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I initially intended to write a diary regarding the background of the website unionfacts.com. The press release from The Center for Union Facts lists the name of RICK BERMAN as their Executive Director.  So I decided to see just who Rick Berman is.  (And no, he is NOT the Rick Berman of Star Trek fame.)   Little did I know at that time what I was about to delve into...

There was so much information available, just waiting to be shared, that I have decided to turn this into a series of diaries:
PART 1 - "Getting to Know You"
PART 2 - "Perhaps You've Seen His Work"
PART 3 - "Legal/Financial Issues and Conclusion"

PART 1 - "GETTING TO KNOW YOU"

Rick Berman is a Washington lobbyist for the food, restaurant and beverage industries.  At the same time, he claims the role of consumer advocate and runs several non-profit charitable organizations that directly advocate for these industries and their policies.  He also played a role in the Newt Gingrich ethics scandal. Vast amounts of the money donated to his 501(c)(3) organizations make their way back to him and his company.  This fact has caught the attention of the group, "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington",  and they have requested the IRS and Senate Finance Committee to investigate Berman and his organizations for possible violations of the law governing charitable organizations.

Sticking up for the Big Guys

Page through a recent copy of the New York Times or Washington Post, and you're likely to find quite a few articles on the unethical goings-on of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But the great irony is that those articles are often sandwiched between misleading ads funded by an even more brazenly corrupt lobbyist who has evaded the law for decades.
(snip)
Berman's work on behalf of his clients -- among them Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Tyson Foods, Philip Morris and Hooters -- includes opposing the Americans with Disabilities Act and arguing against increases in federal minimum wage. Berman also helped defeat legislation that proposed a lower blood-alcohol threshold to qualify as drunken driving (In response to the MADD campaign, Berman said, "I don't believe that having a glass of anything makes it unsafe to go behind the wheel.") And his clients? Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Tyson Foods, Philip Morris, Outback Steakhouse, Hooters, Red Lobster, just to name a few.
Berman is talented enough that he can apparently serve as both an industry lobbyist and "consumer advocate," protecting our rights to ingest whatever those industries send our way.
Here are a few more of his clients:  Anheuser-Busch, Arbys, Burger King, Chili's, Cracker Barrel, Hard Rock Café, International House of Pancakes, Marriott Corporation, Olive Garden, Sizzler, TGI Friday's, Uno Restaurants, and Wendy's.  (This is not a complete list).

SO WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

...Rick Berman has set up a PR machine on behalf of the restaurant, tobacco, and alcohol industry that presents itself as a consumer protection group, tries to discredit any kind of investigation or legislation that might cut into industry profits, yells and screams about the allegedly shady funding behind "activist" groups, enjoys tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization, and pays its largest yearly fees into Rick Berman's pockets.

...Berman has pulled off a pretty impressive piece of lobbying jujitsu - one that says an awful lot about how things really function at the nexus of government policy, big corporations, and the media.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is very interested in Berman's activities.  They have filed a request on November 14, 2004 with the IRS asking them to investigate the Center for Consumer Freedom, (CCF - one of Berman's advocacy groups), and called for the revocation of the center's tax-exempt status.  On February 14, 2006, CREW sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee (Senators Grassley and Baucus), requesting an investigation relating to Berman's activities regarding his non-profits "Center for Union Facts" and the "Center for Consumer Freedom".  CREW claims that Berman is abusing laws governing charitable organizations.

"Mr. Berman's pattern of abusing the laws that govern charitable organizations requires a thorough investigation by the Senate Finance Committee," CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said today. "Richard Berman is giving Jack Abramoff and former Christian activist Ralph Reed a run for their money as to who can reap the greatest profits by exploiting laws intended to promote charitable works."

A BRIEF LOOK AT BERMAN'S RESUME

1967 - 1969    Bethlehem Steel - Labor Law Attorney
1969 - 1972    Dana Corporation (automotive parts) - Corporate Lawyer
1972 - 1974    US Chamber of Commerce - Labor Law Director
1975 - 1984   

Berman moved into the food and beverage industry in 1975 under the mentorship of Norman Brinker, founder and owner of the Steak & Ale chain of restarurants.  Berman started a government affairs program, launched his first PAC for Brinker, and worked there until 1984.  In 1995, Berman and Brinker were identified as the special-interest lobbyists who donated the $25,000 that caused House Speaker Newt Gingrich to be hauled before the House Ethics Committee for influence peddling.
1986-Present    Berman & Co.

BERMAN & CO. AND FRONT GROUPS

1.  Berman & Co

His lobbyist website, Berman and Company, proudly touts his "Aggressive Media Outreach".  He credits his work as being featured on NBC's Today show and Nightly News, CBS Evening News, ABC's World News Tonight, 20/20, and Good Morning America.  (Notably, he does not specifically mention Fox News, although he does mention "countless cable news and talk radio programs".  His print media section lists 28 outlets including The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, Financial Times, Forbes, TIME, and US News and World Report.
"...He successfully plants his op-eds and talking points everywhere"...

2.  Center for Consumer Freedom /formerly called Guest Choice Network

The Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit coalition of restaurants, food companies, and consumers working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.

The growing cabal of "food cops," health care enforcers, militant activists, meddling bureaucrats, and violent radicals who think they know "what's best for you" are pushing against our basic freedoms. We're here to push back.

(from a sourcewatch.org article) Guest Choice Network's initial funding of $600,000 came exclusively from Phillip Morris. It runs media campaigns which oppose the efforts of scientists, doctors, health advocates, environmentalists and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, calling them "the Nanny Culture -- the growing fraternity of food cops, health care enforcers, anti-meat activists, and meddling bureaucrats who 'know what's best for you.  (snip)  The group actively opposes smoking bans and lowering the legal blood-alcohol level, while targeting studies on the dangers of red meat consumption, overfishing and pesticides. Each year they give out the "nanny awards" to groups who, according to them, try to tell consumers how to live their lives.

    Websites under the Center for Consumer Freedom Umbrella:

activistcash.com claims it provides the public and media with in-depth profiles of anti-consumer  activist groups, along with information about the sources of their exorbitant funding.  
In reality,  It attempts to discredit activists by suggesting that there is something disreputable about the money they have received from foundations.

cspiscam.com accuses the Center for Science in the Public Interest of using scare tactics, junk science and media theatrics regarding your personal food choices.  

CSPI's focus is on issues relating to foods and food service industries.  It has criticized many fast food restaurant chains and soft drinks.

physicianscam.com.  This site claims to expose 20 years of animal rights propaganda disguised as medical advice.  It attacks the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).  

PCRM's mission is to promote preventive medicine, conducts clinical research and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

fishscam.com tries to convince you that the mercury threat contained in tuna is overblown hype.

neoprohibition.com  is their anti-MADD website.

animalscam.com and petakillsanimals.com are their anti-PETA sites.

obesitymyths.com (CDC be damned!)

3.  The Employment Policies Institute

epionline.org states that they are a non-profit research organization dedicated to studying public policy issues surrounding employment growth.  
Actually, this organization fights to keep the minimum wage low and opposes mandatory health insurance for workers.
Along this same theme, EPI owns the domain names mimimumwage.com and livingwage.com.  Of course, again, they are opposed to increases to miminum and living wages.

4.  American Beverage Institute

The American Beverage Institute is a restaurant trade association dedicated to protecting the on-premise dining experience--which often includes the responsible consumption of adult beverages. We are the only organization in the nation that unites the wine, beer, and spirits producers with distributors and on-premise retailers in this important mission.

Our cutting-edge research and aggressive communications programs are dedicated to demonstrating that the tens of millions of adults who enjoy an adult beverage away from their homes are reasonable, law-abiding Americans. We also expose and vigorously counter the campaigns of modern-day prohibitionists who seek to target these sensible adults in an effort to reduce per capita consumption of adult beverages.

Actually, its primary focus is opposing any lowering of the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers, and fighting smoking bans in bars. (snip) (Berman) consistently defends "social drinkers" and speaks out against any laws or media coverage that negatively affects the industry. In this capacity he has been a longtime foe of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

5.  Employment Roundtable

fiveoclockclub.com  Started in 1999, its purpose is "to study, act on and impact trends and information regarding the optimal employment of the U.S. labor force for mutual benefit and the common good."  (snip)  It is unclear what the group's main activities are. Berman is quoted in a few articles on behalf of the group speaking out against employer-funded health insurance."

6.  Center for Union Facts (His most recent venture)

unionfacts.com The Center for Union Facts is a non-profit organization supported by foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public. We are dedicated to showing Americans the truth about today's union leadership.
But according to a memo from John Sweeney, President of the AFL/CIO, "Unionfacts.com is a project of the Chamber of Commerce, according to an anonymous source which claims that, in a meeting of the State Chambers of Commerce National Conference held on Sanibel Island in Florida on January 26, the State Chambers announced they were spending $8 million a year ($2 million a quarter) to launch this anti-union campaign."

"It's clear that corporations are pooling resources to fight back against workers' efforts to roll back corporate power.  It's no accident that the Chamber and its members are launching a major initiative as the AFL-CIO and its unions are launching Fair Share health care in 30 states, helping record numbers of workers win unions outside the flawed NLRB process (like at Cingular), and taking on giant corporations, like WalMart."

In summary, we have a lobbyist who works to promote right-wing ideas for industry and has created non-profit organizations and websites that advocate to consumers to blindly believe whatever these industries have to push our way.  He was involved in the Newt Gingrich ethics scandal, (more info in part 3).  And the group CREW has asked for his non-profit groups to be investigated by the IRS and the Senate Finance Committee for tax issues related to misuse by charitable organizations.

Next in the Series:  "Part 2 - Perhaps You've Seen His Work".  Berman's media work and influence is something to behold.  I know I've viewed some of his ads; perhaps you have, too.  

Originally posted to Ellicatt on Wed Mar 01, 2006 at 08:08 AM PST.

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