When corporate America wants to destroy its critics, it employs Washington lobbyist and message hawk Richard Berman. Berman, deemed the alcohol and food industry’s “weapon of mass destruction,” employs a network of business-backed front groups to smear proponents of regulation and fair pay. He’s earned his “Dr. Evil” nickname by employing slimy tactics to go after groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society, as well as labor unions and proponents of raising the minimum wage.
Backed by powerful business interests, including Coca-Cola, Tyson Chicken, Outback Steakhouse and Wendy’s, Berman “specializes in using nonprofit groups for corporate messaging.” Unlike a traditional lobbying firm, Berman’s groups go after the brand of his clients’ adversaries, not just the specific legislation they may oppose. Corporations use Berman to say disgraceful things that they could not do without alienating customers. The campaigns are largely waged through a myriad of websites, many of which are designed to challenge federal health study findings. His propaganda arsenal includes his for-profit company, Berman and Company, and non-profits Center for Consumer Freedom (which changed its name to the Center for Organizational Research & Education in 2014), the Center for Union Facts, the American Beverage Institute, and the Employment Policies Institute.
Almost all contributions to Berman’s non-profit groups flow to Berman’s for-profit business: Berman and Company. Worst yet, companies can take tax deductions for what is in actuality the most nefarious kind of lobbying. And consumers are none the wiser. (In a 2007 deposition, Berman admitted that he set up the groups “at the request of clients.”
For instance, the Center for Organizational Research & Education (formerly the Center for Consumer Freedom) has transferred a combined $20 million to Berman and Company and to another Berman non-profit, the Employment Policies Institute Foundation since 2002. For its part, the Employment Policies Institute Foundation has funneled almost $12 million to Berman and Company since 2001 and another $2.6 million to the Center for Union Facts (which has itself given $4.8 million to the for-profit entity). Likewise, the American Beverage Institute has transferred nearly $11.5 million since 2004. In effect, Berman’s mon-profits use “most of their funds” to pay his for-profit company for services. For instance, according to the New York Times, the Employment Policies Institute has “no employees of its own.”
Berman’s career in business advocacy began with fighting smoking-related legislation on behalf of big tobacco company Philip Morris, followed by representing alcohol-related businesses. His dirty campaigns have more recently gone after groups like the Humane Society with ads in Washington’s transit system comparing its president to Bernie Madoff. Berman has also criticized Mothers Against Drunk Driving, claiming that they are “anti-alcohol activists” who want a return of Prohibition. His tendency to manipulate the facts was exposed in an employee’s email discussing how to dispute a University of Southern California study’s findings against the corn refining industry. In the email, his employee advocated that, “If for any reason the results confirm U.S.C., we can just bury the data.”
Berman’s work can best be summarized by something he said, according to the Boston Globe, to a group of farmers in 2010. “People remember negative stuff. … They don’t like hearing it, but they remember it. … We can use fear and anger — it stays with people longer than love and sympathy.”
Read more about Berman’s non-profit front groups by clicking on the links below: