Center for Consumer Freedom
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on global corporations.
The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) (formerly called the "Guest Choice Network (GCN)") is a front group run by Rick Berman's PR firm Berman & Co. for the restaurant, alcohol, tobacco and other industries. It runs media campaigns which oppose the efforts of scientists, doctors, health advocates, animal 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 registered as a tax-exempt, non-profit organization under the IRS code 501(c)(3). Its advisory board is comprised mainly of representatives from the restaurant, meat and alcoholic beverage industries.
Overview & history
CCF is one of the more active of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman. A November 1, 2012 article in Bloomberg shows CCF in the following chart of non-profits created by Berman & Co. at the center of an IRS complaint filed in 2012 (used with permission):
Based in Washington, D.C., Berman & Co. represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. Hotels, motels, restaurants, bars and taverns together comprise the "hospitality industry," which has long been cultivated by the tobacco industry as a third party to help slow or stop the progression of smoke free laws. CCF actively opposes smoking bans and lowering the legal blood-alcohol level, while targeting studies on the dangers of meat & dairy, processed food, fatty foods, soda pop, pharmaceuticals, animal testing, 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 any of the above 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 (AMA); 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 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
Over 40 % of the group's 2005 expenditure was paid to Rick Berman's public relations company, Berman & Co. for "management services.  As part of its operations, CCF runs a series of attack websites, including ConsumerFreedom.com, ActivistCash.com, CSPIscam.com (attacking the Center for Science in the Public Interest), Animal-Scam.com, FishScam.com, ObesityMyths.com, Sweetscam.com, PhysiciansScam.com and PetaKillsAnimals.com. 
Starting out smoking
Mr. Berman launched the Guest Choice Network in 1995. Its initial funding came entirely from the Philip Morris (PM) tobacco company. GCN was formed so as to appear not to be "owned" by PM; address restaurant owners lack of interest in PM's "Accommodation Program" and broaden industry appeal. According to a September of 1995 letter from Mr. Berman to Barbara Trach, PM's Sr. Program Manager for Public Affairs, GCN was designed to:
- "Create an aggressive mentality by (restaurant) operators (to oppose) government smoking bans."
He proposed that PM form an aggressive front group to motivate restaurant owners to aggressively fight bans, while appearing to be acting on their own:
- "...if you want to gain more ground quickly for the smokers' rights issue, the (Guest Choice) program must create a proactive, aggressive mentality by (restaurant) operators regarding government smoking bans..."
He described how hiding PM's involvement would allow the group take more aggressive action:
- "Additional benefit -- if externally perceived as driven by restaurant interests, there will be more flexibility and creativity allowed than if it is 'owned' by Philip Morris. The American Beverage Institute, which opposes overly aggressive DWI laws, enjoys this profile."
According to a December 11, 1995 letter to Barbara Trach:
- "I'd like to propose to Philip Morris the establishment of the Guest Choice Network. ...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 GCN, as Berman explained in a separate planning document, 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 year end budget, 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", $110,000 to create a "multi-industry advisory council," and $345,000 for "grassroots network development/operation.", 
PM complied with Berman's initial funding request for $600,000 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. 
Aside from PM, there were no other publicly-known funders of Guest Choice until its public launch two years later in April 1998. 
While most food lobbyists rely on the rhetoric of "personal responsibility" to blame the obesity problem on the failure of people to act sensibly, CCF, in contrast, denies the problem altogether. Their position is to "defend" the very notion of personal responsibility by tying it closely to the All-American values of choice, freedom, and rugged individualism against the food police, militant radicals, and government bureaucrats who want to keep you from enjoying your God-given right to Big Macs, Marlboros, and Budweiser.
"Free to choose"
One of CCF's favorite strategies is to align the interests of food companies with those of the consumers. It portrays these two groups as "allies" and the besieged "victims" of government regulators, nonprofits, parents, and other food-industry critics. By "consumer freedom," CCF means the "right of adults and parents to choose how they live their lives, what they eat and drink, how they manage their finances, and how they enjoy themselves." The free-to-choose argument implies that advocates of sound nutrition policy are diametrically opposed to the interests of everyone else and that they are killjoys with no interest in enjoying food.
A related salvo is CCF's argument that nutrition advocates and other food-industry critics are infantilizing people when they give dietary advice. CCF produced a television commercial showing people trying to enjoy all-American pleasures such as ice cream, hot dogs and beer, only to be foiled by a hand that swoops down and commandeers the offending items. A voice-over inveighs:
- "Everywhere you turn, someone's telling us what we can't eat. It's getting harder just to enjoy a beer on a night out. Do you always feel like you're being told what to do? Find out who is driving the food police at ConsumerFreedom.com.
Part of CCF's method is to direct attention away from the substantive issues and to keep the focus on the messenger rather than the message. For example, CCF has created a website known as CSPIscam, whose sole purpose is to discredit and defame the Center for Science in the Public Interest. CCF dismisses CSPI's work as media driven and reliant on junk science to scare people into believing that the group is trying to take away their right to eat whatever they want.
CCF explains its mission as fighting back against "self-anointed "food police," health campaigners, trial lawyers, personal-finance do-gooders, animal rights misanthropes, and meddling bureaucrats." An important aspect of such rhetoric is to set advocates apart from the mainstream. These labels are meant to conjure up caricatured images of 1960s-style activism, complete with flag burning, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. CCf has also developed a website called ActivistCash that claims to "expose" the funding sources of various environmental and public health organizations. The site includes a list of "key players" in nutrition advocacy, including New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle, who is described as "one of the country's most hystieral anti-food-industry fanatics," a food cop with "radical goals."
Implicit in CCF's food cop rhetoric is the idea that people who advocate for eating a healthy diet are motivated by personal agendas. They maintain a long list of people operating under supposed "hidden agendas." CCF is also accuses pro-vegetarian organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) of hiding behind an "animal rights agenda", though these groups are visibly and vocally trying to protect animals and readily acknowledge such. 
Selected campaigns (subsection)
See also CCF selected campaigns.
CCF & anti-animal rights/welfare
CCF & puppy mills
See also Missouri puppy mills & Prop B.
List of targeted organizations
See also A Visit to the ActivistCash.Com Web Site.
Affiliated organizations & websites
In addition to CCF, Berman & Co. sponsors several other organizations and web sites. These include the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) and the American Beverage Institute (ABI). EPI is dedicated to keeping minimum wage low and opposing mandatory employee health insurance and ABI opposes drinking and driving restrictions.
Quotable & notable
In a 1999 interview with the Chain Leader, a trade publication for restaurant chains, Richard Berman boasted that he attacks activists more aggressively than other lobbyists:
- "We always have a knife in our teeth. 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 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 the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). 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."
On November 16, 2004, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) alleging that CCF had violated its tax exempt status. According to the complaint, CCF engaged in prohibited electioneering; made substantial payments to Richard Berman and his wholly owned, for-profit Berman & Co. and was generally engaged in non-charitable activities.  According to CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan to Forbes:
- "It doesn't seem to me that someone should get a tax deduction while they're writing public relations memos about how people should be able to smoke in restaurants."
Mr. Berman set up CCF and a number of other tax exempt groups, which all seem to support messages which dove tail nicely with his industry lobbying. However, according to David Martosko in a May of 2006 interview with ABC News, this is simply "the way things tend to be done" in Washington. Furthermore, he has no idea, nor does he want to know, who funds CCF:
- "I don't know the firms that send the Center for Consumer Freedom money. I don't want to know. It's not my business to know." 
The IRS Form 990 filed for 2005 lists the following officers:
- Richard Berman - Executive Director
- John Doyle - Secretary, Treasurer & Director, (roles which it states take one hour a week)
- Jacon Dweck - Director
- David Browne - Director
- Lane Cardwell - Director
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
- Mike Burita - Worked for the Frontiers of Freedom, Brent Bozell's Media Research Center, Phyllis Schlafly & a variety of conservative causes and republican election campaigns.
- John Doyle- Communications director, Berman & Co., Spokesman for CCF, the Employment Policies Institute & American Beverage Institute.
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, in addition to Berman, the following officers:
- Ray Kraftson - Director
- Dixie L. Berman - Secretary/Treasurer
- Dan Popeo - Director, 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 - Ms. 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.
Like other Berman & Co. front groups, CCF is headquartered at:
Berman & Co.
1775 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 1200
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: (202) 463-7110
FAX: (202) 463-7107
Web address: http://www.consumerfreedom.com/
Articles & Resources
Related PRWatch Articles
- Anne Landman, Rick Berman's For-Profit Non-Profits Under the Microscope, PRWatch.org, June 20, 2010.
- Anne Landman, Rick Berman Attacks the Humane Society, PRWatch.org, February 17, 2010.
- Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, Berman & Co.: "Nonprofit" Hustlers for the Food & Booze Biz, PRWatch, First Quarter 2001, Volume 8, No. 1.
- Altria Group (Phillip Morris)
- American Beverage Institute
- Animal testing
- A Visit to the ActivistCash.Com Web Site
- Berman & Co.
- Center for Union Facts
- Conservatives target the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
- Criminalising civil disobedience
- David Martosko
- Defeat the Debt
- Employment Policies Institute
- Employment Roundtable
- "Government intervention" (as a propaganda theme)
- Humane Movement
- Huntingdon Life Sciences
- Intimidating democracy
- Intimidating foundations
- Intimidating public interest groups
- Meat & Dairy industry
- Pharmaceutical industry
- Processed food industry
- Propaganda techniques
- Puppy Mills
- Rick Berman
- War on Animals
- Joe Fassler, "Does the Food Lobby Really Care about Freedom of Choice? Fuhgeddaboutit!, OnEarth Blog, November 13, 2012.
- Wayne Pacelle, "The Confidence Man, Unmasked, and Asked to Answer to the IRS, A Human Nation HSUS blog, November 2, 2012.
- Mark Drajem & Brian Wingfield, Union Busting by Profiting From Non-Profit May Breach IRS, Bloomberg, November 1, 2012.
- Mary Ann West Ca-Ching: Puppy Mill Sales Continue to Ring, Huffington Post, July 30, 2010
- Stephanie Strom Nonprofit Advocate Carves Out a For-Profit Niche, New York Times, June 2010.
- Ron Moore The Humane Society and MADD file ethics charges against corporate front group lobbyist Rick Berman, The Examiner, May 2010.
- Will Potter Full-page New York Times Ad Calls Humane Society “Terrorists", Green is the New Red, December 11, 2008.
- Wayne Pacelle Puppies for Sale, er, Adoption A Humane Nation , (blog), Humane Society of the United States, November 25, 2008
- Adam Voiland Ten Things the Food Industry Doesn't Want You to Know, U.S. News and World Report, October 17, 2008
- Stephanie Ernst The Center for Consumer Freedom: Allow Me to Introduce You, Change.org, October 13, 2008
- Michael P., "Metro Center Advertising - Front Groups ," blog "Infosnack Headquarters," September 24, 2008.
- Will Potter What is the Green Scare?, Greenisthenewred.com, Sept 1, 2008
- Deepak Gupta Stephen Colbert Exposes the "Center for Consumer Freedom", Public Citizen, Consumer Law and Policy Blog, November 4, 2007
- Gayle Dean Beware Corporate Wolves In Consumer Watchdog Clothing, The American Chronicle, April 08, 2007
- Paul Krugman, "Girth of a Nation", New York Times, July 4, 2005.
- Melanie Warner, "Striking Back at the Food Police", New York Times, June 12, 2005
- Caroline E. Mayer, Amy Joyce, "The Escalating Obesity Wars: Nonprofit's Tactics, Funding Sources Spark Controversy, Washington Post, April 27, 2005.
- Nancy Goldstein Biting the hand that spins you, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, March 2005
- "Bogus 'Consumer Group' Stripped of Domain Name: Restaurant and Bar Lobby Behind 'Orwellian' PR Campaign, Center for Science in the Public Interest Press release, February 20, 2003.
- Jeff Nelson, "Corporate Whore Caught With his Pants Down," VegSource.com, May 20, 2002.
- James Verini, "Bull Market: Forrest and Kimberly Smith Think New Yorkers Will Be Kookaburra for Their Cheap Steaks", New York Observer, August 20, 2001.
- Humane Society of the United States, Richard Berman's Apparent Tax Scam, organizational IRS complaint website, launched November 2012.
- Dr. Jerry Vlasik Testimony of Jerry Vlasik, M.D.: Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (“SHAC”) Eco-terrorism, U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, October 2005
- Berman Exposed: Richard Berman's Front Groups and Projects, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, accessed January 2010
- What Is the Center for Consumer Freedom, and Why Is It Attacking PETA?, Consumer Deception.com, accessed January 2010
- Documented Donations of $2,950,000 from Philip Morris to Rick Berman/CCF, ConsumerDeception.com, accessed January 2010
- The Center for Parental Freedom, VegSource.com, accessed January 2010
This article may include information from Tobacco Documents Online.
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- Michele Simon Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, Nation Books, October 2006, ISBN 1560259329, ISBN 978-1560259329
- ↑ "The Center for Consumer Freedom", Form 990, 2005, p.3.
- ↑ "The Center for Consumer Freedom", Form 990, 2005, Statement 1
- ↑ Richard Berman, Untitled letter to Barbara Trach at Philip Morris, Tobacco Legacy Library, 3 pp. September 5, 1995
- ↑ Richard Berman Letter to Barbara Trach, Phillip Morris, December 11, 1995
- ↑ R. Berman/PM planning document, PRWatch, December 1995
- ↑ year-end Berman/PM 1995 year-end budget, PRWatch, December 1995
- ↑ Martin J. Barrington PM Internal Memo, PRWatch, March 1996
- ↑ Mark Berlind Activist Cash.com, Tobacco Legacy Library, January 4, 2002
- ↑ Michele Simon Appetite for Profit pg 48
- ↑ About Us, CCF, accessed January 2010
- ↑ Advertisements, CCF, accessed January 2005
- ↑ Michele Simon Appetite for Profit pg 50-51
- ↑ About Us, CCF, accessed January 2010
- ↑ Michele Simon Appetite for Profit pg 52
- ↑ Marion Nestle Biography on ActivistCash, Activistcash.com, accessed January 2010
- ↑ Michele Simon Appetite for Profit pg 53
- ↑ Charles Bernstein The Zealot: Freedom of choice advocate Rick Berman preaches about DUI limits, the minimum wage and health care in the name of food service., Chain Leader, December 1999
- ↑ Carol Ness Hand that feeds bites back: Food industry forks over ad campaign to win hearts, stomachs, San Francisco Chronicle, May 11, 2002, Page A-3
- ↑ Crew Files IRS Complaint Against the Center for Consumer Freedom Alleging Violations of Tax Exempt Status, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, November 2004
- ↑ Seth Lubove, "Food Fight," Forbes, September 2005
- ↑ Mark Matthews Lobbyists Hide Behind Non-Profit Fronts, ABC News/KGO San Francisco, May 3, 2006