Center for Organizational Research and Education
The Center for Organizational Research and Education (CORE) encompasses several organizations under the control of corporate PR “hit man” Richard Berman. The outfit, formerly known as the Center for Consumer Freedom (CFF), has been known to “secretly collect corporate donations to finance the aggressive, often satirical media campaigns his team conceives.” CORE goes after groups that could hurt its corporate clients’ bottom line. In 2007, Berman, nicknamed “Dr. Evil,” told CBS’ 60 Minutes, “”The businesses themselves don’t find it convenient to take on causes that might seem politically incorrect, and I’m not afraid to do that,” The group changed its name from CFF to CORE in early 2014, but CFF continues to exist under the CORE umbrella, which includes the Environmental Policy Alliance and the Center for Accountability in Science.
Berman started CORE in the mid-1990s with $600,000 in seed money from Phillip Morris USA. Originally known as the Guest Choice Network, the group was founded “to fight smoking curbs in restaurants.” The name referred to the group’s strategy at the time, which was to “shift the focus of operator attention from ‘smokers’ rights’ to ‘guest choice.’” In documents from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, Phillip Morris explained, “Our ability to interact effectively with the hospitality industry is critical to our ultimate objective, which is to maintain the ability for our consumers to enjoy out products in public venues.” In a fax to a Phillip Morris executive, Berman wrote, “additional benefit—if externally perceived as driven by restaurant interests, there will be more flexibility and creativity allowed than if it is ‘owned by Phillip Morris.’” Guest Choice Network’s members included restaurant giants IHOP, Brinker International (owner of Chili’s), Darden Restaurants (owner of Olive Garden) and hospitality titans Host Marriott Corporation (now HMSHost), and Harrah’s Entertainment.
Nearly 20 years later, the group is still an advocate of the tobacco industry, which is now pushing e-cigarettes in the wake of lowering traditional cigarette sales. In 2014, CORE’s Communications Director, Sarah Longwell, wrote an opinion in the San Francisco Chronicle with the headline, “E-cigarettes safe; no need for S.F. to ban them.” In the article, Longwell argues that e-cigarettes should not be banned in San Francisco because they “do not carry the associated harms” of cigarettes. But according to the Center for Disease Control, “e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine have the potential to cause immediate adverse health effects and represent an emerging public health concern.”
CORE also has a history of inserting rhetoric backing the interests of the food industry into the nation’s debate on obesity, mad cow disease and genetically modified products. The group openly admits it is supported by restaurants and food companies. While it does not disclose its donors, The New York Times reported “corporate contributors to the group as of 2002 included Coca-Cola, Wendy’s and Tyson Foods, each of which gave $200,000. Cargill gave $100,000, according to the documents, and Outback Steakhouse gave $164,600.” Critics have said CFF “seizes on statistical errors and other nuances to distract from the substance of the obesity debate.” On one of the group’s many microsites, Obesitymyths.com, calls the connection between obesity and life expectancy a myth.
Berman’s group is a longtime foe of animal rights activists, including PETA and the Humane Society; CORE’s microsite, HumaneWatch.org, claims to be “keeping a watchful eye on the Humane Society of the United States.” In 2013, the group took out ads comparing Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle to infamous Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff to insinuate that the Humane Society is pulling one over on its donors. The ad, in classic Berman form, manipulates the facts by stating the society “gives less than 1 percent of its massive donations to local pet shelters but has socked away $17 million in its own pension fund.” In reality, the society mostly uses its own facilities to shelter animals rather than contributing to others. According to the Center for Public Integrity, some of CFF’s food and farm industry clients are targets of the Humane Society for their treatment of animals, such as the International Dairy Foods Association. For example, Former CFF client Smithfield Foods, the U.S.’s largest pork producer, was featured in a Humane Society film for its use of gestation crates—small pens that hold pregnant pigs before they give birth. The animal rights group has tried to put a stop to the use of gestation crates or “maturity pens” by lobbying companies on the issue and by asking restaurant chains to not buy pork from farms that practice them. Berman actively defends their use and has even told pork producers to call them “maternity pens” instead. The group complains than the Humane Society “has spent millions on anti-farming and anti-hunting political campaigns.”
CORE’s newly created Environmental Policy Alliance—cheekily dubbed EPA for short—targets the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, naming it “America’s most powerful environmental activist.” The group’s “EPA Facts” site calls the science behind EPA rules “questionable,” and suggests the rules “may actually cause more environmental harm than they reduce.” In 2014, the group launched a campaign called “LEED Exposed,” claiming that “LEED-Certified buildings use more energy and are more expensive.” It also ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal alleging that the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Food & Water Watch “are using scare tactics and junk science to push policies that increase the cost of energy.”
The Center for Accountability in Science, another CORE’s group, is Berman’s answer to government-funded science organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and National Institute for Environmental Health Science. It tries to discredit them, and therefore the research that comes out of them, by crying “peer review problems,” and “bias of funding.” Like Berman’s EPA, the group also takes on the real EPA. In 2014, the organization’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Joseph Perrone wrote an opinion in The Hill slamming the regulatory agency for relying on “secret science” when it comes to its new carbon dioxide rule in an effort to combat climate change. In the piece, Perrone cites a Wall Street Journal op-ed that claims the EPA has “likely overestimated the health impact of ozone by failing to adequately account for the impact factors such as smoking, diet, and exercise could have on diseases attributed to ozone pollution.” The junk science group also refutes attacks against genetically modified foods and chemicals such as bisphenol-A (found in the lining of canned food and beverage products), and parabens (a preservative used by the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries).
In 2012, the most recent year for which financial information is available, the group took in $1.2 million in contributions and grants and spent a little over $1 million on its operations, including $246,874 for management fees paid to Berman’s for-profit company, Berman and Company. The arrangement is by design: Millions of contributions given to Berman’s network of non-profits flow to Berman’s for-profit business. Since 2002, CORE has transferred a combined $20 million to Berman and Company and to another Berman non-profit, the Employment Policies Institute Foundation. In 2004, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) alleged that CORE, then-CFF, violated its tax-exempt status by making “substantial payments” to Berman and Berman & Co. and filed a complaint with the IRS. While most of CORE’s donors go unnamed, the group has gotten $375,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation from 2009 through 2012.
Read more about CORE’s Founder Richard Berman and his other non-profit front groups by clicking on the links below: