Richard B. Berman (born 1942) is a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, public relations executive, and lobbyist. Through his public affairs firm Berman and Company, Berman runs several industry-funded non-profit organizations such as the Center for Consumer Freedom and the Center for Union Facts. Berman's organizations have run numerous media campaigns on the issues of obesity, smoking, mad cow disease, taxes, the national debt, drinking and driving, as well as the minimum wage. 60 Minutes has called him "the booze and food industries' weapon of mass destruction," labor union activist Richard Bensinger gave him the nickname "Dr. Evil," and Michael Kranish of the Boston Globe has dubbed him a “pioneer” in the “realm of opinion molding.”
Berman grew up in New York City. His father ran gas stations and car washes. Berman did general labor at these businesses on weekends and summers while he was growing up. He attended Transylvania University. After graduating from college in 1964, Berman went on to William and Mary School of Law and was class of 1967.
After graduating from law school, Berman worked as a labor law attorney for Bethlehem Steel, and from 1969 to 1972 he served as a corporate lawyer for Dana Corporation, an automotive parts company in Toledo, Ohio. From 1972 to 1974 he was employed as labor law director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.
He moved into the food and beverage industry in 1975 under the mentorship of Norman Brinker, founder and owner of the Steak & Ale chain of restaurants. Berman started a government affairs program, launched his first PAC for Brinker, and worked there until 1984. He served as executive vice president of Pillsbury Restaurant Group from 1984 to 1986. In 1986, he formed Berman and Company. In 1991, he created the Employment Policies Institute to research entry-level work issues and argue "the importance of minimum wage jobs for the poor and uneducated." In practice, this translated to opposing minimum wage hikes on the theory that they would reduce employment. In 1996, Berman was funded by tobacco giant Phillip Morris to fight the movement to add non-smoking sections in restaurants.
In the 1990s, Berman was the president of Beverage Retailers Against Drunk Driving (BRADD), an organization formed to combat Mothers Against Drunk Driving. As president, he argued for "tolerance of social drinking." He has also worked as a consultant for the Minimum Wage Coalition to Save Jobs.
Organizations managed by Berman
As of May 2009, Berman was the sole owner and executive director of Berman and Company, a for-profit management firm that ran fifteen corporate-funded groups. He has held at least sixteen positions within these interlocking organizations. Just six of these nonprofits provide as much as 70% of Berman and Company's revenue.
Organizations founded and managed by Berman include:
- The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), originally named the Guest Choice Network (GCN). CCF serves as an advocate for restaurants, meat, dairy, food processors, and alcohol. The group was formed in 1995 with funding from tobacco giant Phillip Morris. CCF also runs the awareness campaigns HumaneWatch and PETA Kills Animals. These campaigns raise awareness that "The Humane Society of the United States gives less than one percent of the money it raises to local pet shelters", and that "PETA kills 89% of the adoptable dogs and cats in its care".
- The American Beverage Institute (ABI), which is opposed to laws intended to criminalize alcohol consumption, including the push to further lower existing blood-alcohol arrest thresholds. In May 2010, the Humane Society and MADD filed a complaint with the New York Commission on Public Integrity, charging that the American Beverage Institute was in fact lobbying but had failed to register with the state as lobbyists.
- The Employment Policies Institute (EPI), which is opposed to raising the minimum wage, particularly in the labor-intensive restaurant industry. It points to academic studies alleging that increases in the minimum wage lead to job losses, particularly among the poor and uneducated.
- The Center for Union Facts (CUF), which argues that unions are corrupt and bad for workers. They have run full-page ads in major print media outlets (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post) blaming trade unions for the bankruptcies of American industries. The CUF website purports that it is the largest online database of labor-union reporting on salaries, budgets, and political spending. Recently, they have produced TV ads alleging intimidation by trade unions. CUF is a non-profit; 2007 federal tax returns showed revenues of $2.5 million, with $840,000 being paid to Berman and Company for management services.
The CCF has challenged the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In late 2006, the company initiated a campaign to downplay the level of mercury in fish.
Though Berman and Company does not publicly name their clients, 60 Minutes obtained a list of companies that fund the Center for Consumer Freedom. Among the parties named have been The Coca-Cola Company, Tyson Foods, Outback Steakhouse, Wendy's International, Inc., Brinker International (parent company of Chili's and Macaroni Grill), Arby's, Hooters, and Red Lobster.
Berman's son is singer-songwriter David Berman of the indie rock band Silver Jews. Richard Berman and his son have been estranged since 2006, largely due to David's disapproval of his father's public relations work. In January 2009, David Berman posted an impassioned statement concerning this relationship on a message board owned by the Drag City record label, marking the first time that he had publicly confirmed that the lobbyist was actually his father.
- Website of the Center for Consumer Freedom
- Business Week magazine online, Feb 27, 2006
- USA Today article: "Got a nasty fight? Here's your man", USA Today, July 31, 2006.
- 60 Minutes episode: "Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. Dr. Evil".
- Warner, Melanie (6/12/2005). "Striking Back at the Food Police". New York Times. Retrieved 11/17/2011.
- Kranish, Michael (5/19/2013). "Washington’s robust market for attacks, half-truths". Boston Globe. Retrieved 11/4/2013.
- "America's Ruling Class Hall of Shame". Huffington Post. 9/22/2013. Retrieved 11/6/2013.
- NPR.org article: "Profile: Employee Freedom Action Committee".
- Richard B. Berman (1995). "RICHARD B. BERMAN (quk06c00)" (PDF). In Barbara Trach. Philip Morris (résumé). UCSF Library, Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. Archived from the original on 2002-12-09. Retrieved 2012-10-15.
- The Colbert Report - October 29, 2007: Richard Berman.
- CNN.com transcript: "CNN SUNDAY MORNING Interview With John Banzhaf, Richard Berman".
- Ken Silverstein (May 2009). "Corporate Front Man: Richard Berman manages the news on key labor-backed bill". Harper's Magazine.
- "Nonprofits Paying a For-Profit Firm". New York Times. 2010-06-17. Retrieved 2011-01-24. "Six nonprofits provide as much as 70 percent of revenues for Berman and Company. Many of the groups’ board members are current and former employees of the company."
- UCSF's Legacy Tobacco Documents Library records show an $800,000 check in December 1995 and a $200,000 check in May 1996 written to Guest Choice Network and Berman.
- Washington Post article: "The Escalating Obesity Wars: Nonprofit's Tactics, Funding Sources Spark Controversy".
- HumaneWatch.org website, maintained by the Center for Consumer Freedom.
- PETAKillsAnimals.com website, maintained by the Center for Consumer Freedom.
- "The Humane Society and big agriculture slug it out over animal rights". Riverfront Times. April 14, 2010.
- "The heartbreaking image that shows the reality of PETA's animal home: Garbage bags full of kittens killed by animal rights group". The Daily Mail. April 7, 2013.
- Who is Richard Berman? (1.2MB), Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
- Stephanie Strom (2010-06-17). "Nonprofit Advocate Carves Out a For-Profit Niche". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-24. "And since nonprofit groups do not have to disclose their donors, Mr. Berman’s groups offer an even more valuable asset — anonymity for companies that would rather their customers not know they are behind certain attacks."
- The American Prospect article: "Berman's Battle".
- Stereogum Jan 23, 2009
- Pitchfork Media article: "Silver Jews' David Berman calls it quits".
- Cohen, Jonathan. Silver Jews' David Berman Quitting Music, Billboard.com, January 23, 2009.
- MSNBC Rachel Maddow interviews Richard Berman
- 60 Minutes: Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. "Dr. Evil"
- USA Today article on Richard Berman
- Preview of BusinessWeek profile on Richard Berman
- Washington Post article
- Berman and Company website
- NYT: Nonprofit Advocate Carves Out a For-Profit Niche
- An anti-Berman website that lists his projects