This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
ActivistCash.com is a web site affiliated with the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a front group for the restaurant, alcohol and tobacco industries. ActivistCash.com was launched in November 2001. For more, see the SourceWatch article on A visit to the ActivistCash.com web site.
ActivistCash.com was 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.
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."
ActivistCash.com was established for precisely this purpose. It attempts to discredit activists by suggesting that there is something disreputable about the money they have received from foundations.
It states that its mission is to expose "where anti-consumer organizations and activists get their money." It attacks activists as "nannies," "anti-choice zealots" and "hypocrites" who pretend to represent grassroots citizens while taking money from foundations. How are activists "anti-choice" or "anti-consumer"? According to ActivistCash, they have a hidden agenda aimed at eliminating your right to eat, drink and smoke as you please in restaurants, hotels and taverns.
ActivistCash claims to be "committed to 100 percent accuracy," and while the facts presented on the site are generally correct, they are accompanied by pointed arguments. One good example of this reads: "And the lion’s share of [Greenpeace's] budget in recent years has gone to outrageous attempts to smear agricultural biotech products and place doubts about the safety of genetically improved foods in the minds of American consumers."
In reality, none of the information that ActivistCash "exposes" has ever been hidden. It is available in public foundation reports and IRS tax statements that nonprofit organizations make available to anyone who asks. Most of the funding data in the ActivistCash database can already be found in public libraries or downloaded via the Internet. ActivistCash.com simply makes the data more easily accessible from it's website. Nonprofit organizations are not required to disclose the names of specific individual or institutional donors, but most of the organizations attacked by ActivistCash have gone beyond the requirements of the law in providing the information which ActivistCash is now using to attack them.
Even though ActivistCash states that its mission is to find out "where anti-consumer organizations and activists get their money," it keeps the details of its own finances hidden, obscuring the fact that its funding comes from industries that share a vested interest in attacking activists--particularly the tobacco and alcohol lobbies, as well as restaurant chains and taverns that want to keep employee wages low, avoid paying health insurance, and drive up sales of their high-markup products: booze, soda pop, fatty foods and cigarettes.
ActivistCash.com discloses its finacial ties to the Center for Consumer Freedom on it's website.  While it states that it "is supported by restaurants, food companies and more than 1,000 concerned individuals. From farm to fork, our friends and supporters include businesses, employees and consumers" it provides no details of the specific corporate contributors. Nor does it indicate if there are specific contributors for the ActivistCash.com site.
While CCF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group, it is not required to disclose details of funders in the publicly available annual returns lodged with the Internal Revenue Service.
CCF claims that the secrecy of contributors is justified on the grounds that "many of the companies and individuals who support the Center financially have indicated that they want anonymity as contributors. They are reasonably apprehensive about privacy and safety in light of the violence some activist groups have adopted as a "game plan" to impose their views." 
Related SourceWatch Articles
- Berman & Co.
- Rick Berman
- Center for Consumer Freedom
- American Beverage Institute
- Employment Policies Institute
- Employment Roundtable
- Mark Matthews, Lobbyists Hide Behind Non-Profit Fronts, KGO TV, San Francisco, CA, May 3, 2006
|Search the Documents Archives of the Tobacco Industry|
|Legacy Tobacco Documents Library:|