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Old 15-05-2006, 02:48 PM posted to,
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Default ABC news slams Center For Consumer Freedom

The Center For Consumer freedom is a dummy non-profit org set up by the
food industry to fight against progressive laws. They are relevant to
this group in that they spend a lot of money trying to defame PETA.
Well, they got some defamation of their own at the hands of ABC news:


Lobbyists Hide Behind Non-Profit Fronts
Only On 7
KGO By Mark Matthews

May 3 - KGO - Lobbying in Washington is taking a new turn. A growing
number of lobbying firms are setting up non-profit front groups to push
their corporate messages. We found one example when we began
investigating the source of information on a website called Fishscam.

For years we've heard about health risks associated with eating certain
kinds of fish because of high mercury levels. The Chicago Tribune
recently did a big report on canned tuna with high levels of mercury,
forcing the FDA to reevaluate their standards. So I was particularly
interested when I came across which says those mercury
warnings are full of baloney.

Like to eat ahi but you're worried about mercury? Click on, a website run by the Center for Consumer Freedom.

David Martosko, Center for Consumer Freedom: "The best science
indicates that the trace amounts of mercury in the fish we feed our
children and our families is so small that it's not a danger to

David Martosko is director of research at the Center for Consumer
Freedom -- a non-profit tax exempt educational organization.

David Martosko: "We like to call shenanigans on people when they're
really off base. So we're sort of a watchdog group in that respect."

The center has found there's a lot to watch. You know those warnings
about drinking and driving&

David Martosko: "Government statistics and independent science confirms
very clearly that the drunk driving problem in this country has been
reduced to a small hard core of repeat offenders."

In fact, government statistics don't show that. The majority of arrests
are first-timers, but the center runs ad campaigns against lowering the
legal blood alcohol limit.

You know those warnings that Americans are getting fat? The center says
we should be promoting exercise.

David Martosko: "That would do far more to combat childhood obesity
than say suing McDonald's."

The centers ads are eye catching. And the message is food police are
out to take the ice cream away from children, the hot dog out of your

The Center for Consumer Freedom ads say activists are trying to scare
us. One of those activists is San Francisco physician Jane Hightower.

Dr. Jane Hightower, research scientist: "I'm honored." (laughs)

Dr. Hightower published a report linking the coronary artery disease in
her patients with the large amounts of tuna and swordfish they were

Dr. Jane Hightower: "I didn't get paid to do this study. I did it
because people were not feeling well and they all had elevated mercury

Her research is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency which
warns pregnant women -- don't eat any swordfish.

David Martosko: "Dr. Hightower I think is three parts activist and one
part scientist."

Martosko attacks Hightower for being an activist. But Martosko himself
is no part scientist. He was a music major in college and then an AM
radio talk show producer before becoming chief researcher for the
Center for Consumer Freedom which is headquartered inside the lobbying
offices of Richard Berman, a lobbyist for the restaurant and beverage

Berman set up the Center for Consumer Freedom and a number of other tax
exempt educational organizations. And those educational non-profits all
seem to support messages that dove tail nicely with the food beverage
and tobacco industries that have hired Richard Berman.

David Martosko: "Welcome to Washignton. This is the way things tend to
be done here."

When we tried to ask Rick Berman himself about that, he ducked out of
our interview.

Rick Berman: "We'll give you a photograph. Say whatever you want to

ABC7's Mark Matthews: "Oh don't do that to me."

Berman wouldn't talk with us about how his non-profits are connected
financially to his lobbying business, and his research director didn't
tell us.

David Martosko: "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

We did find that 10 years ago Berman lived in a house in a D.C. suburb.
After he opened his first non-profit, he moved to a much more expensive

The most recent available tax records for the Center for Consumer
Freedom show in 2004 Berman and Co. took in a million-and-a-half
dollars from the Center for Consumer Freedom.

John Stauber, environmental activist: "It's like getting a tax
advantage for paying your lobbyist."

John Stauber is an environmental activist and founder of the Center for
Media and Democracy which tracks Berman's financing. He says Berman's
tax exempt organizations don't have to reveal who gives them money.

During one of our repeated requests for an interview, Rick Berman told
me it wouldn't serve his food and beverage clients to be specifically
identified with the often edgy campaigns of his non-profit educational

John Stauber, Center for Media & Democracy: "Not public interest
campaigns, but smear campaigns that he brags about to muddy the image
and reputation of legitimate public interest organizations and

Stauber says some groups have filed complaints against Berman with the
IRS. The IRS doesn't confirm or deny investigations. The former IRS
director in charge of the tax exempt division says the IRS takes a
broad view of what is educational.

Marc Owens, former IRS division director: "If someone sets up a website
claiming the moon is made of green cheese and they go through some
elaborate proof of that, the IRS isn't going to say that's too absurd.
It's a form of free speech."

Marc Owens says Berman could get in trouble if he's found to be running
a tax exempt organization for private benefit. But the IRS admits it
doesn't have a lot of people check up on that. Berman told the
Washington Post he's been contacted by the IRS and nothing came of it
because he's doing nothing wrong.

But on Capitol Hill, an activist on issues of health care and childhood
obesity, Representative Pete Stark of Fremont, calls Berman's operation
an abuse.

Pete Stark, D-Fremont: "I don't know what we do except expose the guy
for what he is and expose the programs for doing what he's trying to do
to people."

David Martosko told me that he likes to call shenanigans on people who
are off base. We have that in common. There are a growing number of
people keeping track of Berman and Co.

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