Center for Organizational Research and Education (CORE)

Center for Organizational Research and Education (CORE)

Background

The Center for Organization Research and Education (CORE), formerly known as the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCFuntil late 2014, [1] formerly the Guest Choice Network (GCN), is made up of several organizations controlled by Washington lawyer and lobbyist Richard Berman.

According to The New York Times, the Center for Consumer Freedom is one of several nonprofits created by Berman that “secretly collect corporate donations to finance the aggressive, often satirical media campaigns his team conceives.” Note that the Center for Consumer Freedom is now listed as a “Project” of CORE, and maintains its own website at ConsumerFreedom.com. [2]

The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) is registered as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization under the IRS code. CCF was one of several Berman groups included in a 2012 IRS complaint filed by The Humane Society of the United States. Several of Berman's nonprofit groups were being operated from the offices of his Washington PR firm, while paying his firm $15 million from 2008 to 2010 for its work. The Bloomberg article notes that tobacco company Philip Morris USA, now part of Altria Group Inc., poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a trade group Berman ran in the 1990s. [3]

Some of CORE's projects include the following: [4]

“Environment”

“Consumer”

“'Science”

“Activism”

“Phony Non-Profits”

[Richard] Berman’s developed a cottage industry of setting up phony non-profit organizations to take in money from corporations that have a public relations problem,” Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “When you look at it in its full composition, it’s a very disturbing picture.” [3]

Who Is Richard Berman?

Richard Berman has earned the nicknames “Dr. Evil,” [5] the Conservative's “Weapon of Mass Destruction” [6] and the “Astroturf Kingpin” for his strategy of creating multiple non-profit groups, think tanks, and websites defending the interests of his corporate clients while maintaining anonymity for client's donations. [7]

Berman runs Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm that represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. Berman & Co. has lobbied for companies such as Cracker Barrel, Hooters, International House of Pancakes, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Steak & Ale, TGI Friday's, Uno's Restaurants, and Wendy's, the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch reports. [8]

Mother Jones describes Richard Berman as “well known in political circles for funnelling anonymous corporate money into vicious ad campaigns attacking various advocacy groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society of the United States, which he has accused of spending a minuscule amount of their donations on their stated missions. Berman, who heads the DC-based communications firm Berman and Company, typically launches his offensives through a network of front groups. He has used these organizations to fight regulations governing food safety, animal cruelty, workplace safety, secondhand smoke, and even tanning beds, and in the process keeps his corporate funders anonymous.” [9]

In a secretly-taped speech shared with the New York Times, Berman bragged how he keeps his donor information anonymous:

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?’ ” Berman said. “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.” [2]

Berman on Unions

I get up every morning and I try to figure out how to screw with the labor unions — that’s my offense,” Mr. Berman said in his speech to the Western Energy Alliance. “I am just trying to figure out how I am going to reduce their brand.” [2]

Berman on Science

“There's no sense in putting out a 17 page scientific report that nobody will read. So, I put out a 30 second commercial that makes the point,” Berman told CBSNews. [5]

CBS news reports that “the 'point' is not made by Berman and Company. He has come up with a clever system of non-profit educational entities. Companies can make charitable donations to these groups, which have names like Center for Consumer Freedom and Center for Union Facts. They are neutral sounding but 'educating,' with a particular point of view, all perfectly legal.” [5]

CORE Projects

CORE Environment Groups

The CORE website offers a section on the Environment devoted to “Uncovering the Truth About Big Green's Agenda.” CORE lists a number of their projects related to the Environment, with the following descriptions: [4]

“The Environmental Policy Alliance (EPA) is devoted to uncovering the funding and hidden agendas behind environmental activist groups and exploring the intersection between activists and government agencies.”
“Big Green Radicals is a project of the Environmental Policy Alliance (EPA), which exists to educate the public about the real agenda of well-funded environmental activist groups. The EPA receives support from individuals, businesses, and foundations.”
EPA Facts is a project of the Environmental Policy Alliance dedicated to highlighting the high cost of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory actions and peeling back the layers of secrecy surrounding the agency’s actions.”
“Environmental and left-wing foundations have poured millions into 'sportsmen,' 'hunting,' and 'angling' groups, using them as cover to push their pet causes. See the evidence, and learn about the fringe agendas of these organizations.

CORE Consumer Groups

CORE has created a number of groups to help you “Learn more about defending your rights against the growing nanny state and fringe animal rights activists like PETA and the Humane Society for the United States”:  [4]

“Founded in 1996, the Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices. We believe that the consumer is King. And Queen.”
“The dog-watchers at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) need their own watchdog too. HSUS now has an annual budget around the size of an NFL payroll. It has become too big and too unaccountable. Someone has to pay closer attention.”
PETA Kills Animals exposes the deadly hypocrisy of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which kills up to 97% of the cats and dogs at its 'animal shelter' every year.”
Prop 65 Scam
“In 1986, environmental and public health activists convinced California voters to approve the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act — better known as Proposition 65. Prop 65 Scam exposes the law’s many flaws that have imposed massive burdens on businesses without appreciably improving Californians’ health.”

CORE Science Groups

CORE reports to expose “Junk Science and Sensationalist Headlines”:  [4]

“The Center for Accountability in Science provides a balanced look at the science behind alarmist news stories and examines the organizations behind the effort to scare consumers.”

CORE Activism Groups

According to CORE, “There are a lot of activist groups out there. We give you the facts you need to understand who’s funding them, what their agendas are, and ho=w seriously (or not) you should take them”:  [4]

Activist Facts
“The organizations we track on this site are tax-exempt nonprofits, many of which engage in anti-consumer activism. Many are linked by personnel, history, and finances. These groups promote false science, scare campaigns, and sometimes even violent “direct actions” to threaten our right to choose certain products.”

Stance on Climate Change

“[W]hile the science may be settled on that fact that climate change exists and that humans can influence that change, what is far from settled is how we address the issue. And making the case that the EPA’s ideas for addressing it are wrong is a matter of legitimate debate and should not simply be silenced by loud, name-calling environmentalists.” — BigGreenRadicals [10]

“There’s no shortage of commentators on the political left beating up on people on the political right for being 'deniers' when it comes to climate change science. Meanwhile, we have long noted the hypocrisy of certain activists on the political left in holding up the scientific consensus of climate change while simultaneously ignoring the one around genetically improved foods (GIFs) and chemical safety.
[…] There will always activists ignoring science and common sense to promote a dangerous agenda. (They used to be called hippies.) But when they begin to influence an entire political wing – especially one that claims to be the defenders of science – their hypocrisy must be exposed, wherever they lie.” — Center for Consumer Freedom. [11]
[Lord Christopher] Monckton is a widely recognized expert on climate sensitivity” — Activist Facts. [12]

On Renewables

“The extreme position that wind and solar can produce all the energy the world needs is opposed by even the most fervent climate change scientists. Four of the world’s top climate change scientists sent a letter to politicians and environmental groups stating, 'Realistically, they [renewable energy sources] cannot on their own solve the world’s energy problems.' Instead, the scientists call for an increased use of nuclear power to meet the worlds' growing energy needs.” – BigGreenRadicals. [13]

Funding

The following is based on data compiled by the Conservative Transparency project for both CORE and the Center for Consumer Freedom. Note that not all individual funding values have been verified by DeSmogBlog for accuracy. [14]

For additional information, view the attached spreadsheet for CORE funding by year (.xlsx).

As Recipient

Donor Total
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation $375,000
DonorsTrust $89,112
Donors Capital Fund $30,000
Grand Total $494,112

As Donor

Recipient Total
Berman and Company $13,150,059
Employment Policies Institute Foundation $6,914,000
Grand Total $20,064,059

990 Forms

Research Documents

Key People

Directors & Officers

The following Directors and Officers were listed on the Center for Organizational Research and Education's (CORE) public 2014 990 tax return: [15]

Name Title
Richard Berman President, Executive Director
F. Lane Cardwell Secretary & Treasurer/Director
James Blackstock Director
David Browne Director
Daniel Mindus Director
Richard Verrecchia Director
Nelson Marchioli Director

Actions

CORE Project Activity for 2013/2014

CORE's 2014 990 tax return lists CORE's Programs and Projects during the year, with the following descriptions and program expenses: [15]

Humanewatch.org

Expenses Grants Revenue
1,946,423 $6,089 $1,238

“Maintained Humanewatch.org, a watchdog project to educate the public about the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), its misleading fundraising practices, its dismal track record of supporting pet shelters and its support of a radical animal rights agenda. Researched volumes of HSUS-related documents, including federal tax forms, correspondence, news articles, legal and government documents, HSUS publications, and other records, which the organization publishes on a dynamic website. Produced and placed educational advertisements in print and television, spending over $685,000 in advertising purchases. Provided 120 blog updates on these research findings to educate the public. Developed social media through Facebook and Twitter presence, with over half a million Facebook fans. Wrote and distributed press […]” [15]

Environmental Policy Alliance

Expenses Grants Revenue
$1,178,142 0 0

“After conducting substantial research (beginning in 2013) officially launched the environmental policy alliance (including biggreenradicals.com, epafacts.com, greendecoys.com, stoptheepa.com, and leedexposed.com) which educates the public about environmental activists, their agendas that affect consumer choices, their deep connections with government agencies, their funding sources, and many of their tactics involving establishing front groups. Conducts issue research, providing information on environment-related issues via multiple websites, regularly updated blogs, published reports, traditional media outreach, social media campaigns, and producing and distributing print and broadcast advertisements, and spending almost $600,000 in advertising purchases. Online views of environmental policy […]” [15]

The Center for Accountability in Science

Expenses Grants Revenue
$380,465 0 0

“Launched the Center for Accountability in Science (Accountablescience.com) which educates the public by debunking the junk science behind the many news stories that bombard consumers and warn them about how products could give them an array of terrifying diseases. Helps present a balanced view of the science behind these claims and examines the organizations releasing these reports to scare consumers. Through the project “prop 65 scam,” (prop65scam.com), CAS also exposes the many flaws in California's 'safe drinking water and toxic enforcement act' and shows how the law has imposed a massive burden on businesses without appreciably improving Californian's health. Promoted CAS with online advertising. Media outreach triggered coverage in multiple media outlets, including a number of top 100 print […]” [15]

March 6, 2014

The Environmental Policy Alliance ran a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal criticizing the Food & Water Watch, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) as “big green radicals,” while announcing the launch of BigGreenRadicals.com. [16]

Food & Water Watch responded with a blog post: [17]

“We’re honored to be called one of the 'Big Green Radicals' by notorious corporate lobbyist Rick Berman through his apparent latest astroturf operation, the Environmental Policy Alliance, a 'project of the Center for Organizational Research Education.' Ever heard of it? We hadn’t either. After doing a bit of digging, we found out that the Center for Organizational Research Education was recently known as the Center for Consumer Freedom led by the head of Berman & Co. – Rick Berman.”

November 1, 2012

The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) was included in a list of front groups created by Berman & Co. that were part of a 2012 IRS complaint filed by The Humane Society of the United States. Several of Berman's nonprofit groups were being operated from the offices of his Washingon PR firm, while paying his firm $15 million from 2008 to 2010 for its work.  [3]

“Tax lawyers say this arrangement may violate Internal Revenue Service rules that prohibit executives from profiting off the tax-exempt entities they run. IRS rules also require charities to have a public purpose,” Bloomberg reports.
Berman’s “web of organizations clearly, in my view, is operating for his private benefit and for the private benefit of his clients,” Marcus Owens, a former director of the exempt organizations department at the IRS, said in an interview. That’s “a clear violation of the requirements for tax-exempt status.”
“Berman’s developed a cottage industry of setting up phony non-profit organizations to take in money from corporations that have a public relations problem,” Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society, which has been the target of Berman-led campaigns, said in an interview. “When you look at it in its full composition, it’s a very disturbing picture.”
The following groups were included in the complaint, according to IRS 990 tax forms reviewed by Bloomerg: [18]
Organization Name Tax-Exempt Status Payments to Berman & Co. in millions (2008-2010)
Center for Consumer Freedom 501c3 $4.2
Employment Policies Institute Foundation 501c3 $3.9
Enterprise Freedom Action Committee 501c4 $1.6
Center for Union Facts 501c3 $2.0
American Beverage Institute (trade group) 501c6 $4.0

Center for Accountability in Science Contact & Location

As of May, 2016,  the Secretary of State Charities Program reports that the Center for Organizational Research and Education (CORE) shares a contact address with the following organizations: [20]

  • CENTER FOR ACCOUNTABILITY IN SCIENCETHE
  • CENTER FOR CONSUMER FREEDOMTHE
  • Environmental Policy Alliance
  • Humane Society For Shelter Pets
  • HumaneWatch
  • PETA KILLS ANIMALS

Mailing Address:
1747 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Ste 1000
WASHINGTON DC 20006

Street Address:
1090 Vermont Ave NW
Ste 800
WASHINGTON DC 20005

Phone: (202) 420-7871
Email [email protected]

Related Organizations

Other Berman Front Groups

The Center for Media and Democracy's Sourcewatch lists the following “Other Berman Front Groups”: [19]

Resources

  1. David P. Goch. “Re: The Center for Consumer Freedom,” (17-33-72) (PDF). Letter to New York Department of Law - Charities Bureau, January 30, 2014. Retrieved from DocumentCloud.

  2. Eric Lipton. “Hard-Nosed Advice From Veteran Lobbyist: ‘Win Ugly or Lose Pretty’,” The New York Times, October 30, 2014. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  3. Mark Drajem and Brian Wingfield. “Union Busting by Profiting From Non-Profit May Breach IRS,” Bloomberg, November 1, 2012. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  4. Projects,” CoreProjects.com. Archived May 14, 2016. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6hVSpIzpb

  5. Daniel Schorn. “Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. 'Dr. Evil',” CBSNews.com, February 25, 2011. Archived May 13, 2016. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6hTyJzPVm

  6. Tim McCown. “Richard Berman coming to Astro- turf your rights away,” Philadelphia Progressive Examiner, September 24, 2009. Archived October 6, 2009. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  7. Meet the Astroturf Kingpin: Rick Berman, Anti-Activism Propagandist,” Occupy.com, July 14, 2014. Archived May 14, 2016. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6hVc1IT9d

  8. Berman & Co.: 'Nonprofit' Hustlers for the Food & Booze Biz,” PR Watch Vol. 8, No. 1 (Q1 2001), p. 7. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  9. Molly Redden. “Notorious Astroturf Pioneer Rick Berman Is Behind Business Group's Anti-Labor-Board Campaign,” Mother Jones, March 25, 2015. Archived May 11, 2016. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6hPnl8zAH

  10. Big Green Groups Put Big Chill on Dissent,” Big Green Radicals, September 24, 2014. Archived May 14, 2016. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6hVWlyeRH

  11. Politico Exposes the Anti-Science Left,” The Center for Consumer Freedom, June 5, 2014. Archived May 4, 2016. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6hVXZ0Tbt

  12. Lord Christopher Monckton,” Activist Facts. Archived May 14, 2016. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6hVYHmKY2

  13. Greenpeace,” BigGreenRadicals. Archived May 14, 2016. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6hVW4AIDn

  14. “Center for Organizational Research and Education (formerly Center for Consumer Freedom),” Conservative Transparency. Accessed May 13, 2016.

  15. The Center for Organizational Research and Education” 990 tax return (2014). Available at DocumentCloud.

  16. The Real Green Agenda,” BigGreenRadicals.com. .JPEG on file at DeSmogBlog.

  17. “Rick Berman Strikes Again With Environmental Policy Alliance,” Food & Water Watch, March 6, 2014. Archived May 14, 2016.

  18. Washington Charities at Center of Complaint to IRS,” Bloomberg.com. Chart on file at DeSmogBlog.

  19. Center for Consumer Freedom,” SourceWatch. Accessed May 13, 2016.

  20. Charitable Solicitations Program Charity Profile Report: Registration #9640,” Secretary of State Charities Program. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.