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In Part 1, we learned of Richard (Rick) Berman, (food, restaurant and beverage industry lobbyist/consumer advocate), his company and his non-profit front groups.  We also learned that not everyone thinks that he can wear both hats at the same time and stay within the limits of the law.
Today, we will take a look at some of his media work. I have also included additional information regarding some of his "target groups".

PART 1 - "Getting to Know You"
PART 2 - "Perhaps You've Seen His Work"
PART 3 -"Legal/Financial Issues and Conclusion"

(From In a 1999 interview with the Chain Leader, a trade publication for restaurant chains, Berman explained the focus of his lobbying efforts, which mirror his non-profit groups' activities. "In effect, our work is restricted to and focused on issues that affect shareholder value," he said. "These big issues include labor costs as they relate to health insurance and the minimum wage." He also stated that he attacks activists more aggressively than other lobbyists. "We always have a knife in our teeth," he said. Since activists "drive consumer behavior on meat, alcohol, fat, sugar, tobacco and caffeine," his strategy is "to shoot the messenger.... We've got to attack their credibility as spokespersons."(emphasis mine)

You may not have heard of Rick Berman or of his "Non-Profit Centers", but chances are you may have come across his handiwork.
In one ad, Seinfeld "Soup Nazi" character actor Larry Thomas plays a chef who weighs customers, then barks "salad!" or "no food for you" depending on how far they push the scale. In another, heavy-handed "food police" rip an ice cream cone away from a whimpering kid, whack a beer from a man about to enjoy a sip and snuff out a hot dog on the ground.

These ads--and cheeky recent stunts, such as unfurling a "" banner at a People for the Ethical Treatment anniversary ceremony on Sept. 10 (05)--come courtesy of the Center for consumer Freedom.  Founded in 1995 by Washington lobbyist and corporate public relations man  Richard Berman, and funded originally with $600,000 from Phillip Morris--now Altria Group (nyse: MO - news - people )--to fight legislation that banned smoking in restaurants, the CCF has since morphed into all-around critic of anyone who infringes on the rights of Americans to eat and drink themselves silly.

Over the past holiday season, did you happen to hear radio ads, read an ad in The New York Times or Chicago Tribune, or see a huge billboard telling you not to be concerned about the level of mercury in tuna?  If you live in Texas or on the west coast, the ads will soon be in your area, if they aren't already.  According to Berman's site, a 160 lb. pregnant woman could safely eat up to 3.2 lbs of albacore tuna a week.  That is quite a bit more than the FDA recommends.  
Still, it would be a mistake to underestimate the lobbyist, whose message may be hitting home with Congress. On December 15 the House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved HR 4167, a measure that would prevent states from placing food warnings stricter than federal warnings. If the National Food Uniformity Act is passed, supermarket shoppers in states like California that have for years required mercury warnings on fish will be affected.
Our own WaitingForLefty posted an action alert diary on 2/28 and just today, Representative Louise Slaughter also posted a diary regarding HR 4167, the "National Uniformity for Food Act".  (NOTE:  As I am preparing this diary for submission, I have C-Span on and I am listening to the debate regarding HR 4167.  Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) is shamelessly {dare I say whoring?} speaking for the passage of this bill.  I wonder how much $$$ he has received for this effort...)

Perhaps you read his words in the Chicago Sun Times where he blasted the documentary, "Supersize Me", or in the Atlanta Journal Constitution where he used Julia Child's death as an opportunity to say that soft drinks are not related to diabetes.  Maybe you caught his CNN appearance where he defended McDonald's when a Cleveland hospital tried to evict them.

Even the obesity issue holds no barriers for him.

The full-page newspaper ads shout "Hype" at readers, warning them that they have "been force-fed a steady diet of obesity myths by the 'food police,' trial lawyers, and even our own government."
In February, immediately before and after the president's State of the Union address, the group broadcast another ad, showing a lawyer grilling a Girl Scout for selling cookies. "Learn more about lawyers cashing in on obesity," the ad said, calling on viewers to check out the group's Web site. (2005)
...In March 2004, the CDC published a report linking obesity to 400,000 deaths a year in the United States. Three months later, the Center for Consumer Freedom began challenging that statistic, issuing its first of many statements saying the deaths were vastly overstated.
Last week, the CDC announced new estimates, linking 112,000 deaths to obesity. (04/05)

Did you happen to catch his "AIDS/PETA" full-page ad that ran in the New Yorker on February 5, 2005?

Biting the Hand that Spins You
The ad claims PETA cares so little about people that they put the interests of animals above humans even when the litmus test is the AIDS pandemic. By contrast, you might imagine, the Center for Consumer Freedom supports medical research, including AIDS-related research, condemns violence, and shirks from criminality.
You could imagine that. But you would be wrong.
And the only other time that Rick Berman appears to have concerned himself with AIDS was in a 1989 commentary for Nation's Restaurant News where he opposed the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it "would require employers to ignore AIDS infections among cooks and servers unless a direct threat to the safety of others can be proved." Not, mind you, because he actually believed that HIV or AIDS could be contracted through casual contact, but because "the average person is still overly concerned" about that possibility.

Perhaps you were in Washington DC on February 13, 2006.  You may have seen this:

Today, The Center for Union Facts (CUF) kicked off its multimillion dollar education campaign by erecting a massive dinosaur outside of AFL-CIO headquarters. The lumbering triceratops, which illustrates the Center's belief that union leaders are relics of the past, is a nod to the common union tactic of inflating large rats outside of buildings that do not use unionized labor.
In addition to the dinosaur, picketers marched in a circle with signs proclaiming "AFL-CIO: Colossal Fossil," "Smart Union Leaders: Extinct?" and "Labor Leaders: Dis-organized?"
Or maybe you saw this:
Full-page ads appearing today in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal took another shot across labor leaders' bow with a picture of a padlocked gate and text reading, "The New Union Label: CLOSED. Brought to you by the union 'leaders' who helped bankrupt steel, auto, and airline companies."
Stay tuned for more from Mr. Berman: He's got a whole lot of connections and even more money (he said he hopes to spend some $5 million a year on the campaign). In the days ahead, we can look forward to more op-eds ("The AFL-CIO Sweatshop") and ads comparing union leaders to Kim Jong-Il.

 "Genetically Modified/Genetically Engineered" food opponents are also targets.

Berman and his firm paint GM opponents as terrorists, asserting that 'anti-biotech extremists' are part of a 'growing wave of domestic terrorism'. They say the people we need to worry about are not just al-Qa'ida but 'the middle-class kids down the street.' (Terrorists On The March -- In America, USA Today)    
Berman & Co. have even declared the charity of the British and Irish churches, Christian Aid, a 'far-left leaning' group that 'flat-out lies about GE foods', hiding 'behind a religious facade to more easily malign farmers, scientists, food companies, and even PR people who deal with GE foods.'.
Is it any wonder that Monsanto donated $200,000 to Berman's Center for Consumer Freedom?

(If you have stayed with this story so far, may I suggest you read the above link.)  On May 15, 2002, Berman sent a letter to Jeff Nelson, President, VegSource Interactive, Inc., demanding correction of information that Berman claims is "false and defamatory".  The above link is Nelson's reply of May 18, 2002, which contains portions of Berman's original letter.  Berman alleges that Nelson lied about payments from Berman's non-profit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) and about CCF's position.  He charges Nelson with unauthorized use of design and HTML code from the CCF's website.  He demands a public apology  and puts Nelson on "notice that your actions and continuing harm have exposed you and your company (VegSource Interactive) to numerous legal consequences".
Nelson smacks him down on each of these points.  It is quite entertaining to read.  One of the biggest highlights, however, is Nelson's analysis of where the money goes after it comes to Berman's non-profit organizations.  He refers to tax returns from 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000.

So in about an hour of digging, and looking at only some of the tax returns from only some of the non-profit organizations you control, Rick, I found $2,561,737 that ended up in your own personal or company bank accounts, which you yourself transferred directly from these non-profits of yours. I'm guessing there's much more.
Makes you wonder about 2001-2005...

Berman's Guest Choice Network has also weighed in on the Mad Cow issue.  They attacked the 1997 book Mad Cow USA and "insinuates" that the authors, Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, "are the masterminds behind recent headline stories about mad cow disease...".  GCN authored, "Mad Cow:  A New American Scare Campaign".  

The report includes sinister-looking charts and arrows alleging hidden conspiratorial ties between us (Mad Cow USA) and groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [3] (PETA), the Center for Food Safety [4], Consumers Union [5], Fenton Communications [6], the Organic Consumers Association [7], Dr. Tom Pringle (who until recently managed a website about mad cow disease, at [8]), and CJD Voice [9] (an internet-based discussion and support group for people who have lost family members to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a mad cow-like disease in humans).
 Guest Choice claims that all of these groups and individuals are part of a massive "junk-science smear campaign" to "ignite a U.S. panic" so that anti-meat "food police" can "frighten us all into eating only what bears their imprimatur."

These are just a few examples of Berman's efforts.  I've learned that I'll be looking at commercials, print ads, and public service announcements in a very different light; I hope you will, too.

The next, and last diary of this series, will look at  past/present legal and financial issues and my conclusion.
[UPDATE 1] My apologies to Eddie C for missing your diary from yesterday: "Action Alert: National Uniformity for Food Act". Check it out!

Originally posted to Ellicatt on Thu Mar 02, 2006 at 08:53 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  More fantastic work.. (4.00)
    ...really impressive stuff.  Highly recommended.  Give us a tip jar, please.

    You should also forward this to the IRS and the Congressional Subcommittee on Corruption.

    The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

    by Jay Elias on Thu Mar 02, 2006 at 09:00:12 AM PST

    •  Thank you for the compliment (4.00)
      I have a republican rep...perhaps I should forward this to Ms. Slaughter?  I did post a comment in her diary today regarding my diary of yesterday; perhaps she or one of her staff will take a look.  The group "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington" has requested an IRS investigation on 11/14/04, but to my knowledge they still have not received a response.  They have also requested an investigation into Berman's non-profits with the Senate Finance Committee on 2/14/06.  

      "You can have your own opinion, but you can't have your own set of facts." - Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) 1/25/06

      by Ellicatt on Thu Mar 02, 2006 at 09:11:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Rep. Slaughter is a good choice.... (4.00)
        ...I'd also consider sending it to Sen. Obama, since he appears to be the Democrats point man on lobbying reform.

        The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

        by Jay Elias on Thu Mar 02, 2006 at 09:13:51 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  HR 4167 Debate (4.00)
    is on C-Span now.  Gringrey (R-GA), so far, has been the only repub to speak.  It seems he is the only one that counters each democratic speaker. There has been several Democratic reps speaking (Kucinich-OH, Thompson-Miss, Matsui-CA, Waxman-CA, Pelosi) and others.  With my knowledge from the research for this series, I can honestly say that I can hear Berman's works/words flowing from Gingrey's mouth.  

    "You can have your own opinion, but you can't have your own set of facts." - Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) 1/25/06

    by Ellicatt on Thu Mar 02, 2006 at 09:03:28 AM PST

  •  Great diary (4.00)
    I'm curious now how close this guy is to Mike Rogers (MI-8).  Around here we call him the talking Whopper and the representative from Burger King because of his pro-obesity food industry positions.  When I read your diary, it was like deja vu.

    "We ought never to do wrong when people are looking." Twain

    by dougymi on Thu Mar 02, 2006 at 09:53:45 AM PST

    •  It would not surprise me. (none)
      I tried to do some "campaign contributions" research for this series, but came up a little short (addressed in part 3).  I admit I'm a novice about doing this kind of research.  What I did find amounted to very little, but it leaves me to believe that, and I am just guessing, the campaign contributions are "coming from somewhere and going to who knows where"...  Maybe someone more knowledgeable in this area could someday take this on as a project.

      "You can have your own opinion, but you can't have your own set of facts." - Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) 1/25/06

      by Ellicatt on Thu Mar 02, 2006 at 10:12:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Many thanks, Ellicatt, (none)
    for all your hard work.  Kudos to you for such thorough research and diligence in getting all this information to us.  Seems this guy is like an onion with many layers and just as odious.

    I'll be watching for part 3, although I must say, after reading parts 1 and 2 I feel like I've been slimed by this guy's handiwork.  Again, thank you.

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