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Richard Berman

Richard Berman is a Washington-based lobbyist. Through his public affairs firm Berman and Company, Berman runs several industry-funded non-profit organizations such as the Center for Consumer Freedom[1] and the Center for Union Facts.[2] Berman's companies have run numerous media campaigns downplaying the dangers of obesity, smoking, mad cow disease and drunk driving, as well as criticizing the minimum wage.[3][4]

60 Minutes has called him "the booze and food industries' weapon of mass destruction,"[4] and his nickname (from both friends and enemies) is "Dr. Evil",[4][3] an alias in which he takes pride.[4]

Contents

Early life

Berman grew up in New York City. His father was an entrepreneur who ran gas stations and car washes. Berman did general labor at these businesses on weekends and summers while he was growing up.

Career

After graduating from William and Mary School of Law in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1967, 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.[5]

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 the mid-1990s, Berman was funded by tobacco giant Phillip Morris to fight the movement to add non-smoking sections in restaurants.[3]

In the 1990s, Berman was the president of Beverage Retailers Against Drunk Driving (BRADD), an organization formed to combat Mothers Against Drunk Driving.[6] As president, he argued for "tolerance of social drinking."[6] He has also worked as a consultant for the Minimum Wage Coalition to Save Jobs.[6] In 1991, he created the Employment Policies Institute to argue "the importance of minimum wage jobs for the poor and uneducated."[6][7]

In recent years, Berman has appeared on 60 Minutes,[4] The Colbert Report,[8] and CNN[9] in support of his companies.

Organizations controlled by Berman, and clients

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 held at least sixteen positions within these interlocking organizations. [10]

Organizations controlled 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.[11][12]
  • The American Beverage Institute (ABI), which fights against laws increasingly designed to criminalize alcohol consumption, including the push to further raise existing blood-alcohol arrest thresholds.[13]
  • The Employment Policies Institute (EPI), which is opposed to raising the minimum wage, particularly in the labor-intensive restaurant industry.[13] It points to academic studies alleging that increases in the minimum wage lead to job losses, particularly among the poor and uneducated.[13] During an interview on the Rachel Maddow show Berman claimed the minimum wage was $50,000 per year, a blatant lie as the maximum possible yearly pay (using Washington state's $8.55/hour) for a standard 40 hour workweek is $17,784 *before* taxes.
  • The Center for Union Facts (CUF), which argues that unions are corrupt and bad for workers.[5] 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.[13] 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.[10]

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.[12] In late 2006, the company initiated a campaign to downplay the level of mercury in fish; their website encourages pregnant women to eat more fish (which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyā€ˇ have recommended against for years), and calls findings that don't support their claims "scare tactics."[14][15]

Though Berman and Company do not publicly name their clients, several of their identities have been outed to the press over the years. Among the parties named have been The Coca-Cola Company,[4] Tyson Foods,[4] Outback Steakhouse,[16][4] Wendy's International, Inc.,[4] Brinker International (parent company of Chili's and Macaroni Grill),[13] Arby's,[13] Hooters,[16] and Red Lobster.[16]

Personal

Berman's son is singer-songwriter David Berman of the indie rock band Silver Jews.[17][18] 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.[18][19]

References

  1. ^ Website of the Center for Consumer Freedom
  2. ^ Business Week magazine online, Feb 27, 2006
  3. ^ a b c USA Today article: "Got a nasty fight? Here's your man", USA Today, July 31, 2006.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i 60 Minutes episode: "Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. Dr. Evil".
  5. ^ a b NPR.org article: "Profile: Employee Freedom Action Committee".
  6. ^ a b c d PHILIP MORRIS USA INTER-OFFICE CORRESPONDENCE: Background for Meeting on 10/20/95, Re: Industry Leaders and The Accommodation Program.
  7. ^ http://www.epionline.org/
  8. ^ The Colbert Report - October 29, 2007: Richard Berman.
  9. ^ CNN.com transcript: "[http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0208/04/sm.23.html CNN SUNDAY MORNING Interview With John Banzhaf, Richard Berman]".
  10. ^ a b Ken Silverstein (May 2009). "Corporate Front Man: Richard Berman manages the news on key labor-backed bill". Harper's Magazine.  
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b Washington Post article: "The Escalating Obesity Wars: Nonprofit's Tactics, Funding Sources Spark Controversy".
  13. ^ a b c d e f Who is Richard Berman? (1.2MB), Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
  14. ^ Village Voice article: "Mercury in Fish? Baloney!".
  15. ^ FishScam.com website, maintained by the Center for Consumer Freedom.
  16. ^ a b c The American Prospect article: "Berman's Battle".
  17. ^ Stereogum Jan 23, 2009
  18. ^ a b Pitchfork Media article: "Silver Jews' David Berman calls it quits".
  19. ^ Cohen, Jonathan. Silver Jews' David Berman Quitting Music, Billboard.com, January 23, 2009.

Further reading

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