‘Dr. Evil’ takes on ACORN


Beneath the “voter fraud” campaign lies Rick Berman.

SourceWatch’s rundown:

Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman, represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. Berman & Co. lobbies for companies such as Cracker Barrel, Hooters, International House of Pancakes, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Steak & Ale, TGI Friday’s, Uno’s Restaurants, and Wendy’s. It also operates a network of several front groups, web sites, and think tanks that work to keep wages low for restaurants and to block legislation on food safety, secondhand cigarette smoke, and drunk driving.

Berman told a trade magazine for restaurant chains: “In effect, our work is restricted to and focused on issues that affect shareholder value. These big issues include labor costs as they relate to health insurance and the minimum wage. . . . Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger. Given the activists’ plans to alarm beyond all reason, we’ve got to attack their credibility as spokespersons. . . . We always have a knife in our teeth.”

60 Minutes 2007 segment “Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. ‘Dr. Evil’ “:

“In the end, Berman says it’s all about ‘shooting the messenger.’

” ‘Shooting the messenger means getting people to understand that this messenger is not as credible as their name would suggest,’ Berman says.

While those tactics have made him rich and powerful, they have also made him mightily unpopular. Even in a mudslinging city like Washington, it’s difficult to find someone who provokes as much venom as Rick Berman.

” ‘He’s a one-man goon squad for any company that’s willing to hire him,’ says Dr. Michael Jacobson, who heads the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a healthy food advocacy group. Jacobson has been the point man in the ‘food wars’ for decades.”

Berman is accomplished at “creating a political action group that tries to mislead voters, in part by pretending to be an aggrieved grass-roots movement” (Willamette Week, May 28, 2008):

Last Thursday, May 22, a roguish outfit calling itself the Employee Freedom Action Committee ran full-page ads . . . in the Oregonian and Eugene Register-Guard to begin the post-election assault on Jeff Merkley, who two days earlier won the Democratic contest to challenge U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). . . .

Washington, D.C.-based Employee Freedom is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which means it does not need to disclose its funding sources. The group is headquartered in the office of D.C. lobbyist Richard Berman, who has a history of setting up groups for the tobacco and booze industries, as well as anti-union employers.

Now, back to the Berman’s Employment Policies Institute. The 2006 tax return for its foundation shows that Berman, as executive director, worked an average of 14 hours a week and was paid $5,000.

Pretty damn selfless. And Berman & Company, of which he owns 100 percent, spent one hour a week as the institute’s management company. Berman’s company, however, got paid. It took home almost $700,000 in compensation and more than $300,000 in health benefits and deferred compensation, according to tax records.

The institute itself works 24/7. The 2006 tax records show that it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertisements with circulation leaders Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, and Metro Networks (which buys broadcast time). Those are just the top four media outlets on which Berman’s outfit spent money.

And what were the accomplishments of his nonprofit “institute”? The tax records say:

“Published information in approximately 77 media outreach campaigns (including 39 press releases and 10 opinion editorials) on issues that affect entry-level employment. Also distributed 28 letters to the editor regarding the same. Media outreach also resulted in 18 television appearances and 20 radio programs.”

Berman’s empire, according to IRS records, also includes the FirstJobs Institute, which produces “public-service” ads and more than a million coasters a year. From the tax records:

While Sarah Palin sneers at Barack Obama‘s links to evil community activists like ACORN, Rick Berman puts business money where her mouth is.