Many of the myths below have been propagated by groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, and organizations connected to the labor union movement. Berman and Company clients have acted as watchdogs who question the motivation, tactics, and fundraising efforts of these powerful groups. When these organizations feel threatened they often respond by throwing mud—instead of debating the issues.
The Structure of Berman and Company (BAC)
Myth: The non-profit organizations managed by Berman and Company are “lobbying” organizations.
Fact: In reality, they are vehicles for public awareness and education. Each organization follows a mission that was recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as following the guidelines for a tax exempt purpose, and the organizations have separate and unrelated Boards of Directors. Like many tax-exempt groups the BAC-managed non-profits undergo annual audits by an outside accounting firm to ensure the governance and financial practices follow the laws governing 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4), and 501(c)(6) organizations. After the IRS took a comprehensive look at BAC’s non-profit management practices, they did not change the non-profit status of any of the groups they reviewed–nor was any organization sanctioned.
Myth: Rick Berman is a tobacco lobbyist and the non-profits he manages are funded by the tobacco industry.
Fact: Rick Berman is not a registered lobbyist and has in fact never “lobbied” for cigarette companies. While it’s true that seed money for the Guest Choice Network (which would later become the Center for Consumer Freedom) came from Philip Morris, the money funded a specific campaign related to smoking sections in restaurants–not smoking per se. BAC spokespersons have never advocated for smoking or said it wasn’t harmful to peoples’ health. However, we have supported adults’ right to free choice when it comes to legal products.
Myth: Rick Berman and his staff are “lobbyists.”
Fact: Neither Rick Berman nor anyone on his staff are registered lobbyists. In the past, Rick or other staff members have been registered lobbyists for restaurants or other clients, but it has been years since this was the case.
Because the IRS recognizes that even 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations may have a reason to lobby or engage in grassroots activity on issues related to their mission, some of the organizations managed by BAC may attempt to influence legislation – but only in a way that complies with IRS regulations and is well within the legal limits. All expenses are spent on direct lobbying or grassroots outreach and are available on each organization’s 990s.
Myth: The non-profits managed by Berman and Company are especially secretive about their funding sources and hide that corporations donate money to them.
Fact: Non-profit organizations aren’t required to disclose their funding sources, and BAC’s client non-profits are not especially secretive. The Center for Consumer Freedom regularly discloses that it “is supported by restaurants, food companies and thousands of individual consumers,” while the Center for Union Facts discloses that it is “supported by foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public.”
Compare that to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, which claims its funding comes from “foundation grants … labor unions … [and] support from individuals, corporations, and other organizations.” Similarly, the founder of the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – which has criticized other groups, including those managed by BAC, for failing to disclose donors – refused to tell Time magazine who provides her group’s funding, saying “I wouldn’t have any donors if I revealed all my donors.” And the Center for American Progress, whose president headed up President Barack Obama’s transition team, told Politico that they “respect the privacy of supporters who have chosen not to make their donations public.”
The Supreme Court of the United States, in a case brought by the NAACP, ruled that private organizations have a constitutionally-protected right to keep their memberships confidential if there is good reason to ensure anonymity. Considering the history of threats made by animal rights organizations, environmental extremists, and labor unions against opponents, it is an important right worth upholding.
Myth: The non-profits managed by Berman and Company funnel 90% of their donations into Rick Berman’s pockets.
Fact: “Rick Berman” does not receive millions of dollars from the non-profits BAC manages. Rather, money raised is treated in a similar fashion to other law and advertising firms. The nonprofits collect and spend millions of dollars through BAC on television, print, radio, and Internet advertising every year. Neither Rick nor BAC sees any of that money other than a small, 6 percent agency fee – well below the average most PR firms take for placing advertisements.
Other payments made to BAC are just that: payments made to a for-profit association management and PR firm. They keep the office lights on, pay for the firm to employ 30 people, and cover typical expenses for everything it takes to keep a business running. As an examination of the non-profit organizations’ publicly available 990 forms shows, Rick receives very little in direct compensation from these organizations for serving as their executive director.
In their efforts to attack BAC, some of our opponents unwittingly prove this point. The Humane Society of the U.S., on one hand, complains that “Berman and his for-profit public relations company pocket a large share or even a majority of the total revenue. It’s a personal enrichment scam…” and on the other hand they claim that “[Berman] and his outfits have taken out 25 full-page attack ads in national newspapers against The HSUS, at an estimated cost of as much as $2 million.” Clearly, it’s not a personal enrichment scheme if the money is going to advertising and other costs.
Myth: A list of “Berman and Company clients” was released; these are the donors for non-profits managed by Berman and Company.
Fact: Nearly a decade ago, a terminated marketing employee of BAC leaked a list of targeted potential donors. The list in question was a marketing list, not a list of current supporters. However, many of our detractors have re-posted the list online and news sources repeatedly reference this list to suggest which companies are currently supporting BAC advocacy campaigns.
Myth: Rick Berman holds 24 positions in 23 organizations.
Fact: BAC has founded several non-profit organizations over the past 20 years. These include The Center for Consumer Freedom, The Employment Policies Institute, The Center for Union Facts, and The Enterprise Freedom Action Committee – as well as the American Beverage Institute, a trade association. Rick serves as the Executive Director of the first four and as Legislative Counsel for the last. That’s five positions in five organizations, for those keeping track at home. The other “organizations,” as some misleadingly describe them, are actually projects of the various non-profits. So, for example, “Teachers Union Exposed” is a website project of the Center for Union Facts; “Activist Cash” is a website project of the Center for Consumer Freedom. By claiming “23 organizations,” groups opposed to BAC message campaigns are simply demonstrating their lack of research or their purposeful mischaracterization.
Myth: The Center for Consumer Freedom (or its HumaneWatch.org project) is funded by cock fighters, dog fighters, and other animal abusers.
Fact: The Center for Consumer Freedom receives funding from restaurants, the food industry, foundations, and individual donors dedicated to the idea that individuals are competent in deciding what they want to eat or if they want to employ a vegan diet. CCF doesn’t reveal its funding sources because of the history of terrorism by animal rights groups like the Animal Liberation Front. But neither CCF nor BAC or any BAC-managed entity has ever accepted money from animal abusers and doesn’t take funds from “puppy mills,” “seal clubbers,” or “cock fighters.”
Myth: Rick Berman is a “gun for hire” who will rent his non-profits out to anyone for a quick buck.
Fact: Each non-profit managed by BAC has a separate and distinct mission and exempt purpose to educate the public. Depending on the non-profit client, our fundraising team seeks out like-minded individuals, philanthropies, foundations, and business organizations that share the non-profit’s goals and missions, and then approaches them to help fund the organization’s outreach efforts. BAC’s staff then conducts the comprehensive research about the issue, develops education campaigns, and handles the public relations work to reach out to the media and the public with the research findings.
Myth: The American Beverage Institute (ABI) favors letting people drive drunk.
Fact: One of the odder complaints about BAC is that the trade group for which it works, ABI, supports drunk driving. Nothing could be further for the truth: ABI has actually supported legislation in 27 states that would require repeat drunk drivers and drunk drivers with a Blood Alcohol Concentration above .15 to be required to install in-car breathalyzers. ABI doesn’t oppose commonsense restrictions on drunk drivers.
ABI does oppose one-size-fits-all mandates that take discretion away from judges and require anyone convicted of a drunk driving offense, regardless of their BAC level, to install in-car breathalyzers. To groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), that makes us extremists. But some – including the founder of MADD, have worked with BAC to raise awareness and defend our approach to traffic safety.
Myth: The American Beverage Institute opposes roadblocks because it wants drunks on the roads.
Fact: ABI does oppose drunk driving roadblocks, but not because they get drunk drivers off the roads – just the opposite. Studies have shown that roving (or saturation) patrols, which ABI supports, are more effective at getting drunk drivers off the streets. They also have the added bonus of catching drowsy drivers, distracted drivers, and dangerous drivers who don’t happen to be drunk. According to a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation official, patrols are ten times more effective at getting drunk drivers off the streets. They do so at a much lower cost and by inconveniencing far fewer people.
Myth: The Center for Consumer Freedom is in favor of obesity.
Fact: What CCF is in favor of is acknowledging that weight gain is a two-pronged formula: calories in and calories out. Instead of focusing solely on the “calories in” portion of that debate, CCF wants to refocus attention on the totality of the issue. It’s a fact that Americans live less active lifestyles these days – playgrounds have been traded for PlayStations, ploughshares for PCs, and assembly lines for desk duty.
Myth: The Center for Consumer Freedom thinks pregnant women should eat all the mercury-laden fish they want.
Fact: What CCF reminds pregnant women of is the fact that eating fish conveys a variety of health benefits and serves as an important source of omega-3 fatty acids – a vital nutrient that your body cannot produce and that aids in the development of unborn children (studies have shown that women who eat fish give birth to children with modestly higher IQs). The levels of mercury in fish are so low that it is unlikely that pregnant women–or any other consumers–will poison themselves by eating fish. That’s why we have an internet calculator based on published federal data that allows people to see how much fish they can eat.
Myth: The Center for Consumer Freedom opposes animal welfare.
Fact: CCF isn’t opposed to animal welfare – it opposes animal rights. What sounds like a minor difference is actually a major fight. Animal welfare regards basic standards of living for our nation’s pets and livestock. CCF opposes animal abuse and BAC has donated more than 1,000 hours of PR time pro bono to the Humane Society for Shelter Pets, an organization dedicated to connecting would-be adoptive pet owners with local shelters.
CCF does, however, oppose animal rights ideology that elevates animals to the same status as human beings. In the words of one leading PETA activist, “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” In other words, there’s no difference in the value of the life of a rat crawling around the alley behind your house and your child sleeping in a crib.
Myth: The Employment Policies Institute produces phony studies.
Fact: The Employment Policies Institute works with labor economists at well-known academic institutions such as Cornell University, University of Chicago, Indiana University, the University of Michigan, Trinity University, and many other prestigious universities. EPI provides a grant to cover the cost of performing this research, but does not dictate the results of these studies or the content of the final product.
Myth: The Center for Union Facts opposes collective bargaining.
Fact: CUF supports the rights of employees to bargain collectively – if that’s what they want to do. What CUF does not support is forced unionization, requiring someone to pay union dues in order to get a job, and making it almost impossible to decertify a union. Given that less than ten percent of non-government union members voted to certify the union to which they currently pay dues, reforms to our collective bargaining system are obviously needed.