Is the Humane Society Bad for Puppies? This Man Wants You to Think So

Sneaky tactics in a feud between a Washington lobbyist and a storied animal rights group

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Ina Fassbender/REUTERS

Sharpa-Pei dog 'Pasha' (L) plays with a Golden Retriever

Corrections appended, Aug. 15 and 19

Over 9,500 people enter the DC Metro system via Union Station every weekday before 9:30 am. This month, incoming commuters were met by bright, mounted advertisements featuring perturbed-looking cats and dogs alongside phrases like “She’s pissed”, and “WTF?” Each read, “The Humane Society of the United States only gives 1% of its budget to local pet shelters.” Bearing the name HumaneWatch.org, this catchy campaign was only the latest low blow in a longstanding feud between the Center for Consumer Freedom and the Humane Society of the United States.

HumaneWatch.org is not an animal advocacy site. It is funded by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a nonprofit organization directed by Richard Berman, a notorious Washington public relations executive and former lobbyist. Founded with money from cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris in 1996, the CCF was originally created to promote smoker’s rights in the restaurant and hospitality industries. It has since expanded its causes to include the advancement of meat consumption, countering scientific evidence on the dangers of mercury and high fructose corn syrup, and a number of other unpopular crusades.

Richard Berman’s preferred method of campaigning is the creation of themed nonprofits and websites for each cause. Unionfacts.com attacks labor groups and encourages workers not to unionize; petakillsanimals.com attacks the animal rights group for euthanizing pets in its shelters; and thenewprohibition.com targets organizations like the American Medical Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving for supporting a lower threshold for the legal blood alcohol concentration while driving.

The CCF’s campaign against the Humane Society began in early 2010 when HumaneWatch.org sponsored an ad in the New York Times claiming, “The dog-watchers need a watchdog.” In the following months, the group took out ad space in USA TodayVariety and The Wall Street Journal. “Sixty percent of the public believes that most of HSUS’s money is going to local shelters,” CCF Director Richard Berman told TIME. “My goal is to see to it that people who want to support pet shelter organizations give their money locally, and if they want to support the agenda of the Humane Society of the United States that they be fully apprised to the fact that that agenda is not about the local shelters.”

Eventually, however, the Humane Society started fighting back. In May 2010 the group sent an undercover journalist into Berman’s Washington public relations firm. “If charity does indeed begin at home, in the case of Richard Berman, it starts in a $3 million, 8,800-square-foot mansion he shares with his second wife in McLean, Va.,” reads the resulting report.  The document quotes Naomi Seligman, formerly of the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, calling Berman “scum extraordinaire.” It also includes video clips of him leaving his office in a Bentley.

Just after the report was published, the Humane Society and Mothers Against Drunk Driving filed an unsuccessful complaint with the New York Commission on Public Integrity claiming that the American Beverage Institute—one of Berman’s nonprofits—was actually an unregistered lobbyist group. A few months later, HumaneWatch.org bought an ad in the New York Times saying that Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society’s CEO, approved of Michael Vick owning a pet dog. In 2011, after Berman started an animal welfare charity called the “Humane Society for Shelter Pets,” Pacelle called him “the king of charity fraud” and a “Beltway con artist” in a blog post.

Berman told TIME that by the end of that year, he was fed up with the Humane Society’s personal attacks. On January 4, 2012, he sent a memorandum to the organization’s board threatening to sue for slander. “While the prospect of pursuing legal action against HSUS for Mr. Pacelle’s indefensible activities is something I wish to avoid, I reserve my right to pursue legal action should Mr. Pacelle continue to harass, defame, and libel me personally and my organization,” he wrote.

The Humane Society responded by filing an IRS complaint against the CCF in 2012, which still has not resulted in any action against Berman or his company. The complaint alleged that Berman used nonprofit laws to further the interests of his corporate clients. It also included evidence suggesting that most of the money in his charities went directly to his for-profit PR firm (hence, the $3 million house in McLean.)

Alan Heymann, the Humane Society’s Vice President of Communications, says that they believe the meat industry, which opposes the Humane Society’s vegetarian agenda and campaign against farm animal cruelty, is a primary supporter of the Center for Consumer Freedom. “It’s an organization that’s funded by those who benefit financially from keeping things the way they are for animals in the United States,” he told TIME. Berman says only a small portion of the CCF’s funding comes from agriculture companies. “Many of the companies and individuals who support the [CCF] financially have indicated that they want anonymity as contributors. They are reasonably apprehensive about privacy and safety in light of the violence and other forms of aggression some activists have adopted as a ‘game plan’ to impose their views, so we respect their wishes,” reads the CCF website. Contributors’ names are absent from the group’s 990 forms, which Berman has claimed protects them from opponents “with a violent side.”

Though his nonprofits’ financial statements may not be transparent, Berman’s affiliations are clear. He told TIME that a small amount of the funds he put into the film “Your Mommy Kills Animals”—which originally intended to discredit PETA—came from Hormel Foods. In 2012, Bloomberg News reported that Smithfield Foods Inc., a pork processor, hired him when they needed to stop a union uprising at a plant. Berman says he regularly consults with companies on labor issues because of his labor law background. Wendy’s International has admitted to supporting Berman at one point but does not reveal a current relationship. Nation’s Restaurant News called him “an industry Doberman” in 2007, and he writes a monthly column for them on policy issues of interest to restaurateurs.

“The HSUS agenda is designed to raise the cost of producing animal protein and to more or less encourage people to eat vegetables as opposed to eating ham or eggs or steak,” Berman told TIME. His website reads, “The Center for Consumer Freedom is working hard to protect your right to have the truth about the activists who threaten your favorite foods…We cannot guarantee that we will put these lunatics out of business, but outrage is a powerful thing. As more Americans learn the truth, the PETAs and Greenpeaces of the world might find it harder to make ends meet.”

It is a battle for the ages. “What in my mind you have here is the classic tale of a Washington industry lobbyist versus a large and influential advocacy organization,” said the Humane Society’s Heymann.

But the battle is hard to follow from a metro train car. As one of Humane Watch’s Union Station ads says, “Read the Fine Print.” In basic terms, the feud between the Center for Consumer Freedom and the Humane Society of the United States is no different from any other slash and burn fight between two political rivals. Except in this case, both sides get to use images of cute puppies wearing glasses.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that HumaneWatch.org paid for the Union Station advertisements. In fact, the CCF paid for them. It also misstated that the CCF’s causes  included the advancement of trans fat use. The CCF’s trans fat project, which ended several years ago, criticized some tactics used to discourage trans fats; it did not promote their use. The article erroneously stated that the CCF represented the indoor tanning industry; it did not. The article also incorrectly suggested that the CCF paid for the websites unionfacts.com and thenewprohibition.com; those websites were created, respectively, by the Center for Union Facts and the American Beverage Institute, two different organizations directed by Berman, who was originally misidentified as a lobbyist. He has not been a registered lobbyist since 2005. The article also incorrectly described CREW as the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington; it is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. TIME regrets the errors.

 

156 comments
BarryLaws
BarryLaws

HSUS does not have a vegetarian agenda. If they did, they would not be supporting humane farmers who raise their livestock in humane conditions. The lie that "HSUS has a vegetarian/vegan agenda" comes straight from the Center for Consumer Freedom. Although HSUS would rather see people adopt vegetarianism or veganism, they know that promoting militant vegetarianism/veganism will not win the hearts and minds of the masses.

Other than that, an excellent article.

SarahTwining
SarahTwining

Caroline Kelley, you are a talented journalist and sound like an animal lover.  I would advise you to read up on how the Humane Society of the United States really operates.  You can be an HSUS critic without having any relation with Rick Berman's groups.  In fact, countless animal advocates and former HSUS members have become HSUS biggest and most informed critics.  Suggested Reading:  "Misguided Aims, Dubious Claims" by Jake Geis, Douglas Anthony Cooper's Huffington Post articles on HSUS (Michael Vick Adopted A What? Will HSUS Make A Killing Off Hurricane Sandy?, etc.) Terrmerman's (Direct Mail Economics of the Humane Movement, Free Speech or Subsidized Speech, and HSUS's Jumbo Problem" and more) the Yes Biscuit blog (HSUS tags), "Betrayal and Deceit at the HSUS" by Nathan Winograd,  the Humane Farming Association take on HSUS's "Rotten Egg Bill," pet columnist Steve Dale's articles on HSUS, "  and whatever else comes up while learning the truth about this Charity Watch D rated organization.

HSUS is great at pitching stories to the media.  Don't buy what they are selling.

JohnDopplerSchiff
JohnDopplerSchiff

"You can be an HSUS critic without having any relation with Rick Berman's groups."

Apparently, you can't.  Everything you've spouted comes directly from Berman's lips.

Ms. Kelley is perfectly capable of doing her own objective research, and knows a smear campaign when she sees it.  She certainly doesn't need tips from propagandists with an anti-animal agenda.

AmandaKatz
AmandaKatz

Hmmm, here we have a Winobot spouting the lies of a smear campaign funded by factory farmers, puppy millers and circus freaks.  Looks to me like you are all in bed together.

JohnDopplerSchiff
JohnDopplerSchiff

Apparently, Rick Berman tried to silence Time by threatening a lawsuit, as he has done to shelters, rescues, bloggers, and activists who have exposed his lies in the past.  Really?  The ads were paid for by Center for Consumer Freedom, and not HumaneWatch?  They are the *same entity*, as listed on CCF's Form 990 tax returns.

Berman can nitpick all he wants by pretending that his phony nonprofits are not the same organization, but every one of his scams are run by Berman and Company, every one of them has the same address and staff, and every one is directed by Richard Berman.  

And every one of them funnels "nonprofit" donations into Berman's pockets.

http://stophumanewatch.org/blog/web-of-lies/

You're not fooling anyone, Berman.  And you're not silencing the truth.

AmandaKatz
AmandaKatz

@JohnDopplerSchiffWhat a surprise.  This is the same Rick Berman who wrote threatening legal letters to half a dozen shelter directors when they published blogs that called him out for what he is -- a front group kingpin paid by the factory farming, puppy mill and circus industries to wage a smear campaign.  I wouldn't expect him to stop with Time Magazine either.  He's tried his best to silence these folks too - http://bermanexposed.org/

JohnDopplerSchiff
JohnDopplerSchiff

Berman sent threats to Washington Animal Rescue League, Ecorazzi, Ohmidog,com, Humane Society of Berks County, Richmond SPCA, and others in an attempt to censor the fact that he was behind a phony "shelter" group called "Humane Society for Shelter Pets".

Berman and his lawyers were unsuccessful in silencing the truth.  The following year, HSSP's Form 990 tax returns showed Berman's address on them, and the appalling fact that HSSP had paid more than $750,000.00 to Berman and his web of front groups, but $0.00 to shelters.

And he has the audacity to whine that he's being "harassed"?!  Poor baby.

SarahTwining
SarahTwining

@JohnDopplerSchiff 

HSUS hired former Animal Liberation Front lunatic and high-school dropout J.P. Goodwin 15 years ago, despite his long arrest record and conviction for economic sabotage of fur retailers and fur farms.  Goodwin signed the fraudulent Faye/Fay fundraising letter in 2009, inspiring the article "Betrayal and Deceit at the Humane Society of the United States" by Nathan Winograd, one of their countless critics in the animal welfare field.  Google "John Goodwin Wilkes County massacre" for more info about this extremist.  Matt Prescott, another top HSUS activist, created the "Holocaust on Your Plate" campaign and traveling road show while at PETA.  He has a right to view meat eaters as morally equivalent to Nazis, but lying to the Holocaust Museum in order to obtain images of starving and dead Holocaust victims (juxtaposed to images of farm animals) is unforgivable.  He has never apologized for the pain he caused survivors and the justifiable anger and sense of betrayal expressed by the Holocaust Museum.

HSUS not only recruits from PETA, HSUS recruits the most radical activists from that group. 

JohnDopplerSchiff
JohnDopplerSchiff

Ah, yes, it's truly bizarre that people interested in animal welfare might have worked for two different animal welfare organizations, isn't it?  Because people in the a particular field never take another job in the same field.

Truly mindblowing!

As for the rest of your cut and paste propaganda, it's the usual innuendo and misrepresentations straight out of Richard Berman's smear campaign -- regurgitated by your messiah Nathan, this time, and eagerly lapped up by puppy mill apologists.

Spare us your noise, Sarah, we've heard it before.

AmandaKatz
AmandaKatz

Yeah, let's listed to two supposed scientists who can't do the most basic of google research for themselves to choose to repeat misinformation from a smear campaign paid for by factory farmers, puppy millers and circus freaks.  Makes me think maybe animal Mengeles are paying Berman too.