|This Weekend, "Moyers and Company" Investigates the American Legislative Exchange Council.
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
Richard B. (Rick) Berman is a former labor management attorney and restaurant industry executive who currently works as a lobbyist for the food, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries. He is the sole owner of Berman & Co., which sponsors many non-profit front groups that defend his corporate clients' interests by attacking their critics, allowing his paying clients to remain out of public view.
He is the President, Executive Director and Director of the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). CCF's 2005 IRS return states that Berman works 23 hours a week for the group for which he is paid $18,000.  In spite of its name, CCF is more concerned about industry than the consumer. He is also the Executive Director and President of the Employment Policies Institute Foundation the American Beverage Institute and the Center for Union Facts. 
According to a July 31, 2006, profile of Berman in USA Today, his company has 28 employees and takes in $10 million dollars a year, but "only Berman and his bookkeeper wife" know how much of the $10 million ends up in their own pockets. 
Rick Berman has earned the nicknames "Dr. Evil," the "Conservatives' Weapon of Mass Destruction" and the "Astroturf Kingpin" for his repeated use of the strategy of forming non-profit front groups that advocate for the interests big business while shielding those same businesses from disclosing financial support for these efforts.
- 1967-1969: Labor Law attorney, Bethlehem Steel
- 1969-1972: Corporate law attorney, Dana Corp. (automotive parts)
- 1972-1974: Labor law director, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- 1975-1984: Senior Vice President, Steak and Ale (restaurant chain)
- 1984-1986: Executive Vice President, Pillsbury Restaurant Group
- 1986-present: President, Berman &Co. (lobbying group)
Source: interview with Berman in Chainleader.com
Tobacco industry involvement
Rick Berman conceived the idea of the Guest Choice Network, a front group to help advance the goals of Philip Morris' Accommodation Program while appearing to be more of a grass-roots-led effort.  Berman became head of the Guest Choice Network. Berman cites an Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Roger Jenkins study that downplays the effects of secondhand smoke. Berman is also counsel for the American Beverage Institute, which also fronts for the tobacco industry.
Philip Morris funded Guest Choice Network, also known in PM's files as "Vendor #340875." Evidence of PM funding is a check for $200,000 dated May 29, 1996, to fund "Guest Choice Network and its activities." and a check for $600,000 dated December 15, 1995. A March 28, 1996 PM "privileged and confidential" email from Marty Barrington to Denise F. Keane, both of PM, states,
You'll remember that PM USA Corp. Affairs contributed $600,000 in '95 to get this Network, organized by Rick Berman, up and running. Berman is now looking for another $300,000, principally for an educational newsletter, and Corp. Affairs wants to contribute. As of this writing, PM USA is still the only contributor, though Berman continues to promise others any day now ...
Philip Morris saw Berman as a "hospitality industry insider as well as a legislatively astute individual" who could help them achieve their goal of preserving smoking in restaurants. Barbara Trach at PM wrote in an October 1995 memo that "Berman's current client list is a virtual who's who in the chain restaurant industry." Berman was introduced to Philip Morris through employees of Miller Beer, who were familiar with him and his work. Berman originated PM's strategy of broadening the focus of the "smoking issue," and "expanding it into the bigger picture of over-regulation."
Pro-Alcohol industry activity
For several years, Berman has been fighting efforts by the voter registration/community organizing group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) to raise the minimum wage at the state and federal levels. To assist with his efforts, Berman created a Web site, www.rottenacorn.com, slamming the group. Contact information on RottenACORN.com directs readers to the Employment Policies Institute, a Berman front group which shares the same address as Berman's lobbying business, Berman & Company.
In the fall of 2008, prior to the general election, a full-page, anti-ACORN ad appeared in the New York Times that accused ACORN of a list of abuses that would make the group appear hypocritical: intimidating and firing its own employees when they try to unionize, misappropriating millions of dollars from taxpayer-funded government grants and advocating minimum wage hikes while paying its own employees less than minimum wage. The ad did not indicate what person or organization had funded it.In an October 29, 2008 article, the investigative journalism group ProPublica revealed that the ad and the Web site "RottenACORN.com" are funded by Rick Berman's Employment Policies Institute, which has among its clients, the American Beverage Institute, a trade group for bars and restaurants. <youtube size="small" align="right" border="red" caption="Rachel Maddow interviews Rick Berman, October 6, 2009.">aMSVnTiw97U</youtube>
Advocating for Food Industry
As head of the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a front group for the restaurant, tobacco, and alcohol industries, Berman has specialized in the no-holds-barred intimidation tactics pioneered by Big Tobacco. Berman confirms that organizations like his, by keeping their corporate sponsors anonymous, can engage in edgier PR by providing safe shelter for individual corporations: "There's no doubt about that. Most trade associations try to insulate individual companies and brand names from cutting-edge rhetoric." In 2000, the Center for Media and Democracy found that Berman and Co., Inc. was paid $256,077 by CCF for "management services," although CCF did not report paying any income to any of its employees.
Berman has written a number of strategically placed op-ed articles in leading newspapers on behalf of CCF. On August 26, 2004, for example, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution printed "Soft Drink Hysteria Hard to Swallow," in which Berman trashed a study published that week in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed a clear connection between soda consumption and diabetes: "Frankly, the contortions that the authors went through to demonize soda would make our own gold medal gymnasts proud."
An article in the December 15,1999 copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer describes Berman's support for Uniroyal, the company that produces Alar(tm), slow-ripening chemical (deminozide) used on apples to delay ripening until the markets paid higher prices. Through his Guest Choice Network (currently the Center for Consumer Freedom) Berman published a newsletter that minimized the risks of Alar to children. The newsletter stated, "According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one would have to eat 50,000 pounds of apples a day over a lifetime to contract cancer from Alar." In response, EPA spokeswoman Denise Kearns said, "To my knowledge, EPA never issued that kind of statement." In the end Berman admitted that the source of his information was a statement made by Uniroyal. Alar has since been banned due to cancer risks. In 1989, the EPA decided to ban Alar on the grounds that "long-term exposure" posed "unacceptable risks to public health." However, in June 1989, before the EPA's preliminary decision to ban all food uses of Alar went into effect, Uniroyal agreed to voluntarily halt all domestic sales of Alar for food uses. 
Americans with Disabilities Act
In an October 9, 1989 commentary for Nation's Restaurant News, Berman opposed the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). He wrote, "The ADA in its present form will cost our industry untold millions in added construction and labor costs" He begins the article with a reference to the ADA and AIDS. He stated, "Congress ... is seriously considering passage of a new law that would require employers to ignore AIDS infections among cooks and servers .
In the early 1990s, Berman was tied to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich through possible ethics violations involving Gingrich's PAC (GOPAC). In 1993, Berman made a $25,000 contribution to Kennesaw State College for Gingrich's class on "Renewing American Civilization" on condition that Gingrich teach ideas supported by Berman's Employment_Policies_Institute_Foundation. House Ethics Committee reports revealed that Berman's contribution was solicited by GOPAC and that Berman had already helped GOPAC in recruiting big donors. In the cover letter to the check, Berman thanked Gingrich for his "help" in enabling Berman to testify at a Congressional hearing on another matter of interest to the industry.
Court ruling against Berman
In the fall of 2009, the American College of Surgeons filed a legal complaint in Illinois' Northern District alleging that the Berman-formed Employee Freedom Action Committee had violated trademark law and defamed the group when it included the organization's name on a scrolling list headed "Doctors Against the Plan" in an anti-health care reform television advertisement. The court granted a temporary restraining order to the surgeons, finding the group would likely prevail on the merits in a trial. The court order enjoined Berman's front group from placing ads citing the American College of Surgeons on television or the Internet. The ad was run by a group called Committee to Rethink Reform, which is a 501(c)4 not required to disclose its donors -- one of the hallmarks of a Berman-operated group. The ad has been removed from TV and the Internet. 
People to call concerning their experiences with Richard Berman
- Naomi Seligman, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington www.citizensforethics.org 202.408.5565
- Simon Chaitowitz, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: 202-686-2210, ext. 309
- Lisa Graves, Center for Media and Democracy: 608-260-9713
- Theresa Hart, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD): 800-438-6233
- Jeff Nelson, VegSource Interactive, Inc: 818-349-5600 and see: http://www.vegsource.com/articles2/berman_cspi.htm and http://www.vegsource.com/articles/berman_release.htm
- Michael Jacobson, Center for Science in the Public Interest (202) 332-9110
Berman & Company
1090 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Articles & sources
- American Beverage Institute
- A Visit to the ActivistCash.Com Web Site
- Berman & Co.
- Center for Consumer Freedom
- Center for Economic and Entrepreneurial Literacy
- Employment Policies Institute
- Employment Roundtable
- The Center for Union Facts
- Richard Berman cares about animals: clients exposed
- Front Group King Rick Berman Gets Blasted by his Son David Berman
- ↑ "The Center for Consumer Freedom", Form 990, p.5
- ↑ "The Center for Consumer Freedom", Form 990, Statement 11.
- ↑ Morley Safer Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. "Dr. Evil" CBSnews.com 60 Minutes, July 22, 2007
- ↑ Tim McCown Richard Berman coming to Astro-turf your rights away Examiner.com, Philadelphia Progressive Examiner, September 24, 2009
- ↑ Richard B. Berman, Berman and Company Untitled letter to Barbara Trach at Philip Morris 3 pp. September 5, 1995. Bates No. 2072148834/8836
- ↑ S,J, Philip Morris Invoice/Pay request May 29, 1996. Bates No. 2072395885
- ↑ Barbara Trach, Philip Morris 333754 Pay request/Invoice. December 15, 1995. Bates No. 2072148756/8757
- ↑ M. Barrington, Philip Morris Guest Choice Network Email. March 28, 1996. Bates No. 2048257603
- ↑ Barbara Trach, Philip Morris N921 Memorandum, resume'. October 19, 1995. 2 pages. Philip Morris Bates No. 2072395887/5888
- ↑ Richard B. Berman Richard B. Berman Resume'. 1991. Philip Morris Bates No. 2072148764
- ↑ Employment Policies Institute Employment Policies Institute Web page, "About" (description, contact information), accessed October 7, 2009
- ↑ Berman & Co. Berman & Co. Web page, "Contact Us", accessed October 7, 2009
- ↑ ProPublica Image of Anti-ACORN ad, undated, accessed October 7, 2009
- ↑ Mosi Secret “Rotten” ACORN Ad Funded by Anti-Minimum Wage Group, ProPublica, Elections section. October 29, 2008
- ↑ Caroline E. Mayer and Amy Jones, "The Escalating Obesity Wars," Washington Post April 27, 2005
- ↑ 
- ↑ Rick Berman, "Soft Drink Hysteria Hard to Swallow," Atlanta Journal-Constitution August 26, 2004
- ↑ Percival et al., Environmental Regulation: Law, Science & Policy (4th ed.), p.391
- ↑ Ben Smith Court forces health care foes' ad off air Politico.com, blog. December 17, 2009
- Richard Berman, "Disability Act Threatens to Cripple Hospitality Industry," Nation's Restaurant News, October 9, 1989, p. F4.
- Richard Berman, "Animal Groups Callous, Not Cute," USA Today, April 15, 2003.
- Greg Sargent, "Berman's Battle," The American Prospect, January 3, 2004.
- John N. Frank, "ABL ups efforts slamming GM for its support of MADD", PR Week, February 28, 2005. (Sub req'd).
- Nancy Goldstein, "Biting the Hand that Spins You," PageOne, March 17, 2005.
- Caroline E. Mayer and Amy Joyce, "Nonprofit's Tactics, Funding Sources Spark Controversy", Washington Post, April 27, 2005.
- Melanie Warner, "Striking Back at the Food Police", New York Times, June 12, 2005.
- Seth Lubove, "Food Fight," Forbes, September 23, 2005.
- Aina Hunter, "Mercury in Fish? Baloney!: Lobbyist tells pregnant women to eat more tuna", Village Voice, January 17th, 2006.
- Harold Meyerson, "Our Pious Babylon", Washington Post, April 6, 2006; A29.
- Mark Matthews, Lobbyists Hide Behind Non-Profit Fronts, KGO TV, San Francisco, CA, May 3, 2006.
- Jayne O'Donnell, "Got a nasty fight? Here's your man", USA Today, July 31, 2006.
- Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. "Dr. Evil", CBSnew.com, April 5, 2007
- Sam Stein, "Bailout Recipients Hosted Call To Defeat Key Labor Bill", Huffington Post, January 27, 2009.
- Stephanie Strom Nonprofit Advocate Carves Out a For-Profit Niche, New York Times, June 2010
- Ron Moore The Humane Society and MADD file ethics charges against corporate front group lobbyist Rick Berman, The Examiner, May 2010
- BermanExposed.org, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, accessed January 2011
This article may include information from Tobacco Documents Online.
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