Berman rebrands Center for Consumer Freedom, moves into new territory

Rick Berman, former tobacco lobbyist turned shill for corporate polluters.As Stop HumaneWatchers, we have long followed the anti-animal attacks of Rick Berman and the Center for Consumer Freedom.  But we are also aware of his many other front groups campaigning on issues such as teachers unions, the minimum wage, drunk driving, high-fructose corn syrup, and tanning beds.

That’s why we figured it was only a matter of time before Berman moved into the anti-environment arena.  With large corporations and foundations plowing over $1 billion in untraceable dark money each year into front groups that deny climate change, we knew Berman would want a piece of that pie.

Last week our suspicions were confirmed with the appearance of a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal targeting three environmental nonprofits: Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Food and Water Watch.

Just who was behind the ad?  The ad itself pointed readers to a new website: BigGreenRadicals.com, a project of the “Environmental Policy Alliance” – not to be confused with the Environmental Protection Agency even though it had a similar name with the same initials, a classic Berman ploy.

The website of Environmental Policy Alliance held another clue: its address of 1090 Vermont Ave., NW Suite 800, Washington, DC 20005.  If that address sounds familiar, it’s likely you have seen the tax returns for Center for Consumer Freedom, which list the exact same address.

Berman’s fingerprints

So what exactly is the Environmental Policy Alliance?  This new Berman front group has four campaigns:
  • Big Green Radicals, which bashes the three environmental organizations listed above;
  • Green Decoys, which targets hunting and fishing groups that certain powers think are too environmentalist;
  • LEED Exposed, which goes after sustainable certification in buildings;
  • EPA Facts, which targets the actual Environmental Protection Agency.
All of these sites have Berman’s fingerprints all over them.  Never one for self-reflection, Berman takes the criticisms that opponents have made of his clients and tries to turn them around on his targets.

For example, where environmentalists have charged that the oil-friendly Bush White House muzzled science to fit its politics, Berman’s EPA Facts claims the EPA uses “agenda-driven science.”

Where critics have pointed to right-wing foundation funding for climate-denial front groups like the Heartland Institute, Berman’s Green Decoys claims conservation groups like Trout Unlimited receive funding from what it calls “environmentalist foundations.”

And just as HumaneWatch paints the Humane Society of the United States as having a gigantic budget – never mind that the HSUS’s net worth is 4.6 percent that of Cargill – so Big Green Radicals paints Food and Water Watch as “among the most powerful … voices pushing the green agenda” – despite the fact its budget is 0.0026 percent of Exxon’s.

Who’s footing the bill?

Obviously someone has hired Berman to go after these environmental organizations.  The question is, who?  Berman does not list who funds his smear campaigns on any of his websites, but it’s not hard to figure out which industries are footing the bill, even if we don’t know specifically which corporations.

Green Decoys, for example, seems particularly offended that Trout Unlimited has come out in favor of regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  TU isn’t against fracking altogether, just against unregulated fracking – but that’s enough to merit a smear campaign from Berman.

Big Green Radicals attacks not just Food and Water Watch’s opposition to fracking, but its campaign to label genetically modified food.  The Sierra Club is also attacked for its campaigns against fossil fuels and GMO foods, as well as its defense of the Endangered Species Act.

And LEED Exposed turns what ought to be a no-brainer – energy efficient construction of new buildings – into a political issue.  Who could possibly be against energy efficient buildings?  As it turns out, plastics, vinyl, and chemical companies that supply inefficient and sometimes toxic building materials don’t like LEED very much — they are behind a push for federal agencies and state governments to ban use of LEED certification.

Just this month, LEED Exposed released a new report claiming that LEED-certified buildings are not as energy efficient as traditional buildings.  That report was covered by Berman’s old friend the Daily Caller in a story made available for free to other outlets, and by the National Review, which is currently being sued for defamation after comparing climate scientist Michael Mann to child molester Jerry Sandusky.

While both outlets happily quoted Berman employee Anastasia Swearingen, neither bothered to mention who her boss is, nor that the Environmental Policy Alliance occupies the same Washington, D.C., offices as the Center for Consumer Freedom.  Fortunately these facts did not escape the U.S. Green Building Council, which refuted the report and linked it back to Berman.

Rebranding

Amidst all of our questions about the new territory Berman is venturing into, one thing caught our eye.  While Big Green Radicals, LEED Exposed and the other new smear campaigns are all projects of the Environmental Policy Alliance, which lists the same address as Center for Consumer Freedom, the Environmental Policy Alliance is itself a project of something we had never heard of called the Center for Organizational Research and Education.

The Center for Organizational Research and Education has no web footprint whatsoever.  Google it, and you will not find a website, or even a mention of it on a parent company site.

That’s because, as noted by Architect Magazine, Center for Organizational Research and Education is the new name of Center for Consumer Freedom.  CCF formally changed its name in a filing with the West Virginia secretary of state on January 30.

Why has Rick Berman taken the extreme step of changing the name of Center for Consumer Freedom?  A couple of possibilities come to mind.

First, Center for Consumer Freedom has been thoroughly exposed as a front group for Big Food and Big Ag by Stop HumaneWatch and others, including pretty much every major media outlet in the country.

When companies’ reputations are damaged beyond repair, they often respond by simply changing their name, such as when tobacco company Philip Morris changed its name to Altria shortly after settling the landmark case over health care costs related to smoking with a group of state attorneys general.

A new direction?

Perhaps Berman plans to take his Center for Organizational Research and Education in a new direction, making the attacks on environmental organizations front and center while pushing the attacks on animal welfare groups to one side.  After all, most major food producers including Smithfield and McDonald’s have already agreed to adopt more humane practices such as phasing out gestation crates.

The National Pork Producers Council may still hate HSUS, but let’s face it: Their budget pales in comparison to Big Oil, Big Coal, and Big Gas, who have a lot of money and a lot of reason to spend it with all the climate change regulations likely to start coming down the pike.

Still, we don’t think HumaneWatch is going anywhere.  As long as someone is paying Berman, he will keep running it, even as he creates new campaigns and hires more Washington operatives willing to sell their souls for profit.  And some players in the Big Ag community seem happy to keep throwing their money at Berman, even though not a single one of his campaigns against the HSUS has had an effect.

Despite all of Berman’s efforts, HSUS donations continue to grow and its programs continue to expand.  The fact is, most people support policies to treat animals with kindness, and the HSUS is the most effective organization in the country at getting these policies put into place.

People also generally like clean air and clean water.  So if Berman truly is changing his emphasis from anti-animal campaigns to anti-environment, we don’t expect him to be any more successful there either.


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Berman’s “Humane Society for Shelter Pets” sinks out of sight

The deceptively named Humane Society for Shelter Pets (HSSP) has filed for dissolution, signaling the death of yet another one of Richard Berman’s schemes to line his pockets while undermining animal welfare.

Diana “Didi” Culp: HSUS ex-employee and co-director of HSSP.

HSSP was founded by Berman to attack the Humane Society of the United States, part of his ongoing strategy to defund the nation’s largest animal protection charity by frightening away donors.  Berman selected disgruntled ex-HSUS employee Didi Culp as the figurehead of the organization.

Culp, a supposed shelter advocate who advises people to “get a better dog” from a breeder, may have seemed the ideal choice for the job.  But when HSSP was exposed as a front group for Berman’s corporate clients, Culp became the subject of an ethics investigation for her improper use of Frederick County Animal Control facilities.   The organization’s leadership fled, and Culp was left at the helm of a sinking ship.

The collapse of HSSP puts an end to Berman’s most recent attempt to deceive animal lovers. Don’t feel too badly for the millionaire tobacco lobbyist, however:  Before the collapse of HSSP, Berman managed to funnel $765,483.00 of the organization’s “nonprofit” donations into his personal and corporate bank accounts.  Berman has not disclosed how much Culp was paid for her services as the organization’s figurehead.

The shelters that Berman and Culp used as pawns received nothing, according to tax forms filed by the organization.


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Stop HumaneWatcher responds to ag industry hatchet piece

Kevin Fulton runs a 2,800-acre grassfed cattle ranch in Litchfield, Neb., where he chairs the first HSUS Agriculture Council.  Photo credit: All Animals / HSUS

Kevin Fulton runs a 2,800-acre grassfed cattle ranch in Litchfield, Neb., where he chairs the first HSUS Agriculture Council.
Photo credit: All Animals / HSUS

Recently an agriculture industry trade journal called Beef Producer, which supplies content to 18 state publications for Farm Progress agriculture information service, ran an opinion piece that drew all its talking points from one source: Rick Berman. Under the headline “HSUS Shows Continued Pattern Of Dishonest Behavior,” editor Alan Newport quoted misinformation from HumaneWatch and compared the Humane Society of the United States to thieves and rapists.

We aren’t going to repeat this travesty of journalism here, but we will repost the response from Stop HumaneWatcher Kevin Fulton, who knows Newport personally and rightly took him to task for the hatchet job he published without bothering to talk to anyone at HSUS or even check their website. Fulton runs a 2800-acre grassfed cattle ranch in Litchfield, Neb., where he chairs the first HSUS Agriculture Council.

Alan,

I must say I was disappointed in your December 13th piece attacking HSUS. It’s one thing to oppose something and substantiate it with facts but when you perpetuate lies to make your position, it suggests that you yourself are untrustworthy based on your very own reasoning! Your rant shows a true lack of integrity and professionalism. Analogies using liars, thieves, and rapists and implying that animal advocates somehow belong in the same category is a delusional thought. It would behoove you to understand that the HSUS is not a group of bureaucrats sitting in an office somewhere but rather millions of supporters at the grassroots level, including farmers like myself. You have unfairly attacked all of us with your absurd implications and we take great offense to that.

You’ve been to my home and toured my farm, and you know that I am a real farmer. I’ve heard all the anti-ag and other rhetoric about HSUS for years, and I’ve thoroughly done my research and investigated the sources. I’ve been to HSUS headquarters and traveled with their leadership on numerous occasions. Do you think I would align with an organization that is against animal agriculture since my sole livelihood depends on that? Ninety five percent of their membership eats animal products! Most of their members and staff own animals yet you claim they are opposed to animal agriculture and animal ownership. How do you possibly reach such idiotic conclusions?

Like you, Wayne Pacelle has also been to my home and toured my farm. I’ve worked with him on numerous projects. My experiences with HSUS leadership are first hand. I was always taught to think for myself instead of blindly following the status quo. Your info comes right from the talking points of Rick Berman, who is a highly discredited lobbying and public relations hack in Washington, D.C. He’s no farmer, and the only connect he has to farming is that he takes money from certain farming interests to try to discredit HSUS. And they are naive enough to fund his smear campaigns instead of standing up and taking ownership in their own problems and addressing the issues. HSUS has a number of farmers working on their staff in leadership positions. Ask Rick Berman how many farmers his bogus organization has on staff.

HSUS makes it plain that it is about protecting all animals, and that it has never served, and never claimed to serve as a pass-through organization for animal shelters. HSUS does do a lot for shelters, but it’s always been more than that. Any 5th grader could find their website and substantiate this.

I’ve been an HSUS member for a number of years now. I get their publications and have seen livestock farmers profiled in their magazine, annual reports, daily blogs, on their website and in brochures and other promotional material. In fact we are promoting several ag related events right here in Nebraska in just the month of February alone where farmers and their products will be showcased. We have Agricultural Councils in six states now with others waiting to be announced in the near future. This is an idea that I brought to the organization in 2010 and they embraced my suggestion. I now proudly serve as chairperson of the first Ag Council which was formed here in Nebraska. These councils are made up of prominent farmers and leaders in the sustainable ag community that you are likely familiar with. Have you bothered to reach out to any of these farmers like any competent journalist would?

You did to HSUS supporters what the most zealous animal advocates do to farmers like me – you misrepresented the situation, either because you’ll say anything to denigrate them, or because you just didn’t take the time to research it yourself. I hope it was the latter case, and I hope you’ll be more rigorous about this in the future. You’ve always struck me as a serious advocate for sustainable agriculture but maybe I have mis-judged you. I’m not fearful of anyone who advocates that animals should be allowed to move and not be imprisoned in a tiny crate. This is basic animal husbandry. Extreme confinement systems represent a fanatical mindset and most farmers like myself do not want to be associated with these operations at all.

Lastly, I will invite you to the upcoming Nebraska Sustainable Ag Conference here in Nebraska on February 13-14th where Wayne Pacelle will be giving the keynote presentation and talking about the importance of farmers and animals in our sustainable farming systems. http://www.nebsusag.org/conference.shtml It will also serve as a gathering for HSUS Ag Council members from various states to kickoff this event. Of course you would have to be open to the truth to benefit from this invitation. That would likely challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone. But any reputable journalist would welcome the opportunity to get the truth.

Sincerely,

Kevin Fulton
Fulton Farms
Litchfield, NE


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Don’t let Berman steal Christmas from animals

During December, the “season of giving,” many people donate to charitable causes like the Humane Society of the United States.  It’s no surprise then that Rick Berman — Washington DC’s best-known PR hit man — has purchased a slew of December attack ads smearing the HSUS and its president, Wayne Pacelle. These ads are nothing more than Berman’s clumsy ploy on behalf of those who profit from abusing animals.

Share this graphic to let your friends know that HumaneWatch is nothing but a clumsy ploy by DC’s best-known PR hit man on behalf of those who profit from abusing animals.

Share this graphic to let your friends know HumaneWatch is nothing but a clumsy ploy by DC’s best-known PR hit man on behalf of those who profit from abusing animals.

The HSUS holds a 4-star rating with Charity Navigator, the highest possible ranking. The BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance certifies that the HSUS meets all 20 standards for charitable accountability. Worth Magazine named the HSUS one of the 10 most fiscally-reponsible charities. And Guidestar’s Philanthropedia website voted the HSUS as the top high-impact animal protection group in the country.

The HSUS has almost 60 years of experience to back up its standing as the nation’s most effective animal protection organization. The HSUS  top 13 achievements of 2013 demonstrate exactly how donations help animals.

Although the HSUS provides grants to other animal welfare organizations, that is not and never has been its purpose. The HSUS has its own programs and is not a pass-through organization. Supporters of the HSUS expect it to tackle the root causes of cruelty and defend all animals, and that is what the HSUS has been doing since 1954.

Opponents of the HSUS want them to focus solely on mopping up the damage caused by Rick Berman’s clients, rather than confronting and stopping industrial animal abuse. In addition to this important advocacy work, the HSUS provides hands-on care for more animals than any other group –- dogs like Ricky Bobby and Stella, rescued from a North Carolina puppy mill –- and it drives transformational change to prevent cruelty before animals end up in distress.

Here are just a few areas where the HSUS helps animals:

  • Aiding shelters when natural disasters and cruelty cases overwhelm their capacity to respond.
  • Leading the nation’s most ambitious projects to reduce pet overpopulation and thereby reduce pressure on local shelters and rescues.
  • Providing sanctuary, rehabilitation, veterinary treatment, and other direct care for more than 100,000 animals in 2013 alone.
  • Combatting puppy mills, organized animal fighting, wildlife poaching, commercial seal slaughter and many other large-scale animal abuses.
  • Managing a coast-to-coast network of nature preserves.
  • Working to end the suffering of street dogs in countries around the globe.
  • Combatting the trade in wildlife and fighting for endangered species here and abroad.
  • Joining with corporations like McDonald’s, Safeway, Kroger, Campbell’s, Kraft, and dozens more, to reduce the suffering of farm animals in their supply chains.
  • Supporting sustainable family farmers who answer to higher animal welfare standards – both in the United States and developing world.

See for yourself what the HSUS does at humanesociety.org.

So, who is this corporate front-man behind the attack on the HSUS?

Rick Berman is a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and PR operative. He learned his trade as a paid defender of the tobacco industry, and never changed. Independent news investigations have repeatedly exposed his underhanded schemes to protect corporate profits by attacking public interest groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and HSUS. You can find a list of exposes here, including coverage by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, ABC, CBS, NBC, Bloomberg, Salon, and many more.

Berman’s nonprofit schemes are the subject of a pending complaint with the IRS, and the rating agency Charity Navigator has issued donor fraud advisory alerts against several of his front groups.

If you follow the money trail, you’ll find more than 90 percent of the funds that flow into Berman’s web of tax-exempt organizations go to him or his for-profit PR firm. That’s a jaw dropping figure, almost unheard of in our nation. It’s a self-enrichment scheme of the worst kind.

When it comes to animal cruelty, there are only two sides: You’re against it, or you defend it. You know where the HSUS stands, and you know where Berman stands. Show Rick Berman that you won’t let him steal Christmas from animals!


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Smear Campaign Tools Exposed: Innuendo

We can do the innuendo
We can dance and sing
When it’s said and done
We haven’t told you a thing…
– Don Henley, Dirty Laundry

Although libel and defamation are exceedingly difficult to prove in court, even the most unethical front groups will avoid unnecessary (and costly) litigation.

That’s why organizations like Richard Berman’s “HumaneWatch” avoid direct statements — which are legally actionable — and instead couch their false accusations in sly winks and innuendo — which generally are not.

The easiest way to turn a libelous claim into an innuendo is to phrase it as a question. Consider these headlines and comments from HumaneWatch:

  • Is HSUS engaging in a little creative accounting? (Oct. 21, 2011)
  • Is HSUS purposely hiding the ball and diverting millions to a purpose that its ads don’t address? (Feb. 19, 2011)
  • HSUS: Token help for pet shelters? (Feb. 27, 2012)
  • Is HSUS really just a business? (Feb. 25, 2010)
  • Is HSUS becoming a political liability? (Oct. 28, 2010)
  • Hot air from HSUS? (Jun. 11, 2010)
  • Would Wayne Pacelle approve of shooting this horse? (Aug. 28, 2013)
  • Is Wayne Pacele the Bernie Madoff of the charity world? (Apr. 5, 2013)
  • Is HSUS taking advantage of Americans’ goodwill toward cats and dogs? (Mar. 17, 2011)
  • Is HSUS up to no good in Nebraska? (Nov. 13, 2010)
  • Is HSUS hiding the ball? (Nov. 8, 2010)
  • Another ALF Supporter in HSUS’s Leadership? (Feb. 11, 2012)
  • Is HSUS really on the side of the 99 percent of Americans who aren’t vegan? (Nov. 13, 2010)
  • Did HSUS violate the lobbying disclosure act? (Nov. 28, 2011)
  • Where does [the HSUS'] money go? (Jun. 27, 2013)

The pages of HumaneWatch are crawling with disingenuous question marks; they are scattered through their blog posts and op-eds like a bad case of worms. But rarely do they include an answer to go with their leading questions. They leave their readers to fill in the blanks, providing them just enough misleading information, vague rumor, and unrelated finger-pointing to ensure that those blanks are filled in with the wrong answer.

Please feel free to save these graphics to your hard drive, link to them directly on this site, or share on social media.

http://www.stophumanewatch.org/blog/innuendo

View and share previous weeks’ graphics from our Resources page.


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