Richard Berman is head of Berman and Co., a PR firm in Washington, DC. He founded several nonprofits; the Center for Consumer Freedom (which is also known as the Center for Organizational Research and Education), the Employment Policies Institute, Center for Union Facts, American Beverage Institute, Enterprise Freedom Action Committee, Family Coalition and at least 40 other distinctly named linked projects.
They use this web of nonprofits to attack groups who promote food safety, public health, animal welfare and, more recently, environmental protection.
Independent news investigations repeatedly expose Berman’s underhanded schemes of attacking public interest groups including; Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Sierra Club, the Izaak Walton League and many others in addition to the Humane Society of the United States.
What is HumaneWatch, the Center for Consumer Freedom and The Humane Society for Shelter Pets?
- The Center for Consumer Freedom was known as Guest Choice Network until 2001. In 2014, its name changed again to the Center for Organizational Research and Education. HumaneWatch is a project of Berman’s CCF, and was launched in 2010.
- Berman is a PR operative who learned his trade as a paid defender of the tobacco and liquor industries. CCF’s predecessor was started by a large grant by Philip Morris. From 1995 to 1998 alone, the company paid Berman $2.95 million to fund the Guest Choice Network.
- The board members of Berman’s nonprofits are mostly current and former employees of the firm and executives and consultants for the restaurant and beverage industries, according to a New York Times piece.
- CCF, HumaneWatch, The Humane Society for Shelter Pets and all of Berman’s groups are listed as front groups on SourceWatch.
- According to a memo from Berman to donors for a related campaign, the intended effect of HumaneWatch is to depress “some of the donation stream that HSUS would have expected prior to our campaign.”
- CCF has been condemned by the editorial boards of USA Today and Washington Post as well as on ABC News for misleading the public.
- Federal tax laws and IRS regulations prohibit creation and operation of nonprofits to benefit private interests and individuals. But some of Richard Berman’s charities have paid more than 92% of their “donations” to Richard Berman and his for-profit corporation.
- According to 2011 tax forms, CCF received charitable donations totaling $1.4 million of which $1.29 million – or 92% were paid to Berman and Company for “staff[ing] and operat[ing] the day-to-day activities” of the charity.
- The Boston Globe reported in 2013 on Berman and his work, including a quote from a book about U.S. politics where he stated companies “can pay us to represent them and retain their anonymity.”
- Berman initially denied involvement with one of the front groups, the Humane Society for Shelter Pets. Only after a memo authored by Berman came to light did he admit in an Associated Press article that his PR firm provided substantial assistance to the effort.
- In late 2013, HSSP filed for dissolution, and reconstituted itself as a trade name of the Center for Organizational Research and Education, but not before $983,204 of the donations to the supposed nonprofit were paid directly to Berman & Co. and CCF. Meanwhile, according to tax forms, no animal shelters received funds.
Richard Berman was exposed when an audio tape of his presentation to the Western Energy Alliance was leaked to the New York Times, and numerous outlets covered it. The following are Berman and a Berman and Co. Vice President’s own words about their work:
“We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don’t know who supports us. We’ve been doing this for 20 something years in this regard. And to the degree to anybody is concerned about that I will tell you there are all sorts of ways, all sorts of firewalls that have been established to get this done on an anonymous basis.”
“We’re doing stuff to diminish the other sides’ ability to operate.”
“You could not get into people’s heads and convince them to do something as easily as you could get into their hearts or into their gut to convince to do something. Because, emotions drive people much better than intellectual epiphanies.”
“We’re really making this personal. We’re trying to make it so they don’t have any credibility with the public, with the media, or with the legislators.”
“you can either win ugly or lose pretty.”
“Sometimes you’re going after someone that’s got a crown on their head … if you were going to attack Mother Theresa, you better have a very unusual campaign.”
But, if you got enough on your side you get people into a position of paralysis about the issue … you get in people’s mind a tie. They don’t know who is right .. .the tie basically insures the status quo.”
What others have to say about Berman and his front groups:
- Hardly anyone takes EPI seriously as a source of impartial information. Asking EPI to do a “study” of the minimum wage is like asking the National Rifle Association to look into the advantages of gun control or hiring Donald Trump to examine the pros and cons of Mexican immigration – Peter Dreier, City Watch LA, July 10, 2015
- Berman repeatedly boasted about how he could take checks from the oil and gas industry executives — he said he had already collected six-figure contributions from some of the executives in the room — and then hide their role in funding his campaigns. – Eric Lipton, New York Times, October 30, 2014
- In a political campaign, a candidate making questionable claims can be held accountable by voters at the ballot box. But accountability is harder to come by in the shadowy world where Berman and like operatives do their work. – The Boston Globe, May 18, 2013
- Corporate backers are “using Berman to say outrageous things that they themselves would never say because of the risk of alienating some of their customers.” – Melanie Sloan, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, May 18, 2013
- “Berman has a long record of taking corporate money in order to target community and public advocacy groups, making outrageous and even dangerous claims. … Given this sordid record, how could anyone trust anything Richard Berman has to say?” – Joel Wendland, politicalaffairs.net, February 20, 2006
- Berman set up the Center for Consumer Freedom and a number of other tax exempt educational organizations. And those educational non-profits all seem to support messages that dove tail nicely with the food beverage and tobacco industries that have hired Richard Berman. – ABC 7, May 3, 2006
- By keeping the sponsors anonymous, Berman’s group can be more vociferous, provocative and irreverent in its criticisms than a trade association. – Washington Post, April 27, 2005
- ‘They make a lot of noise, but nobody in academia takes their arguments seriously…they stand for food industry freedom, not consumer freedom.” – Dr. David Ludwig, New York Times, June 12, 2005
- Trying to influence policy and politics is Washington’s favorite game. Groups that play should be upfront about who they are. Groups that aren’t straightforward ought to be regarded with suspicion. – USA Today, May 4, 2005
 Steve Karnowski, Humane Society for Shelter Pets Allegedly Targeting Humane Society of the U.S., Associated Press, December 19, 2011