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PR Watch Exposes "Anti-Organic" Center for Consumer Freedom

7/2/2003

Web Note: One of the most vicious corporate front groups in America is the so-called Center for Consumer Freedom, which specializes in attacking the organic movement and public interest groups opposed to genetic engineering and industrial agriculture.

The Organic Consumers Association and our allies have been frequent targets for the CCF over the past few years. OCA's public interest ally PR Watch

has published an excellent expose of CCF and its founder and chief propagandist, Rick Berman. Among CCF's major funders are Coca-Cola, Cargill, Tyson Foods, and Monsanto.

See http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Center_for_Consumer_Freedom

Center for Consumer Freedom From Disinfopedia, the encyclopedia of propaganda.

The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) (formerly called the "Guest Choice Network") is a front group for the restaurant, alcohol and tobacco industries. It runs media campaigns which oppose the efforts of scientists, doctors, health advocates, environmentalists and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, calling them "the Nanny Culture the growing fraternity of food cops, health care enforcers, anti-meat activists, and meddling bureaucrats who 'know what's best for you.'" CCF is one of the more active of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman.

Based in Washington, DC, Berman & Co. represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. The group actively opposes smoking bans and lowering the legal blood-alcohol level, while targeting studies on the dangers of red meat consumption, overfishing and pesticides. Each year they give out the "nanny awards" to groups who, according to them, try to tell consumers how to live their lives.

Anyone who criticizes tobacco, alcohol, fatty foods or soda pop is likely to come under attack from CCF. Its enemies list has included such diverse groups and individuals as the Alliance of American Insurers; the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons; the American Medical Association; the Arthritis Foundation; the Consumer Federation of America; New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; the Harvard School of Public Health; the Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems; the National Association of High School Principals; the National Safety Council; the National Transportation Safety Board; the Office of Highway Safety for the state of Georgia; Ralph Nader's group, Public Citizen; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In a 1999 interview with the Chain Leader, a trade publication for restaurant chains, Berman boasted that he attacks activists more aggressively than other lobbyists. "We always have a knife in our teeth," he said. Since activists "drive consumer behavior on meat, alcohol, fat, sugar, tobacco and caffeine," his strategy is "to shoot the messenger. ... We've got to attack their credibility as spokespersons." In a May 11, 2002 San Francisco Chronicle article, CCF spokesman John Doyle responded to questions about nationwide radio ads put out by the group.

He said the ads were meant 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."[1] (http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/a/2002/05/11/MN119037.DT L) Personnel CCF is registered as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization.

The IRS Form 990 filed for the the six-month period from July to December 1999 by CCF (then calling itself the Guest Choice Network), listed the following officers: Richard Berman, executive director. Ray Kraftson, director Dixie L. Berman, secretary/treasurer Dan Popeo, director (Popeo is also chairman of the Washington Legal Foundation, a corporate-funded right-wing think tank which paid him $301,593 in salary and benefits in 2000.) Allison Whitesides, director (Whitesides has also worked as a public relations representative for Coca-Cola North America and Outback Steakhouse.. In November 2001, she went to work as a legislative representative for the National Restaurant Association.) The CCF also has an advisory panel. In 1998 it included the following individuals: Dave Albright, National Steak & Poultry Jane Innes, Perkins Family Restaurants, L.P. Steve Bartlett, Meridian Products Corporation Robert Basham, Outback Steakhouse, Inc. John F. Berglund, Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association Lou Chatey, Sebastiani Vineyards [[H.A. "Andy" Divine]], University of Denver Timothy J. Doke, Brinker International, Inc. Richard Fisher, Tetley USA, Inc. William L. Hyde, Jr., Ruth's Chris Steakhouse James Spector, Philip Morris, USA Michael Middleton, Cargill Processed Meat Products Daniel J. Popeo, Washington Legal Foundation Richard G. Scalise, Armour Swift-Eckrich Daniel Timm, the Bruss Company Carl Vogt, Fulbright & Jaworski Richard Walsh, Darden Restaurants, Inc. Terry Wheatley, Sutter Home Winery In addition to these officers, several Berman & Co. employees and associates have appeared in news stories as CCF representatives: Mike Burita has worked for a variety of conservative causes, including Republican election campaigns, Phyllis Schlafly, Frontiers of Freedom, and Brent Bozell's Media Research Center. John Doyle, communications director for Berman & Co., also doubles as a spokesman for the CCF, the Employment Policies Institute and the American Beverage Institute. On February 24, 2000, the Washington Post reported that Tom Lauria, "who helped peddle the tobacco industry's message at the Tobacco Institute before the lobby group was dismantled last year as part of an agreement with the states," had been hired as director of communications for CCN (then named the Guest Choice Network). Lauria left Berman's employ sometime in 2001. David Martosko has been described in news stories as CCN's director of research.

Affiliated Organizations In addition to the Center for Consumer Freedom, Berman & Co. sponsors several other organizations and web sites, including the Employment Policies Institute (which fights to keep the minimum wage low and opposes mandatory health insurance for workers), and the American Beverage Institute, which opposes restrictions on drinking and driving. History Berman launched the Guest Choice Network in 1995.

Its initial funding came entirely from the Philip Morris tobacco company. "I'd lke to propose to Philip Morris the establishment of the Guest Choice Network," Berman stated in a December 11, 1995 letter to Barbara Trach (http://www.prwatch.org/documents/berman/berman600k.pdf), PM's senior program manager for public affairs. "The concept is 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. ... I would like to solicit Philip Morris for an initial contribution of $600,000." The purpose of the Guest Choice Network, as Berman explained in a separate planning document (http://www.prwatch.org/documents/berman/gcplan.pdf), would be to enlist operators of "restaurants, hotels, casinos, bowling alleys, taverns, stadiums, and university hospitality educators" to "support mentality of 'smokers rights' by encouraging responsibility to protect 'guest choice.'"

According to a yearend 1995 budget (http://www.prwatch.org/documents/berman/budget.pdf), Guest Choice planned to spend $1.5 million during its first 13 months of operation, including $390,000 for "membership marketing/materials development," $430,000 to establish a communication center and newsletter (which Berman promised would have a "60% to 70% smoking focus" (http://www.prwatch.org/documents/berman/gcplan.pdf)), $110,000 to create a "multi-industry advisory council," and $345,000 for "grassroots network development/operation." The tobacco company complied with Berman's initial funding request for $600,000 (http://www.prwatch.org/documents/berman/pm600k.pdf) and pitched in another $300,000 early the following year. "As of this writing, PM USA is still the only contributor, though Berman continues to promise others any day now," wrote Philip Morris attorney Marty Barrington in an internal company memorandum dated March 28, 1996 (http://www.prwatch.org/documents/berman/pm300k.pdf). Aside from Philip Morris, there are no other publicly-known funders of Guest Choice until its public launch two years later, in April 1998, sporting an advisory board comprised mostly of representatives from the restaurant, meat and alcoholic beverage industries.

In November 2001, the Guest Choice Network launched a separate web site, ActivistCash.com, which purports to expose the "hidden funding" of various activist groups that support animal rights, food safety and smoking prevention. In January 2002 the Guest Choice Network renamed itself as the Center for Consumer Freedom. In early 2002, CCF ran national radio ads targeting studies on the link between food consumption and health. One ad referred to "red-faced picketers wielding pointed wooden sticks with signs that read 'eat tofu or die' on the way to your classic cheeseburger and fries."

Funding CCF is registered as tax-exempt nonprofit organization and is required to disclose some financial information to the Internal Revenue Service which is publicly available by inspecting their IRS Form 990s. Like Berman's other front groups, it does not disclose the identity of its funders, but some information about it has become publicly available thanks to the 1998 attorney generals' settlement with the tobacco industry, which required tobacco companies to release millions of pages of previously secret company documents. CCN claims to represent "more than 30,000 U.S. restaurants and tavern operators."

However, the IRS Form 990 which it filed for the the six-month period from July to December 1999 (under the name of "Guest Choice Network") shows that almost all of its financial support came from a handful of anonymous sources. Its total income for that period was $111,642, of which $105,000 came from six unnamed donors. It received no income from membership dues. Some of its funding apparently came from one of Berman's other organizations, the American Beverage Institute, which "contributes monthly amounts to the Guest Choice Network to assist with media expenses."

The Guest Choice Network did not report paying salaries to any of its employees, who were presumably paid by Berman & Co. CCF's Form 990 for the year 2000 showed total income of $514,321, almost all of which ($492,500) came from seven unnamed donors. Once again, it received no income from membership dues and did not report paying salaries to any employees. However, it did list $256,077 in compensation paid to Berman and Co., Inc., for "management services." Through a whistleblower, the Center for Media and Democracy (http://www.prwatch.org) has obtained the following information about corporate contributions to the Guest Choice Network/CCF: Pre-2001 Contributions See Disinfopedia website http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Center_for_Consumer_Freedom 2001 Contributions See Disinfopedia website http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Center_for_Consumer_Freedom 2002 Contributions See Disinfopedia website http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Center_for_Consumer_Freedom Contact Information Like other Berman & Co. front groups, CCF is headquartered at the following address: Berman & Co. 1775 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 1200 Washington, DC 20006 Phone: (202) 463-7110 FAX: (202) 463-7107 Email: rberman@new-reality.com Websites: http://www.activistcash.com http://www.consumerfreedom.com http://www.cspinot.org http://www.guestchoice.com Related Disinfopedia Articles Berman & Co. Rick Berman ActivistCash.com A Visit to the ActivistCash.Com Web Site American Beverage Institute Employment Policies Institute Employment Roundtable Retrieved from "http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Center_for_Consumer_Freedom" It was last modified 00:37 23 Jun 2003.

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