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March 10, 2014

FAQ on Richard Berman

Who is Richard Berman, and why he is attacking The HSUS?

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Richard Berman, and why is he attacking animal welfare organizations?

Richard Berman is a corporate front-man, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and PR operative. Over the years, he has created a spider web of organizations whose aim is to attack established charities, nonprofits and public interest groups—from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Institute of Medicine to The Humane Society of the United States. He refuses to divulge specific companies financing his dirty work, but it is known that Berman launched this line of work by taking money from tobacco companies to battle those seeking restrictions on smoking—a template that has defined his career.

Recently, he has aligned himself with the agribusiness lobby and appealed to factory farming interests for support, telling them that he will try and slow down The HSUS’s advances in improving the treatment of farm animals. By attacking The HSUS, Berman and his organizations have given encouragement to others who profit from the status quo cruelty to animals—whether large-scale puppy mill operators, criminal cockfighters, the seal slaughter industry, horse slaughter profiteers, or others.

Berman’s shadowy dealings have been exposed again and again by respected news organizations, including The Boston Globe, Bloomberg News, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, CBS, Harper’s, The San Francisco Chronicle. The investigative program “60 Minutes” reported that Berman's nickname is “Dr. Evil.”

Ultimately, those who finance Berman’s dirty tricks will be publicly revealed. America is not a nation of secrets. When that occurs, as it did with the tobacco apologists, Berman and his paymasters will recede further onto the fringes of America’s civic conversation. 

What is Berman’s goal?

From what can be seen, Berman is in it for the money. Certainly, he has enriched himself handsomely over the years by being the mouthpiece for corporations too ashamed to stand up and speak for themselves. 

He exploits America’s charitable tax laws, but public documents show that Berman and his privately held PR firm are the financial beneficiaries of his efforts. In one recent tax filing, Berman and his private, for-profit company received 92 cents of every dollar reported by his primary nonprofit, the misnamed “Center for Consumer Freedom.” His corporate funders get anonymity and tax benefits, and Berman gets a million-dollar mansion with a Bentley in the driveway.

Berman is falsely trying to define animal welfare work as just one narrow category of giving grants to local dog and cat shelters, which take in 6 to 8 million animals each year. The HSUS helps local shelters in a number of ways but also helps the billions of other animals at risk in society, too. Berman attacks The HSUS not because we do too little, but because we do too much—and we are the greatest threat to animal abusers and Berman's industry paymasters.

What is the so-called “Humane Society for Shelter Pets”?

Berman was party to the launch of a wildly misnamed “charity” called the Humane Society for Shelter Pets. In hijacking the proud name “Humane Society” from groups at the local and national level—groups that have worked honorably to help animals for decades—Berman cynically sought to fool people into thinking that he had the interests of pets in mind, when indeed the real point of the group was to attack The Humane Society of the United States.

Although he claims to be interested in pets in peril, the money trail tells the opposite story: Berman has purchased advertising valued in the millions attacking The HSUS, which by contrast has a proud record of fighting pet homelessness.

He has sent threatening letters to local animal shelter leaders, harassing those who have spoken out about the real agenda of Berman and HSSP. That’s hardly a practice that makes him a friend of shelters.

If pickpocketing the name “Humane Society” wasn’t shameful enough, Berman and his undisclosed backers lifted the words “Shelter Pets” straight from the established “Shelter Pet Project” of The HSUS, The Ad Council and Maddie’s Fund. This ongoing national campaign to promote pet adoptions has resulted in more than $100 million of public service advertising and engagement on behalf of shelter pet adoption.

A review of HSSP’s most recent tax filings reveals an organization in deep financial distress. HSSP reported $1,208,700 in revenue in 2010, but only $55,000 in 2011, a decrease of 95.6 percent. HSSP is deeply indebted to its management firm, Berman & Company. In 2011, the nonprofit paid Rick Berman’s for profit PR agency $245,483, or four times the revenue the group took in, for “management, advertising, research and accounting fees.”

Zero percent of HSSP’s revenue went to animal shelters in 2011, though its stated mission is to “assist local pet shelters.” The only beneficiaries of HSSP’s revenue were the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is one of the tax exempt entities controlled by Rick Berman, and Rick Berman’s PR firm. Combined, they received $814,617 from the tax-exempt entity, while local shelters received nothing. HSSP’s other major expense in 2011 was a $520,000 pass-through grant to the Center for Consumer Freedom. The purpose of the grant as stated on the tax filing was “research and program development.” According to CCF’s tax filing, contributions totaling $577,050 “were temporarily restricted to be used on the Center’s Humane Watch campaign.” 

What do animal shelters and other animal welfare groups say about Berman and his various corporate fronts?

Dr. Gary Weitzman, former CEO of Washington Animal Rescue League, wrote this:

Thanks to HSUS, there is cohesion in our struggle to protect animals and move the nation forward on humane issues: shutting down puppy mills, promoting spay/neuter, encouraging shelter pet adoption, and other issues that are crucial to our joint success … Groups such as the CCF and HSSP hurt not only us, but the animals we are all trying to help. Read Washington Animal Rescue League's blog.

Robin Robertson Starr, CEO of Richmond SPCA, wrote:

CCF has recently created a new entity … called Humane Society for Shelter Pets. It took out huge full-page ads in major newspapers like the New York Times last week—ads that cost about $100,000 each—claiming to be deeply concerned about shelter pets.

… They have never supported animal shelters, never been a part of the effort to save the lives of animals and, in fact, could not care less about shelter pets. They just want to drive a wedge between the organizations in our field … for the protection of their own business interests. This is nothing but shameless opportunism tarted up as concern for animal welfare. Read Richmond SPCA's blog.

Karel Minor, executive director of Berks County Humane Society, said this about CCF:

CCF is trying to turn local animal shelters against the HSUS. They are trying to pit one group of animal advocates against another group and are hoping that no one will notice who is paying them to do it. No single animal shelter can really make much of a difference nationwide. But one huge organization like HSUS, which can improve legislation across the nation, can help make animal shelters more effective, and can respond in meaningful ways to natural disasters, can make a difference, and that difference isn’t always in the best interests of the food processors and their stockholders. That’s why CCF attacks HSUS. Read Berks County Humane Society's blog.

Jennifer Scarlett, Co-President of San Francisco SPCA wrote:

[CCF] has sought to minimize public concern regarding smoking, obesity, drunken driving and even mercury in tuna. Now Mr. Berman has set up several “humane” charities like Humane Watch and Humane Society for Shelter Pets that bash HSUS’s work and encourage the public to divert funds from HSUS.

[The HSUS] operates on the national stage, so it’s no surprise that as an advocate of the big issues, HSUS doesn’t run local shelters or fund the hundreds of independent humane societies, which Berman claims to find so outrageous. In fact, there is no national umbrella group for shelters … [s]o it’s easy money for sleek imposters to try to exploit public confusion. ... It would be tragic if donations for animal welfare were shunted into the coffers of a cynical fundraising machine that damages those very interests. Read SF Gate's blog.

Janice Brown, Founder & Chief Strategy Officer of TAILS Pet Media Group, Inc. wrote:

“To me, the HSSP is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I could not agree more that we need to “help shelter pets by donating locally …” as the ads state. But their message does not end there. The full plea says, “Please help shelter pets by donating locally, not to the HSUS.” Why? People routinely donate money to many different charities, because each one takes on a unique role in being part of the solution. […] If people are fooled, buy into what the HSSP is saying, and decide to stop donating to a national animal welfare organization … the state of animal welfare will be negatively impacted.” Read TAILS blog.

How does The HSUS help local shelters?

There are an estimated 3,500 local animal shelters in the U.S., about half run by private organizations and half run by municipal government agencies. The HSUS does not run them or  serve as a parent organization, nor could any group serve that purpose. We were established from within the shelter movement in 1954 to tackle systemic abuses on a national scale – that is, cruelties beyond the reach of local organizations and agencies.

The HSUS was founded with a mission to alleviate the suffering of all animals – and our work has remained faithful to that principle for nearly 60 years. Dogs, cats and other pets are among the recipients of HSUS help, and so are horses, farm animals, exotic animals and wild animals of all kinds. Indeed, our logo depicts 19 different species of animals to illustrate the range of our concerns.

Still, challenges facing the nation’s animal shelters and the tragedy of homeless or mistreated pets remain top priorities.

We set up and run emergency shelters to house thousands of needy pets in crisis circumstances from coast to coast, rescued from puppy mills, animal fighting rings, hoarding or neglect cases, or natural disasters. Emergency equipment and 24-hour staff are mobilized to work cooperatively with local shelters, volunteers and law enforcement to reduce the burdens of local communities, especially in rural areas where local animal shelters and animal control agencies do not exist and where The HSUS is asked to fill that gap. These services are rendered free of cost.

Apart from disasters and cruelty cases, we assist all of America’s animal shelters and rescue groups with groundbreaking efforts to reduce pet overpopulation, promote the human-animal bond, and improve the quality of care for pets in the community.

One of these initiatives is a pioneering national advertising campaign to promote shelter pet adoptions. The “Shelter Pet Project,” sponsored by The HSUS, Ad Council, and Maddie’s Fund, is aimed at reducing animal homelessness and the corresponding pressure on shelters. In just three years, it has generated more than $100 million worth of public service advertising which has benefited local animal shelters and rescue groups.

World Spay Day, a program of The HSUS and Humane Society International, partners with other organizations to promote and coordinate spay/neuter awareness activities across the globe to reduce the problem of pet overpopulation at shelters. More than 400 cities in 36 countries held celebratory events during World Spay Day 2012, tens of thousands of animals were provided professional spay and neuter services, and more than $700,000 was raised to combat pet overpopulation.

Our Pets for Life program is helping local shelters and volunteers reach underserved communities with direct pet care resources including free spay/neuter, vaccinations, food, dog training, and other tools to strengthen the human-animal bond. Our staff offers hands-on guidance and training to shelters across the country, produces “Animal Sheltering” magazine and animalsheltering.org website for shelter and rescue professionals and volunteers, and stages our annual Animal Care Expo, the nation’s premiere gathering for those confronting pet homelessness issues. Further, the reach of our concerns is extended by grants to other agencies -- $43 million in grants to animal shelters and other animal protection groups since 2005.

Overall, The HSUS provided direct care for nearly 100,000 animals in 2012 – this includes sick, injured, homeless and mistreated pets, horses, wildlife and other animals.

This balance of priorities among direct care, shelter support and combatting cruelty elsewhere in our society is a proud hallmark of The HSUS, and has earned the organization wide respect, and high ratings from credible, independent philanthropic watchdog groups.

Still, you may have heard The HSUS challenged about its priorities and allocation of resources. We encourage supporters and others to take a closer look at the group profiting from these assertions. Far from being motivated by a concern for animals, this organization is a paid front-group for corporations who object to our work to reduce the mistreatment of farm animals. The organization flies under false colors in calling itself the Center for Consumer Freedom. In fact, it is the creation of a lobbyist who cut his teeth defending smoking thanks to a grant from Phillip-Morris.

The truth of this group and its phony aims has been exposed repeatedly in the news media. For a more accurate view of how The HSUS is regarded by the larger animal welfare community and from law enforcement, please view statements about our work.  

The HSUS has been rated three or four stars each year for the past decade by Charity Navigator, approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar’s Philanthropedia experts as the #1 high-impact animal protection group, and named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities.

The HSUS was founded in 1954 to tackle cruelties that were too broad in scope for local agencies to confront. Today, The HSUS is the nation’s largest animal protection group and remains faithful to that founding principle. The work of the organization includes public policy reform, animal rescue, wildlife rehabilitation, shelter assistance, sanctuary for homeless animals, education, habitat preservation, law enforcement training and assistance, and more. The HSUS has offices and staff in 42 states, operates sanctuaries in five states, and partners in coalition work with numerous animal welfare groups, big and small. The HSUS mission statement is "Celebrating Animals, Confronting Cruelty."

The HSUS is not a headquarters organization for local shelters, which are locally established, financed and operated. But The HSUS supports the vital work of local shelters—including spearheading a national campaign to promote pet spay and neuter, providing shelter training and evaluations, working to end the suffering and pet overpopulation associated with poorly regulated puppy mills, and providing large-scale temporary shelters in communities beset by disasters.

The HSUS partners with and supports local animal shelters, but it is not a “pass-through” organization that simply gives money to other groups to conduct animal welfare work. We have our own professional staff and run our own national programs to provide veterinary care and other services, and rescue animals from natural disasters, puppy mills, animal fighting rings, hoarding cases, and other large-scale cruelties—directly caring for nearly 100,000 animals in 2012—and to prevent animals from ending up in crisis in the first place through education, public awareness, and policy-making. The HSUS encourages its supporters and volunteers to also support their local animal shelter and rescue groups.

Will Berman’s attacks have any real impact on animal welfare?

Doubtful. In the scheme of things, he is a small-fry sideshow act that operates on the periphery of American life, not known for accomplishments except for making noise and enriching himself.

By contrast, the animal welfare movement is strong and growing. It represents mainstream values. Although there is no official registry, there are estimated to be as many as 20,000 groups, big and small, engaged in important work of safeguarding animals. Together, these organizations and their expanding army of workers, supporters and volunteers are an unstoppable force for good.

Only if these groups allow the likes of Berman to succeed in dividing the power of the movement, by creating phony quarrels between groups, will he be able to slow down progress toward making this a more humane world. That’s why responsible leaders of the movement, including Weitzman, Starr, Minor, Scarlett, and HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle, are working to expose the truth behind Richard Berman.

 What can I do?

Every day and in almost every locale, animals need your help. Here is a list of 55 things individuals can do.

Learn more: Read our Eye on the Opposition page »

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