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May 11, 2010

Investigative Report: Richard Berman

Corporate front-man makes a fine living attacking charities

  • LIVING LARGE—The McLean, Va., mansion that is home to Richard Berman, who has established a web of organizations to attack public interest charities and groups on behalf of hidden corporate clients and their agendas. The HSUS

  • LIVING LARGE—The McLean, Va., mansion that is home to Richard Berman, who has established a web of organizations to attack public interest charities and groups on behalf of hidden corporate clients and their agendas. The HSUS

  • LIVING LARGE—The McLean, Va., mansion that is home to Richard Berman, who has established a web of organizations to attack public interest charities and groups on behalf of hidden corporate clients and their agendas. The HSUS

  • LIVING LARGE—The McLean, Va., mansion that is home to Richard Berman, who has established a web of organizations to attack public interest charities and groups on behalf of hidden corporate clients and their agendas. The HSUS

Editor's note: Millionaire PR operative and lobbyist Richard Berman and his shadowy web of corporate-front organizations rake in large sums of money in attacking public interest groups, including The Humane Society of the United States.

The HSUS hired independent journalist Ian T. Shearn to write an investigative report about Berman and the workings of his groups. Shearn, as statehouse Bureau Chief of the Newark Star-Ledger, led a team of reporters that won a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for the newspaper in recognition of its coverage of the resignation of then-Gov. James McGreevey.

Shearn’s distinguished career spanned 29 years as reporter and editor. He is now a freelance writer based in Hillsborough, N.J.

Shearn’s contract required him to identify himself in all encounters as preparing a report for The HSUS. The final product, however, represents his independent reporting and judgment.

This is page 3 of 4. Click here to start at the beginning»

 


 

Berman’s testimony also offered some additional insight as to how he raises money, and more importantly, from whom he raises money. Berman said he was able to land a donation from the CEO of Hormel Foods Corp., the Fortune 500 meat company most famous for its Spam. Berman testified Hormel was a “supporter” of CCF. He also was able to raise money from Standard Meat Co., in Dallas, and Covance Laboratories, one of the biggest animal breeding testing operations in the world, which conducts research for agrochemicals, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and tobacco products.

Berman said he also shopped the documentary, intended to be critical of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to others he knew in the industry: “… People from Cargill, people from Tyson’s, people from Hatfield Meats, Outback Steakhouse, a variety of people like that.”  It was unclear from his testimony whether any of them actually invested.

  

Estranged

Born in 1942, Berman was raised in New York City. He graduated from Transylvania College in Lexington, Ky., in 1964, and William and Mary Law School in 1967. Shortly after graduation, he landed his first job, handling labor arbitration cases for Bethlehem Steel. Two years later, he moved to Dana Corp. in Toledo, Ohio, where he continued handling labor and corporate law matters.  

His oldest son, David, would later achieve his own semblance of fame in a much different venue than his father’s—as a singer-songwriter for the Silver Jews, a popular indie rock band. David Berman, however, grew to loathe his father’s professional conduct, in recent years demanding he either give up his business or their relationship would have to end.

David Berman declined to be interviewed for this story, but posted this on the Internet last year: 

"My father is a despicable man. My father is a sort of human molester. An exploiter. A scoundrel.  …  He props up fast food/soda/factory farming/childhood obesity and diabetes/drunk driving/secondhand smoke. He attacks animal lovers, ecologists, civil action attorneys, scientists, dieticians, doctors, and teachers. His clients include everyone from the makers of Agent Orange to the Tanning Salon Owners of America. …"

With a growing reputation as a smart and aggressive lawyer, Richard Berman became director of labor law with the United States Chamber of Commerce in 1972—a job he held for two years until taking a job as senior vice president for the Steak and Ale restaurant chain, owned by Norman Brinker, who would become Berman’s mentor.

An exploiter. A scoundrel.  …  He props up fast food/soda/factory farming/childhood obesity and diabetes/drunk driving/secondhand smoke.

In 1984, Berman was hired by the Dallas-based Pillsbury Restaurant group, which had bought Steak and Ale in 1976.  In 1986, he started Continuous Education Inc., with Pillsbury and his mentor’s company, Brinker International, as his clients.  (He would change his company’s name to Berman and Co. when he moved the operation to Washington in 1992.) Brinker would become an officer and contributor to some of Berman’s non-profits, according to press reports.

Meat

It is only logical that one of Berman’s most recent targets is The Humane Society of the United States, the animal welfare charity that has grown significantly in recent years, mostly through mergers and acquisitions, and has become increasingly aggressive on several fronts in its opposition of the methods and practices of country’s agricultural and food industry.  One of its main targets has been the country’s powerful agribusiness sector, and specifically what The HSUS considers inhumane factory farming conditions.


VIDEO: Berman drives away in his Bentley.

Since 1990, The HSUS has played a central role in a couple of dozen of state ballot measures, most notably Proposition 2 in California, the third such anti-factory faming measure that stopped the intensive confinement of millions of farm animals.  Other initiatives halted use of gestation crates to house breeding sows in Florida, as well as gestation and veal crates in Arizona. On another front, The HSUS has prompted the passage of hundreds of state and federal animal protection laws.

Berman’s answer: In February, he launched Humane Watch, a CCF-funded website dedicated specifically to “keeping a watchful eye on the Humane Society of the United States.”   The website consists essentially of daily blog entries taking aim at various HSUS officials and functions.

Its author is David Martosko, who is also employed by Berman and Co. as its director of research.  In his biography posted on the website, he says this:

For the uninitiated, animal "welfare" is the position that says we should be concerned about animals' well being, and protect them from needless pain and suffering. At the same time, it's perfectly acceptable to use animals for food, clothing, research, entertainment, recreation, and such. But animals are not people. And when the needs of our species clash with those of another, humans come first.

HSUS President Pacelle said it is not difficult to understand the Bermans of the world: “We’re the biggest threat to large-scale cruelty,” he said. “He’s a front-man for industries perpetrating animal abuse.”

Martosko also declined to be interviewed, but on April 28, he attended the Animal Ag Alliance Stakeholder Summit and offered this advice to the industry:  

"They’re going to come after you with animal welfare actions and lawsuits and with regulations that are going to squeeze you with smaller profit margins, he said. “HSUS is a powerful brand name. … You need to find a way to diminish their moral authority.  You need to find a way to go toe-to-toe with them and win on the issues. Right now, they’re outclassing you in public approval because they wear the white hat.”

Pacelle said HSUS has no design to cripple agribusiness; it just wants to put an end to its most egregious practices.

“The only reason there is conflict on some agriculture practices is that factory farmers insist on treating animals like production machines -- keeping some farm animals in a near-constant state of immobilization and subjecting them to inhumane transport and slaughter,” he said. “If the industry corrected these problems, then this tension would not exist.”

» continue to page 4 of this investigative report 
» click through to pages 1, 2, 3, 4
» get a pdf of the full report

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