"People always ask me one question all the time: ‘How do I know that I won’t be found out as a supporter of what you’re doing?' " That’s Rick Berman, the lobbyist and PR operative who collects money from corporations to try to tear down animal welfare groups, environmentalists, anti-drunk driving advocates and others, talking to a group of energy industry executives concerned about anti-fracking activists. “We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don’t know who supports us.”
Indeed. Berman has set up a spider web of nonprofit front groups that exist in name only. Dozens of “groups” are all “headquartered” at his PR firm in downtown D.C., and it’s the same 50 or so staffers who are the “staff,” perhaps tracking their hours like clerical staff and lawyers clock their time as they work for dozens of clients. But let’s be clear: There are no real groups, no real members, no social welfare programs, and no legitimate boards of directors. It’s just one PR firm running scurrilous attacks against many of the most important causes in the nation and duping the public in the process.
The New York Times, Bloomberg, PR Watch and many others have exposed Berman’s shell game and his masquerade in a series of stories posted on their web sites last night and today. The news in their story was a secret recording of Berman’s speech to energy executives to fund his attack on “Big Green Radicals.”
Through the years, Berman has probably spent more money attacking The HSUS than any other group (only his attacks on the minimum wage hike and the labor unions and grassroots groups fighting for that goal rival his spending on us). He doesn’t secure funding from animal abusers because we are ineffective or misuse our resources – but precisely the opposite. Corporations and individuals who hurt animals fund his clandestine attacks, through his phony front groups or websites like the Center for Consumer Freedom and HumaneWatch, because we are the greatest threat to animal cruelty. We are strategic, determined, and focused.
Berman launched his “HumaneWatch” campaign only a few years after I took over at The HSUS a decade ago. You would think that this mercenary, in dealing with business leaders and taking their money, would have to show some results. But what’s happened?
- The HSUS has worked with dozens of the nation’s leading food retailers – from Costco to Kroger to Burger King – to phase out their purchase of pork from operations who confine the sows in gestation crates. This list now includes the biggest names in pig production – Smithfield, Cargill, and even Tyson – all of which have made pledges on this front. Berman’s calling card for years was his cachet with the food and restaurant industry, yet he’s been an abject failure in his attempt to preserve the status quo. His cynical attempt to rename gestation crates as “maternity pens” has gone nowhere. Our campaigns have also led the entirety of the veal industry to convert to crate-free by 2017. And we are seeing major movement in the egg industry away from extreme confinement, especially since we crushed Berman and others in the fight over Prop 2 in California in 2008.
- Despite his phony brand attacks on us, we’ve systemically upgraded the anti-cruelty legal framework in the U.S. We’ve now banned animal fighting in all 50 states and made malicious cruelty a felony in every state. Berman’s fans in the cockfighting industry cannot help but recognize he hasn’t succeeded at all in his campaign against us.
- This year, both the European Union and India – with a combined 1.7 billion people – have said they will stop testing on animals for cosmetics, and won’t even allow any cosmetics to be sold if they are tested on animals anywhere in the world. With markets of that size shutting down, it’s just a matter of time before cruelty-free cosmetics go global.
I could go on with our successes in driving down the killing of seals in Canada, the enactment of laws to crack down on puppy mills, restrictions on the exotic animal trade, and gains against horse soring and slaughter. But you get the point – continuous progress, and more losses for Berman and Co.
When will these corporations realize that when they give Berman millions to attack us, they don’t stop us or even slow us down. He’s a discredited figure through and through, with a terrible track record of success. There’s no doubt that our values are ascendant like never before. The only long-term “win” anyone on their side can claim is for Berman himself, who thus far has been able to parlay false promises and fear into personal enrichment.