from USA Today to the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times, have a bad habit of treating them that way. Don’t they google? “Berman plays the media beautifully,” says Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which in January launched a campaign to spotlight Berman’s under-the-radar PR exploits. “The media rarely, if ever, check on the credentials of the Berman organizations.”Nashville Scene: Notorious Puppetmaster Infiltrates Op-Eds
The elder Berman’s primary tactic is a business strategy that gives his corporate cronies deep cover. Through his for-profit public relations firm, Berman operates and staffs a series of nonprofits. Using advertising and cable-news appearances — and newspaper op-eds — employees promote the radioactive public positions Berman’s allies wouldn’t dare voice. Stricter DUI measures? Bad! High-fructose corn syrup? Unfairly demonized (and tasty!).NBC News: Pulling Back the Curtain to Reveal Who’s Attacking the HSUS
Meanwhile, the businesses that reap the rewards stay out of the fray. Instead, they quietly write Berman’s nonprofits a check.
Berman makes no effort to hide the fact his firm has set up a whole spectrum of nonprofit organizations to challenge existing nonprofit groups, from the Humane Society to Mothers Against Drug Driving to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The arguments made by Berman’s groups tend to support the interests of major business industries, including food, tobacco, and alcohol.Nonprofit Quarterly: Rick “Dr. Evil” Berman, PR Gun for Hire, Targets Nonprofits
Beyond the Humane Society, his endeavors have targeted health advocates, unions, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The Center for Public Integrity found some of his clients and they include the International Dairy Foods Association, the Corn Refiners Association; and the Institute for Humane Studies, a think tank led by Charles Koch.NY Times: Richard Berman Energy Industry Secretly Taped
“The company executives, Mr. Berman said in his speech, must be willing to exploit emotions like fear, greed and anger and turn them against the environmental groups. And major corporations secretly financing such a campaign should not worry about offending the general public because ‘you can either win ugly or lose pretty,’ he said.”NY Times: Fight Over Minimum Wage Illustrates Web of Industry Ties
“I get very upset when people say we are putting out junk science and twisted economics, because that happens to be our criticism of other people,” Mr. Berman said in an interview at his office. Yet internal company documents show that members of Mr. Berman’s team — at least when they have been involved in some of the other corporate-backed projects — have discussed ways to massage academic data to change outcomes.NY Times: Nonprofit Advocate Carves Out Unusual For-Profit Niche
Across two decades, Mr. Berman has founded the Center for Consumer Freedom and five other nonprofits with similarly innocuous names. His industry donors — including restaurant chains whose costs could rise if living conditions for animals have to be improved, and wine and spirits companies that might sell less liquor if MADD has its way — can claim a deduction for charitable donations or business expenses. And since nonprofit groups do not have to disclose their donors, Mr. Berman’s groups offer an even more valuable asset — anonymity for companies that would rather their customers not know they are behind certain attacks.PR Watch: Rick Berman Exposed in New Audio; Hear His Tactics against Environmentalists and Workers Rights
Meanwhile, Berman and Co. attack public interest groups for their donors and tries to label opponents as hypocrites whenever possible even as he goes to great lengths to hide the money trail between him and some of the dirtiest industries on the planet.PR Watch: Rich Berman Attacks the Humane Society
At present, Berman’s site, HumaneWatch.org, is trying to generate outrage against HSUS by ridiculing the group’s recent activities, like raising funds for animal relief in Haiti and marketing its own brand of cruelty-free, all-natural dry dog food that does not support the factory farming industry. HumaneWatch is also trying to hurt and embarrass businesses that donate to HSUS, like the Yellow Tail Wine company, which recently donated $100,000 to HSUS’s Animal Rescue Team. To target Yellow Tail, HumaneWatch.org posted a video of a cowboy standing in a manure-filled pen surrounded by cows, and pouring a bottle of Yellow Tail wine on the ground, while explaining that he is doing it to retaliate against the company for supporting the Humane Society. The video makes you want to donate to HSUS and go out and buy Yellow Tail wine to thank them for caring about animals.Rachel Maddow: Meet Rick Berman
MADDOW: When you‘re talking about your credibility on these issues, it has been reported that David Martosko, before he got this gig as your research director, he—his experience was that he was a producer in AM talk radio. That was his previous job.Raw Story: Chris Hayes clashes with conservative ‘think tank’ member
BERMAN: David had several jobs. David had several jobs. But…
MADDOW: And his academic credential may be from Dartmouth but it‘s a degree in music, is that right?
BERMAN: Here‘s my whole point, David doesn‘t come on and say, “I have done the research and this is what the research says.” David finds the research and publicizes it, and he gives people the opportunity to look at a balanced point of view.
MADDOW: You should have him set it to music.
BERMAN: Well, perhaps so.
MSNBC host Chris Hayes pushed back hard on Thursday against a member of a conservative group recently linked to a public relations firm that has consistently opposed raising the minimum wage on behalf of the restaurant industry.Roll Call: Shining Some Light on Berman’s Ulterior Motives
“How many economists do you have on staff?” Hayes repeatedly asked Employment Policies Institute research director Michael Saltsman, who refused to answer.
Berman isn’t just any corporate shill. He becomes anyone you want him to be … for the right price.Salon: Corporate America’s new scam
Berman fronts for a network of phony nonprofit groups with innocuous-sounding names. Today, he’s representing the Center for Consumer Freedom, but he passed himself off last month in the Washington Times as the executive director of the Employment Policies Institute. Sometimes, he’s the head of the Center for Union Facts or the Facts on Childhood Obesity.
This year alone, Berman has penned at least 15 opinion pieces in papers around the country on behalf of four different organizations.
In 83 percent of the stories we examined, reporters provided readers with no information about EPI’s relationship with Berman and Co. In most cases, journalists stated that EPI is a “Washington DC nonprofit” and called Saltsman a “research director.” In some instances, reporters took tentative steps in the right direction and called EPI “conservative” or “pro-business.” Only about 3 percent of the time did they correctly link EPI to Berman and Co.Slate: Mad at MADD
Over the years, ABI has fought MADD on nearly every alcohol-related issue, from liquor taxes to sobriety checkpoints. Often, the merits are debatable. But ABI doesn’t argue for moderation. Like the National Rifle Association, it opposes any restriction, no matter how reasonable. Consider interlocks, which can prevent a car from starting if its driver’s breath, as measured by a sensor, exceeds a proscribed blood-alcohol limit. ABI opposes the use of these devices not just for the general public but even for “first-time DUI offenders” with blood-alcohol concentrations below 0.15 percent. (The legal threshold for DUI is 0.08 percent.) * ABI complains that “legislatures are steadily approving legislation aimed at first-time offenders, often drivers who are only one sip above the limit. … This legislation is the first step of anti-alcohol groups toward their long-term goal of universal interlocks.”Slate: Rick Berman and the Libertarian Shell Game
Why would journalists grab quotes from EPI? Because they need to get “anti” quotes in their stories, and because the EPI is there. The group’s spin is incredibly easy to see through. The Metro ads are too cute by half. (A previous Berman group campaign against animal rights activists featured pictures of cute dogs in states of surprise.) In his Twitter bio, Saltsman describes himself as a “Defender of the Minimum Wage”—meaning, he defends the current rate and doesn’t want it going higher. The genius of EPI, like other Berman groups, is that it produces research for ideologues and donors who know what they believe already but need to balance coverage in the press.Time Magazine: Is the Humane Society Bad for Puppies? This Man Wants You to Think So
Founded with money from cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris in 1996, the CCF was originally created to promote smoker’s rights in the restaurant and hospitality industries. It has since expanded its causes to include the advancement of meat consumption and trans fat use, countering scientific evidence on the dangers of mercury and high fructose corn syrup, representing the indoor tanning industry, and a number of other unpopular crusades.USA Today: ‘Dark money’ goes way beyond elections
One of [CCF’s] pro-GMO ads presents an emaciated, apparently African child whom the nonprofit says needs “Food Not Propaganda.” It does not mention the agri-business or food giant presumably that was providing the dark money for this, well, propaganda. I say presumably because as a nonprofit, CCF doesn’t have to report its donors.USA Today: Got A Nasty Fight? Here’s Your Man
It’s clear that he’s no amateur in debating a point. Indeed, when the movie based on Christopher Buckley’s book Thank You for Smoking about a tobacco lobbyist with a gift for spin came out this year, both friends and detractors thought it was an apt portrayal of Berman.WTAE-TV: Front Groups and Rick Berman
“Debating him or his henchmen on a TV show is a very peculiar experience, because they just make things up out of whole cloth,” says Jacobson. “You’re left trying to correct what he’s saying or saying what you wanted to say.”
All of these organizations appear to be nonprofit organizations that are set up to in some way benefit Americans, but in reality, these are all industry-backed front groups, and Richard Berman is nothing more than a PR guy… We are being tricked by these kinds of ads and the names of these organizations which sound very American and trustworthy, and yet they are hiding the true voice behind the ads as well as their agenda.
VideoYouTube: HSUS and Shelters
YouTube: HSUS by the Numbers
YouTube: Who Is HumaneWatch?