If you live in the Washington, D.C. area, you might catch a glimpse of a commercial during this Sunday’s Super Bowl pre-game show mischaracterizing the work of The HSUS. It’s more from D.C. public-relations operative Rick Berman and his so-called Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF).
I’ve written about Berman many times on this blog – he’s the original, black-hatted flack who’s worked on behalf of tobacco and alcohol interests, and even the tanning bed industry, to peddle falsehoods and to attack critics of those industries. Years ago, CBS News dubbed him “Dr. Evil” for taking on clients no one else dared or cared to work for. A good deal of his money, it appears, comes from defending animal cruelty and attacking The HSUS and the goals of animal protection.
I’ve pointed out that we’re in good company: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are just a few other targets of Berman’s deceptive front groups. His “groups” – like CCF or American Beverage Institute – are all “headquartered” at his public relations firm in downtown D.C. and their “boards” typically consist of Berman and one or two other people, including his wife. These “groups” provide no genuine services or have no definable social purpose except to attack groups and agencies doing good work for people, for animals, for the environment, and for society. There are a handful of staff members at Berman and Co. that do the day-to-day work, but the whole thing is just a dolled-up astroturfing effort – with Berman and his public relations staffers masquerading as representatives of real non-profit, watchdog organizations. It’s a combination of a shell game and a charade — the very embodiment of the Washington, D.C. swamp that the American public clamors to drain.
Berman’s central claim when it comes to The HSUS is that we don’t run local shelters, even though we’ve never claimed to do so. The HSUS was founded in 1954 to get to the heart of animal cruelty and develop programs to stop it, to care for animals in crisis, to professionalize the animal-care field through training and thought leadership, and to tackle systemic abuse on a national and global scale. It’s a mission we carry out with great care and purpose, every single day. We help all animals – dogs, cats, horses, farm animals, chimpanzees, lions, seals and every other kind of creature at risk of harm, suffering, or threat. On the other hand, a second “group” formed by Berman to “help” shelters, the so-called Humane Society for Shelter Pets, appears to never have donated a dime to shelters. Instead, the money donated by animal abuse groups appears to mainly go to Berman’s public relations operations, including half a million dollars on ads in December alone attacking us (in quite a few cases upsetting local shelters because people thought the ads were about them ).
It’s a harsh reminder that they don’t care about shelter animals at all but simply about trying to divide and destroy the humane movement.
Along with our affiliates, we are the number one provider of animal care among animal organizations (300,000 animals helped in 2016), and we are also the nation’s leading advocate for animals – fighting to prevent their abuse and suffering by changing policies and finding solutions through private sector outreach, public education, and legislative engagement. With help from our supporters and partners, we’ve amassed an incredible track record – the very thing that has allowed Berman to go to factory farm interests, puppy mills, cockfighters, and others who don’t like our work and fund his disinformation campaigns.
- We’ve made malicious animal cruelty a felony in every state and outlawed cockfighting everywhere in the United States.
- We’ve ended the era of invasive experimentation on chimpanzees.
- We are putting a stop to the extreme confinement of laying hens, breeding sows, and veal calves on factory farms.
It’s a testament to our effectiveness that people and businesses involved with animal exploitation, unwilling to come out into the light of day themselves, give Berman millions in a frantic and futile effort to smear our organization. During the November elections, we faced off against Berman and his allies on a ballot question in Massachusetts to ban extreme confinement of farm animals, and we got 78 percent of the vote. In Oklahoma, he tried to join in with the Farm Bureau to pass a “right to farm” measure there. We crushed it by more than 20 points. In fact, in years past, Berman’s attacked our ballot measures in Arizona, California, Missouri, and other states, and he’s never contributed to a single win for his backers. I presume that animal abuse industries, despite losing at every turn, keep turning to Berman because no legitimate PR firm would take accounts with such miserable, uncharitable, and unpopular purposes.
Last year, Berman ran an ad about The HSUS during the Academy Awards in the D.C. market, and it was an epic backfire, helping us raise more than $1 million for our campaigns against factory farms, puppy mills and seal killing (for 2016, as our annual report will soon convey, we added $6 million in net assets to the organization). Two days ago, I sent a note to a few supporters after I heard about Berman’s latest high-profile ad, and we’ve secured another $1 million donation to put more resources into the domains of fighting animal abuse — precisely where Berman seems to draw his strongest support. I extend my thanks to this incredibly generous supporter and offer my condolences to Berman’s allies. If they think we’ll relent because of their silly ads, they are sadly mistaken. We intend to put our foot on the gas and to focus even more energy on them and their cruelty.
People aren’t as easily duped as Berman thinks. When front groups rely on buying exorbitantly expensive airtime to go after a non-profit devoted to helping animals, clearly we’re doing something right. So enjoy the Super Bowl this weekend, and remember, our achievements are a triumph and something to be celebrated. Animal abusers are running scared – and unwittingly, they’re helping make the case for the continued support of The HSUS.