Center for Consumer Freedom

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CCF.gif
Founded 1995
Founder Richard Berman
Type 501(c)(3)
Focus Represents the interests of restaurant and food companies
Location
Members
Companies and individuals[1]
Revenue
$1.5 Million [2][not in citation given]
Expenses $1.3 Million [2][not in citation given]
Slogan "Promoting Personal Responsibility and Protecting Consumer Choice"
Website www.consumerfreedom.com

The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), formerly the Guest Choice Network, is an American non-profit entity founded by Richard Berman that lobbies on behalf of the fast food, meat, alcohol and tobacco industries. It describes itself as "dedicated to protecting consumer choices and promoting common sense."[3] Experts on non-profit law have questioned the validity of CCF's non-profit status in the Chronicle of Philanthropy and other publications,[4][5] while commentators from Rachel Maddow to Michael Pollan have treated the group as an entity that specializes in astroturfing.[6]

CCF has attacked organizations including the Centers for Disease Control, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, The Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.[3]

In a document released by The New York Times on October 30, 2014, from a talk Berman gave to the Western Energy Alliance, Berman described the approach of his various organizations as one of "Win Ugly or Lose Pretty." He also reassured potential donors about the concern that they might be found out as supporters: "We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity."[7][8]

History and background[edit]

CCF was set up in 1995 by Richard Berman, owner of the public affairs firm Berman and Company, with $600,000 from the Philip Morris tobacco company to fight smoking curbs in restaurants. Berman told The Washington Post that CCF is now funded by a coalition of restaurant and food companies as well as some individuals;[3] according to the group's website it is supported by companies and individual consumers.[1] Sponsors as of 2005 were reported to include Brinker International, RTM Restaurant Group (the owner of Arby's), Tyson Foods, HMSHost Corp, and Wendy's.[3]

Guest Choice Network[edit]

The forerunner to the CCF was the Guest Choice Network, organized in 1995 by Berman with money from Philip Morris,[3] "to unite the restaurant and hospitality industries in a campaign to defend their consumers and marketing programs against attacks from anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-meat, etc. activists ..." According to Berman, the mission was to encourage operators of "restaurants, hotels, casinos, bowling alleys, taverns, stadiums, and university hospitality educators" to "support [the] mentality of 'smokers rights' by encouraging responsibility to protect 'guest choice.'"[9] In November 2001, the group launched a website, ActivistCash.com, which compiled information gathered from IRS documents and media reports, describing the funding and activities of groups it opposed, and listed key activists and celebrity links. In January 2002 the Guest Choice Network became the Center for Consumer Freedom, a change of name the group said reflected that "the anti-consumer forces [were] expanding their reach beyond restaurants and taverns [and] going into your communities and even your homes."[10] In 2013, CCF became the Center for Organizational Research and Education. [11]

Governance[edit]

In addition to Richard Berman, as of 2013, CCF directors included Joseph Kefauver, Daniel Mindus, David Browne, James Blackstock, Richard Verrechia, F. Lane Cardwell, and Nelson Marchioli.[12] The group is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and as such does not disclose the identity of its funders.[1] IRS records show that in 2013 CCF paid more than $750,000 to Berman and Company.[13]

Employees[edit]

Since 2011, the CCF's director of research is Will Coggin.[citation needed] Coggin replaced David Martosko, a former radio talk show producer who worked for The Daily Caller and is currently an editor for the Daily Mail.[14][15]

Its senior research analyst is Justin Wilson.[16]

Activities[edit]

In 2002 CCF spokesman John Doyle described nationwide radio ads put out by the group as efforts to attract people to their website and "draw attention to our enemies: just about every consumer and environmental group, chef, legislator or doctor who raises objections to things like pesticide use, genetic engineering of crops or antibiotic use in beef and poultry."[17]

CCF gave out annual "Tarnished Halo" awards to so-called "animal-rights zealots, celebrity busybodies, environmental scaremongers, self-appointed "public interest" advocates, trial lawyers, and other food activists",[18] and its Guest Choice Network affiliate gaveout the "Nanny Awards" to "food cops, anti-biotech activists, vegetarian scolds and meddling bureaucrats".[19][20][not in citation given][21]

The CCF criticized statistics used by nutrition groups to describe a global "obesity epidemic", and in 2005, it filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to a CDC study stating that 400,000 Americans die each year as a consequence of being obese.[22][not in citation given] After the CCF campaign CDC reduced its estimates to 112,000 annual deaths, leading the CCF to advertise widely that it had discredited the study.[3]

Activism websites[edit]

In addition to its own website, www.consumerfreedom.com, the CCF operates several dozen websites targeting organizations and agencies working on social issues including animal welfare, fair wages, transfats, drunken driving, sugar, labor union activities, and mercury content in fish.[23] One CCF-run site, ActivistCash.com, states it "provides the public and media with in-depth profiles of anti-consumer activist groups, along with information about the sources of what is called their exorbitant funding."[24][not in citation given] The site features generally negative profiles of various groups it believes oppose consumer freedom, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Greenpeace, The Humane Society of the United States, PETA, the Restaurant Opportunities Center and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It hosts "biographies" offering negative portrayals of key activists and celebrity supporters of various groups. The site reports what it states are links between profiled groups and extremism, and argues, in general, that the groups profiled hold extreme views that are contrary to the public interest. It states to have examined 500,000 IRS documents in its profiling, listing—for each group—major donors, income and expenditure, key supporters and connections with other groups.

Other CCF-run sites include HumaneWatch.org, PhysicianScam.com, Trans-FatFacts.com, Animalscam.com, Obesitymyths.com, and CSPIScam.com. MercuryFacts.com and FishScam.com contain a mercury calculator that offers an alternative calculation of amount of a fish that can be eaten before getting an unsafe dose of mercury, calculated as ten times the reference dose recommended by the EPA. The CCF has also claimed (counter to research findings) that dieting and meal tracking do not lead to weight loss,.[25]

PETA is also target of CCF advertising and publicity.[26][not in citation given] The Center for Consumer Freedom is publisher of the website PetaKillsAnimals.com,[27] which alleges People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals unnecessarily euthanizes animals in its care.[28]

Funding[edit]

Initial funding for the original Guest Choice Network organization came from Philip Morris, with the initial donation of $600,000 followed by a $300,000 donation the following year. Philip Morris attorney Marty Barrington wrote in a 1996 internal company memorandum: "As of this writing, PM USA is still the only contributor, though Berman continues to promise others any day now."[29] By December, 1996, supporters consisted of Alliance Gaming (slot machines), Anheuser-Busch (beer), Bruss Company (steaks and chops), Cargill Processed Meat Products, Davidoff (cigars), Harrah's (casinos), Overhill Farms (frozen foods), Philip Morris, and Standard Meat Company (steaks). The group's advisory panel comprised representatives from most of these companies, plus further representatives from the restaurant industry, including former Senator George McGovern, and Carl Vogt of law firm Fulbright & Jaworski.[30]

Acknowledged corporate donors to the CCF include Coca-Cola, Wendy's, Tyson Foods, Monsanto, and Pilgrim's Pride.[3][31][32][not in citation given] As of 2005, the CCF reported more than 1,000 individual donors[1][3] as well as approximately 100 corporate supporters.[31]

Criticism[edit]

Some of the CCF's various critics fight back. Labor groups pushing to increase the minimum wage have taken a tough line against Berman and his clients.[33] The Humane Society of the United States, has carried out its own investigations of CCF and founder Richard Berman, and filed complaints about CCF with the IRS.[34][35] Together, MADD and HSUS filed a complaint against Berman and Company, Berman's firm, with the New York Commission on Public Integrity.[36] CCF has filed its own complaint with the IRS against HSUS.[37]

PETA created a website to counter the charges of Berman and CCF.[38] Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has responded "If you are in the business of putting veal or beef on the tables of America, and slaughtering more than a million animals per hour, and making an awful lot of money at it, you are going to try to neutralize PETA or other animal-rights groups"[39]

According to The Washington Post, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group, asked the Internal Revenue Service in 2005 to revoke CCF's tax-exempt status, alleging that Berman and his company had used CCF to direct over $7 million charitable money to himself and his company since 1997, an allegation Berman rejects.[3] In its complaint to the IRS, CREW attacked CCF's claims that its advocacy campaigns were "educational" in nature.[3][40][41] In March 2013, independent nonprofit evaluator Charity Navigator issued a Donor Advisory warning potential donors that "the majority of the Center for Consumer Freedom's program expenses are being directed to its CEO Richard Berman's for-profit management company, Berman and Company."[42] This mirrors the findings of Bloomberg News, which disclosed that from 2008 to 2010, Berman and Company was paid $15 million from donations to his five nonprofit organizations.[5]

The CCF has drawn criticism for having taken its startup funding from the Philip Morris tobacco company and for lobbying on behalf of the fast food, meat, and tobacco industries while claiming to represent consumers.[3][43][44][45][46][not in citation given]

Some commentators have questioned the CCF's ethics and legitimacy. A USA Today journalist said that they should change the name of their website to FatForProfit.com.[47] Michael Pollan writes in his The New York Times blog that the CCF is an astroturf organization that works on behalf of large food companies to protect their ability to sell junk food.[6] It has also been criticized for its efforts to portray groups such as The Humane Society of the United States as "violent" and "extreme," and for its opposition to banning the use of trans fats.[48][49][50][51][52]

Jack Reilly, a onetime I.R.S. lawyer, told the "The New York Times" that he thought the Berman nonprofits could been seen as having been established to provide business for Mr. Berman’s firm, and thus were really commercial in nature.[36]

Some corporations, including PepsiCo and Kraft Foods, have declined to work with the CCF, saying they disagree with some of the group's arguments or with its approach to advocacy.[31]

Following a CCF call for a retraction of a The New York Times story about mercury levels in sushi as “bad science”, Newsweek senior editor Sharon Begley has criticized the CCF's interpretation of EPA statistics and critiques of FDA restrictions on tuna and other fish.[53]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "About Us". Center for Consumer Freedom. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "The Center For Organizational Research And Education". GuideStar. Retrieved May 2, 2015. (registration required (help)). 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Mayer, Caroline E.; Joyce, Amy (April 27, 2015). "The Escalating Obesity Wars". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  4. ^ Preston, Caroline (March 11, 2010). "Nonprofit Group Attacks Humane Society Over Spending of Donations" (PDF). The Chronicle Of Philanthropy XXII (8) (IPA Publishing Services). Retrieved May 2, 2015 – via HumaneSociety.org. 
  5. ^ a b Drajem, Mark; Wingfield, Brian (November 2, 2012). "Union Busting by Profiting From Non-Profit May Breach IRS". Bloomberg Business. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Pollan, Michael (June 4, 2006). "Attacks on the 'Food Police'". The New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  7. ^ "“Endless War” and Other Rallying Points". The New York Times. October 30, 2014. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  8. ^ Lipton, Eric (October 30, 2014). "Hard-Nosed Advice From Veteran Lobbyist: 'Win Ugly or Lose Pretty'; Richard Berman Energy Industry Talk Secretly Taped". The New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Letter from Rick Berman to Barbara Trach" (PDF). PR Watch. Center for Media and Democracy. April 11, 1995. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 17, 2009. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Guest Choice Network". Archived from the original on January 24, 2002. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  11. ^ Eilperin, Juliet (June 4, 2014). "The ad war over EPA’s climate rule has begun". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  12. ^ "2010 IRS Form 990" (PDF). The Center For Consumer Freedom. November 10, 2011. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  13. ^ Sargent, Greg (January 3, 2005). "Berman's Battle". The American Prospect. Archived from the original on December 5, 2010. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  14. ^ Rothstein, Betsy (July 20, 2011). "The Daily Caller Hires Glee Club Conductor With Rap Sheet as New Executive Editor". FishbowlDC. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  15. ^ Matthews, Mark (May 3, 2006). "Lobbyists Hide Behind Non-Profit Fronts". KGO-TV. Archived from the original on December 12, 2008. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  16. ^ "New York Nanny State of Mind: What will they try to ban next?". The Weekly Standard. April 14, 2010. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  17. ^ Ness, Carol (May 11, 2002). "Hand that feed bites back: Food industry forks over ad campaign to win hearts, stomachs". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  18. ^ "The Fifth Annual 'Tarnished Halo' Awards; PETA, California Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Among 'Best of the Worst'" (Press release). U.S. Newswire. January 13, 2006. 
  19. ^ "Food for Thought". The Center for Consumer Freedom. February 10, 2000. Archived from the original on May 25, 2006. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  20. ^ Gardner, Marilyn (February 9, 2000). "Protecting us from ourselves". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  21. ^ "The Guest Choice Network Presents the 3rd Annual 'Nanny' Awards" (Press release). PR Newswire. February 1, 2001. 
  22. ^ Berman, Rick (February 23, 2005). "Industry salivates over new cash cow". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on August 31, 2005. Retrieved May 2, 2015 – via The Center For Consumer Freedom. 
  23. ^ Olberding, Matt (February 14, 2014). "Farm and Food: Recall worse PR than anything anti-meat groups could conjure". Lincoln Star Journal. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  24. ^ "Activistcash.com". Center for Consumer Freedom. Archived from the original on November 29, 2011. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  25. ^ Rogers, Dick (July 20, 2008). "Name of organizations can be deceiving". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  26. ^ "Anti-PETA Ads Win Popular Acclaim". Center for Consumer Freedom. December 12, 2003. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  27. ^ "About Us: Peta Kills Animals". Center for Consumer Freedom. Archived from the original on December 15, 2007. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  28. ^ Saunders, Debra J. (June 23, 2005). "Better dead than fed, PETA says". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  29. ^ "Letter from Philip Morris attorney Marty Barrington citing initial funding for the CCF" (PDF). PR Watch. March 28, 1996. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 27, 2007. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  30. ^ "The Guest Choice Network Supporters; The Guest Choice Network Advisory Panel" (PDF). December 1, 1996. [dead link]
  31. ^ a b c Warner, Melanie (June 12, 2005). "Striking Back at the Food Police". The New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  32. ^ Barton, Paul (September 22, 2003). "Poultry firms side with lobbyist in PR battle with animal-welfare group". Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Archived from the original on October 15, 2007. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  33. ^ Greenhouse, Steven (January 16, 2014). "Advocates for Workers Raise the Ire of Business". The New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  34. ^ Beall, Pat (January 18, 2014). "Taking on the popular: 'Dr. Evil' targets Humane Society". Palm Beach Post. Retrieved May 2, 2015. (subscription required (help)). 
  35. ^ Kopf, Aleese (January 19, 2014). "Critical flier targets Humane Society gala, supporters". Palm Beach Daily News. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  36. ^ a b Strom, Stephanie (June 17, 2010). "Nonprofit Advocate Carves Out a For-Profit Niche". The New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  37. ^ Drajem, Mark (November 7, 2013). "Latest Salvo in Feud Targets Humane Society's Accounting". Bloomberg Business. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  38. ^ "PETA Saves Animals". PETA. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  39. ^ Sharkey, Joe (November 23, 2004). "Perennial Foes Meet Again in a Battle of the Snack Bar". The New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  40. ^ "CREW Files IRS Complaint Against The Center for Consumer Freedom Alleging Violations of Tax Exempt Status". Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. November 16, 2004. Archived from the original on December 22, 2005. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  41. ^ Lubove, Seth (September 23, 2005). "Food Fight". Forbes. Archived from the original on May 3, 2007. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  42. ^ "Center For Consumer Freedom". Charity Navigator. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  43. ^ Klinkenborg, Verlyn (July 24, 2005). "The Story Behind a New York Billboard and the Interests It Serves". The New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  44. ^ "Center for Consumer Freedom: Non-Profit or Corporate Shill?". The Humane Society of the United States. November 6, 2009. Archived from the original on March 31, 2010. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  45. ^ "Washington Report: American Beverage Institute Attacks RWJF". Center for Science in the Public Interest. May 2003. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  46. ^ "Physicians' Group Responds to Smear Tactics by Tobacco, Meat Industry Front Group". Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. June 23, 2006. Archived from the original on November 29, 2006. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  47. ^ "What's in a name?". USA Today. May 4, 2005. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  48. ^ "Center for Consumer Freedom". Americans' For Nonsmokers Rights. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  49. ^ Unti, Bernard (July 1, 2005). "Center for Consumer Freedom: Non-Profit or Corporate Shill?". The Humane Society of the United States. Archived from the original on October 17, 2005. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  50. ^ "About Trans Fat". The Center for Consumer Freedom. Archived from the original on December 24, 2006. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  51. ^ Lamb, Gregory M. (October 12, 2006). "Lead paint, cigarettes: Are trans fats next?". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  52. ^ Rosenblum, Jonathan (December 19, 2006). "Trans Fat Spin Doctors Chart Legislative Risks". PR Watch. The Center For Media And Democracy. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 
  53. ^ Begley, Sharon (January 24, 2008). "Would You Like Mercury With Your Sushi?". Newsweek. Archived from the original on January 26, 2008. Retrieved May 2, 2015. 

External links[edit]