Richard “Rick” Berman is a longtime Washington, D.C. public relations specialist whose lobbying and consulting firm, Berman and Company, Inc., advocates for special interests and powerful industries.
Berman and Co. wages deceptive campaigns against industry foes including labor unions; public-health advocates; and consumer, safety, animal welfare, and environmental groups. Nicknamed “Dr. Evil” by his critics, Berman’s targets range from the Humane Society of the United States to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Berman founded seven tax-exempt non-profits and at least 40 other distinctly named linked projects. Although these groups present themselves as unbiased experts in their fields of research seeking to inform the public, in reality they are little more than front groups for Berman’s industry clients, run out of Berman’s offices in downtown Washington by Berman and Co. staff, most of whom hold different titles at several of the nonprofits.
Berman’s non-profits solicit donations from industries and hire Berman and Co. to plan and implement their public relations campaigns, an arrangement that tax experts say could run afoul of the law. In one recent case, a non-profit directed 78.8 percent of its expenses to Berman and Co.
By giving to Berman’s non-profits, not only can corporations anonymously support public relations campaigns that protect their profits, they can receive tax breaks for making charitable donations.
The excessive payments to Berman and Co. led an outside authority on charitable giving, Charity Navigator, to issue “donor advisories” regarding five of Berman’s front groups, warning donors about the groups’ shady practice of hiring a business owned by their CEO.
Non-profits linked to Berman include:
- The Center for Consumer Freedom, which attacks animal rights activists and anyone who criticizes soda, restaurants, or the food industry, and changed its official name to the Center for Organizational Research and Education (CORE) in 2014;
- The Employment Policies Institute, which opposes government-issued mandates on employers, such as paid sick leave and minimum wage increases;
- The American Beverage Institute, which fights laws designed to curb drunk driving;
- The Center for Union Facts, which promotes disparaging information about labor unions;;
- The Enterprise Freedom Action Committee, which attacks unions and opposes health care reform;
- Family Coalition, which opposes health care reform in the name of families;
- Humane Society for Shelter Pets, which promoted misleading information about the Humane Society of the United States in an effort to dry up its fundraising, before dissolving as a standalone organization in 2013. HSSP continues to operate as a trade name of CORE.