Richard Berman

Richard B. Berman

Credentials

  • Juris Doctorate The College of William and Mary - Marshall Wythe Law School (1967). [1]
  • Bachelor's degree, Political science, Transylvania College (1964). [1]

Background

Richard “Rick” B. Berman is the President of the DC-based PR firm Berman and Company. Berman is behind an extensive network of nonprofit groups created to serve the needs of industry.

Before beginning work in PR, Berman had senior executive positions in a number of corporations including Pillsbury and Bethlehem Steel. He also served as the director of labor law at the US Chamber of Commerce[12] 

Berman reportedly created Berman and Company with funds from tobacco giant Philip Morris, which paid at least $600,000 to fight smoking legislation, as well as with help from millions of dollars from alcohol-related businesses. [2][12] 

Berman, who reportedly takes pride in his nickname, Dr. Evil, has worked as a lobbyist focusing on combatting government control of a range of industries, claiming that the United States is quickly becoming a “nanny state” due to regulation. His clients include the food, alcoholic beverage, and restaurant businesses. [3]

By setting up a chain of non-profit “educational” entities, Berman combats groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as well as unions, environmental groups, and others. Berman has said that his goal is “shooting the messenger”: [3]

“Shooting the messenger means getting people to understand that this messenger is not as credible as their name would suggest,” Berman said.

Berman has many critics. Dr. Michael Jacobson, head of the healthy food advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest, described Berman as a “one-man goon squad for any company that's willing to hire him.” In a 2011 edition of 60 Minutes, he told Morley Safer of CBS news:  [3]

“Berman is against every single measure, no matter how sensible. He'd have no restrictions on tobacco advertising, junk foods galore in schools. No minimum wage. He wants to leave corporate America unfettered of any regulations that protect the public's health.” [3]

Berman's Front Groups

Berman runs dozens of groups, many branching out into further projects and sub-projects all without disclosing the identify of donors. According to secretly-taped audio of a speech, where Berman promoted his new Big Green Radicals project, he believes that “That you have to play dirty to win.” Berman boasted about his ability to hide the identify of his donors and supporters: [4]

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? 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.” [4]

Berman was quoted in a 2003 book saying companies “can pay us to represent them and retain their anonymity.” Charity Navigator, an independent group that analyzes nonprofits, gave five of Berman's front groups its lowest rating, noting they used most of their funds to pay Berman's for-profit outfit for management services and other costs. Charity Navigator president Ken Berger said such transfers were “very rare” and “raise a lot of questions,” The Boston Globe noted in an in-depth profile of Berman. [12] 

Some of Berman's groups include the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), originally named the Guest Choice Network (GCN) and now the Center for Organizational Research and Education (CORE), which lists projects attacking environmental groups and regulations like the Environmental Policy Alliance which further branches out into Big Green RadicalsEPAFactsGreen DecoysLEEDExposed. CORE's Center for Consumer Freedom also branches into projects like Humane WatchPETA Kills Animals, and Prop65 Scam. [5]

CCF was initially formed in 1995 with an infusion of money from Philip Morris (PM) tobacco, renamed Altria, in order to fight smoking bans in restaurants. Archived tobacco industry records show a $600,000 grant by PM in 1995, and another $200,000 to the Guest Choice Communications Center in 1996[6], [7], [8]

Berman's Employment Policies Institute and Center for Union Facts branch out into multiple anti-union websites and sites combatting minimum wage like Teachers Union ExposedWorkerCentersMinimumWage.comTipped Wage, and multiple others. 

The New York Times noted in 2014 that the Employment Policies Institute was quoted widely for reports claiming minimum wage increases would be harmful without disclosing ties to Berman's PR firm. [9]

With no employees of its own, and “billed” by Berman and Company for the services it provides industry, the NYT notes the “arrangement effectively means that the nonprofit is a moneymaking venture for Mr. Berman, whose advertising firm was paid $1.1 million by the institute in 2012.” [9]

Financial disclosures show donors to the Employment Policies Institute have included the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. While Berman and Michael Saltsman, the institute’s research director, would not identify other donors they said funders included the restaurant industry. [9]

View some of Berman's projects below:

*Asterisk denotes website no longer in operation. Links to DeSmog or SourceWatch research on left.

Tax Complaints & Bradley Foundation Connection

As the Center for Media and Democracy's (CMDPR Watch reported, Berman's network of “charities” are able accept tax-exempt funds which are then funneled into his for-profit Berman and Co. as “management fees.” This arrangement prompted the independent charitable authority Charity Navigator to issue donor warnings on Berman front groups, and also led to complaints against Berman and Company for potential abuse of the tax code. [10], [11]

CMD highlighted the Bradley Foundation as a major known funder of Berman's front groups. The Bradley Files, a series of Bradley Foundation documents revealed by CMD, describe Berman's front groups as a  “collaborative cluster of nonprofit groups.” It also reveals that the Bradley Foundation helped create a Berman project titled  the “Interstate Policy Alliance” (IPA) within Berman's Employment Policies Institute.  [10]

According to the Bradley Files, the foundation has given Berman's groups at least $6.5 million. That includes a total of $3,650,000 between 2009-2015 going to the Employment Policies Institute, and $2,240,000 between 2006-2015 going to Center for Union Facts. [10]

The Bradley Foundation also provided at least $2.5 million between 1998 and 2015 to the “Capital Research Center,” a project run by former Berman employee Scott Walker and works with Berman's network on projects. [10]

Interstate Policy Alliance (IPA)

The Interstate Policy Aliance (IPA) was created with $300,000 earmarked by Bradley in 2013, with the grant doubled to $600,000 in the following year, and for $400,000 in 2015. The IPA's work would include “crisis communication” for groups facing negative publicity and funded by Bradley . [10]

Bradley documents describe IPA as a “discrete channel” for “studies” that could be utilized by state-based groups “to achieve maximum credibility in local and social media outlets.” [10]

CMD noted one of the IPA's initiatives includes many sponsored research “studies” promoting fossil fuels and opposing renewable fuel sources. [10]

Stance on Climate Change

2014

While Richard Berman does not appear to have made any statements on climate change, 350.org reported that, based on his work for clients in the oil industry, “his job is basically to advise the fossil fuel industry on how best to argue for inaction on climate change, and pretend there’s really no problem.” [13]

Key Quotes

May 12, 2016

“You know, I often told Monsanto, I’ll just use one company’s position here, I often told Monsanto they made a very big mistake when they called genetically modified, GMOs, when they call them genetically modified organisms exactly that,” Berman said in an interview with the Cato Institute [14] 

June 2014

According to secretly-taped audio later reported on at The New York Times: [4]

I get up every morning and I try to figure out how to screw with the labor unions — that’s my offense. I am just trying to figure out how I am going to reduce their brand,” Berman said at an event sponsored by the Western Energy Alliance.

February 2011

Asked if has become a major tool for corporate America, Berman told Morley Safer of CBS News[3]

Berman: “My mission is not to defend corporate America.” 

Morley Safer: “You're a hired gun.”

Berman: “Well, I go out to people and I say, 'Look, if you believe in what I believe, will you help fund it?' Now, I don't know if that's a hired gun or not. But, the point is, yes, I do get paid for educating people. If that's my biggest crime, I stand accused.”

2010

Meeting with a group of Nebraska farmers, Berman said it was more effective to “hit people in their heart rather than their head.”  Berman added: “Emotional understanding is very different — it stays with you. Intellectual understanding is a fact and facts trump other facts. When I understand something in my gut, you’ve got me in a very different way.” [12]

People remember negative stuff,” Berman said. “They don’t like hearing it, but they remember it. […] We can use fear and anger — it stays with people longer than love and sympathy.” [12]

 August 19, 1997

Berman testified before a senate task force on alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents, opposing legislation that would lower the blood alcohol limit from 0.10 to 0.08: [15]

It’s feel-good, meaningless legislation that doesn’t have any impact,” Berman said in his testimony. Rather, he suggested focusing on “the 0.14-and-above drivers [who] are at the heart of the drunk-driving problem.”

Key Deeds

January 2018

Berman's Center for Union Facts (CUF) targeted a local Los Angeles County based hotel workers union. CUF launched an “Eyes on Local 11” campaign, including a website, to expose the supposed agenda of the union. [16]

Union busting is a big business and as more workers see the benefits of having a union, we become a bigger target,”cheques Local 11's communication director Andrew Cohen, told InsideSources. “We plan to organize the unorganized until working people have a real voice of their own in this country, so we expect right-wing extremists to attack us.” [16]

May 2017

A 2017 investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) revealed that the foundation had given at least $6.5 million to Berman front groups, including the Employment Policies Institute, the Center for Consumer Freedom, and the Center for Union Facts. The group also funds the Capital Research Center, a group that regularly works with Berman on projects. [10]

May 12, 2016

In an interview with the Cato Institute, Berman admitted to having advised Monsanto. Listen to the interview below: [14] 

February 2015

The Guardian reported that Berman was behind at least 16 studies and five front groups fighting against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules on power plant emissions from the Obama administration. Berman's Employment Policies Institute (EPI) had funded a series of reports by the ultra-conservative Beacon Hill Institute (BHI).  EPI gave BHI at least $41,500 for a study of EPA rules, according to a grants list maintained by Suffolk University. [17]

Richard Berman is very well known for certain front groups and for taking money from anonymous sources to fund aggressive campaigns in the interests of the individuals and the corporations who fund him with the understanding that that funding will be kept secret,” said Nick Surgey, research director of the Center for Media and Democracy. [17]

June 2014

Speaking at an event sponsored by the Western Energy Alliance in Colorado Springs, according to secretly-taped audio later reported on at The New York Times, Berman said: [4]

You can either win ugly or lose pretty,” Berman said, suggesting that companies need to be welling to use fear, greed, and anger against environmental groups.  [4]

Berman was in Colorado with Jack Hubbard, vice president of Berman & Company, to promote a Big Green Radicals PR campaign. Berman said he had already collected six-figure checks from executives in the room and promoted how he could hide their role in funding campaigns.  [4]

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 told the crowd. “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.”  [4]

Affiliations

Social Media

Publications

According to his profile at Berman and Co., Berman has “appeared on all the major broadcast and cable television networks” as well as testifying before committees of various state legislatures on multiple occasions. [2]

Resources

  1. Rick Berman,” LinkedIn. Accessed December 23, 2017. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  2. RICHARD 'RICKBERMAN,Berman and Company. Archived December 23, 2017. Archived December 23, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/VGfCg

  3. Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. 'Dr. Evil',” CBS, February 25, 2011. Archived December 23, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/hZ002

  4. Eric Lipton. “Hard-Nosed Advice From Veteran Lobbyist: ‘Win Ugly or Lose Pretty’,” The New York Times, October 30, 2014. Archived December 23, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/pOIBQ

  5. Caroline E. Mayer and Amy Joyce. “The Escalating Obesity Wars,” Washington Post, April 27, 2005. Archived December 23, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/CzAxW

  6. Striking Back at the Food Police,” The New York Times, June 12, 2005. Archived December 23, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/pv4KX

  7. 333754,” Philip Morris USA, December 15, 1995. Retrieved from Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library. Bates No. 2072148756-2072148757.

  8. N921; VOUCHER,” Philip Morris USA, May 29, 1996. Retrieved from Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library. Bates No. 2072395885.

  9. Eric Liptonl. “Fight Over Minimum Wage Illustrates Web of Industry Ties,” The New York Times, February 9, 2014. Archived December 23, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/yq3v7

  10. Bradley Foundation Bankrolls Front Groups of Discredited PR Spin Doctor Richard Berman,” PR Watch, May 9, 2017. Archived December 23, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/I6RLd

  11. CREW FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST CENTER FOR CONSUMER FREEDOM ALLEGING VIOLATIONS OF TAX EXEMPT STATUS,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, December 16, 2004. Archived December 23, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/FF9EM

  12. Michael Kranish. “Washington’s robust market for attacks, half-truths,” Boston Globe, May 19, 2013. Archived January 12, 2018. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/OnkgN

  13. Rick Berman’s Poisonous Cynicism,350.org, November 3, 2014. Archived January 27, 2018. Archive.is URLhttps://archive.is/TR4Ae

  14. Changing Conversations in Policy and Politics,” Cato Institute, May 12, 2016. Archived January 27, 2018. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/TCwUd

  15. SENATE TASK FORCE ON ALCOHOL RELATED MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENTS AND FATALITIES IN NEW JERSEY” (PDF), The Office of Legislative Services, Public Information Office, August 19, 1997.

  16. Connor D. Wolf. “National Watchdog Targets Local Union,” InsideSources, January 6, 2018. Archived January 27, 2018. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/FxL1M

  17. Suzanne Goldenberg. “Lobbyist dubbed Dr Evil behind front groups attacking Obama power rules,” The Guardian, February 23, 2015. Archived December 23, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/NYFnu

  18. About Us,” The Center for Consumer Freedom. Archived December 23, 2017. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/ZKbkv

Other Resources