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February 04, 2013

Front Groups Fumble During Super Bowl

Rick Berman blew a load of cash last night by placing a television ad in the Washington, D.C. market during the Super Bowl pre-game. It was an attempt to attack The Humane Society of the United States by his front group the Center for Consumer Freedom and its HumaneWatch campaign. Two weeks ago I wrote that The HSUS provides more hands-on care to animals than any other animal welfare group in the United States. The implicit premise behind Berman’s attacks is that The HSUS doesn’t do hands-on work for animals, yet the facts show his premise to be demonstrably false. As readers of this blog know, The HSUS works to help all animals (not just one kind of animal and not in just one kind of setting). We do work directly through our own program staff, and we are not a foundation or a grant-making agency - just like the Farm Bureau doesn’t fund all individual farmers, and UNICEF doesn't fund all childcare centers. Our work, and frankly the work of those other organizations, is more diverse, more far reaching, more sophisticated, and more impactful than just giving grants to other groups.

_DSC0388_127453
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
The HSUS directly cared for more than 100,000
animals in 2012 alone.

The HSUS’ greatest mission, and its most important charge, is to prevent cruelty before animals are made to suffer. Berman is on the take from animal exploitation industries, and they don’t like that our work drives reform. Berman fights our efforts against the Canadian seal hunt, the use of elephants in traveling acts, puppy mills, factory farming, our campaigns to make malicious cruelty a felony, and other kinds of animal abuse. To put a finer point on it, he fought against Prop B in Missouri to create humane dog breeding standards, against Prop 2 in California to give animals on industrial farms space to move, and against a ballot measure to make malicious animal cruelty a felony in North Dakota – just to name a few very specific campaigns.

He sets up front groups with phony messaging that makes him sound, in the case of our cause, like he’s for consumers and for animals. But his purpose is just the opposite.

Berman has been engaging in this kind of deception throughout his career, on behalf of tobacco companies, the alcohol industry, junk food companies, tanning bed makers, and other corporate interests that have a PR problem, and now one of his biggest accounts is on behalf of animal-cruelty interests. That’s bad enough – a low-life of a man who will try to stand in the way of making our society better, more humane, more decent. But Berman, as a bad man, can’t even play straight with his paymasters. They are getting the shaft from Dr. Evil, a nickname Berman wears proudly. CCF paid Berman and his for-profit firm, Berman & Company, more than 92.2 percent of all tax-exempt donations received in 2011. So he sets up a front group, pleads with animal exploitation industries to fund him, and then his private PR/management company pockets the money.

A couple of years ago, Berman set up another front group called the Humane Society for Shelter Pets. Mind you, his false framing – again on behalf of the companies who don’t want The HSUS to campaign against them – is to say we should donate the bulk of our money to animal shelters, thereby giving a free pass to factory farmers, puppy mills, animal fighters, seal clubbers and the rest of the gang. So you would think that HSSP would be doling out grants left and right, at least to cover Berman’s self-serving argument. But his “humane society” didn’t report a single grant to an animal shelter in its most recent tax filing. Here are a few facts we gleaned:


  • In 2011 HSSP raised a mere $55,000 in donations – a decline of $1.2 million, down 95.6 percent from 2010. Despite its meager budget, HSSP paid Berman & Company $245,483 for management fees – a staggering 446 percent of its revenues. Put another way, for every dollar donated, HSSP paid Berman & Company $4.45.
  • HSSP spent the lion’s share of remaining funds it raised in 2010 by “donating” more than half a million dollars to another Berman front group, CCF, through a series of pass-through grants to fund CCF’s HumaneWatch campaign attacking The HSUS. In fact, every penny HSSP “donated” to CCF in 2011 was used exclusively to promote HumaneWatch.
  • HSSP did not donate a single penny to assist local pet shelters in 2011. The only monetary beneficiaries of HSSP tax-exempt donations were Berman & Company and CCF – receiving a combined total of $814,617 from the tax-exempt entity. As a result, HSSP’s 2011 expenses exceeded its revenues by $923,674.

So Berman had a choice last night. He could spend an exorbitant amount of money on a pre-game Super Bowl ad attacking the most effective animal protection group in the world, or he could give that money to animal shelters. That’s a no-brainer for Berman. He pocketed the fees for engineering the ad, and was able to send a link of it to the people in the upper echelons of the animal exploitation business and say he delivered one on the chin to The HSUS. How low did he reach? Well, even the cockfighters were excited about Berman’s Super Bowl ad, according to their web forums.

The bad news for Rick Berman: The HSUS has grown its budget and membership, and therefore its power, every year since he started his campaign. Last year we grew again, and according to Forbes, we are the 72nd largest charity in the United States. Message to Berman and his paymasters: we won’t relent in that effort. Not now. Not ever.

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