A strange ad was broadcast during the Academy Awards that tried to stir up anger and mistrust against the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) by claiming HSUS spends only a paltry amount of its donors’ money to support local animal shelters. What the ad didn’t say is that the national office of the Humane Society by design doesn’t operate or fund animal shelters. Its mission is to lobby for laws that reduce animal abuse, especially in big commercial animal-abuse industries like puppy mills, confinement cattle operations and chicken houses. HSUS also pushes for enforcement of existing laws that protect animals from abuse. Local Humane Societies, which do operate shelters, do their own fundraising, often without involvement from the national HSUS. The ad took advantage of peoples’ ignorance about how the Humane Society is organized nationally to attack the Humane Society.
HSUS is very effective at what it does. It successfully pushed to end tail docking of dairy cows in California, to end commercial farmers’ cruel confinement of pigs in gestation crates, and worked to end the use of chimpanzees in biomedical testing, among other significant accomplishments in recent years. The HSUS’s remarkable effectiveness is why this misleading TV ad exists. The deceptive ad was paid for by HumaneWatch.org, a website created by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a front group backed by big food companies and national restaurant chains. The man behind CCF is Rick Berman, the notorious Washington lobbyist who has made a lucrative career from creating misleading ads and websites that attack consumer safety, animal welfare and environmental protection groups. Berman has created groups to advocate for minimum wage jobs; in response to the creation of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, he formed a group called “Beverage Retailers Against Drunk Driving” (BRADD) to advocate for greater tolerance of drinking. He operates a website, FishScam.com, which tells people to ignore warnings about mercury in seafood. He operates the “Center for Union Facts,” a front group for individuals and businesses that oppose unions. Berman gets paid well by businesses whose interests he protects. In recognition of his creepy reputation, in 2007 CBS’ 60 Minutes profiled Rick Berman in segment aptly titled, “Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. ‘Dr. Evil.'”
Few people know about “Dr. Evil” and his activities, which is why he can freely continue to engaging in them, and why we see ads like the one we saw on the Academy Awards. Big businesses love Berman because they can attack consumer interest groups while hiding behind him. This way, current and potential customers won’t see their dark side and their brands will remain untarnished. But people are starting to fight back against Berman. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington created a website, BermanExposed.org, that outs Rick Berman, his activities and fake groups. CREW also asked the IRS to investigate Berman’s misuse of the so-called “charitable” nonprofit groups he has created.
Consumer interest groups that are really effective at what they do, like the Humane Society of the U.S., become targets of big business, just like the front-runners in elections become targets for the candidates who are running behind. Berman facilitates big industries’ dirty attack business, and he won’t stop attacking public interest groups until people work to stop him from doing it.
To read more about Rick Berman and his activities, click here.