On June 25, 2014, Berman and Company President Rick Berman and Berman and Company Vice President Jack Hubbard spoke at the Western Energy Alliance’s annual meeting in Colorado Springs, CO. An executive who attended the event recorded their presentation, and after being disgusted by what he heard, provided it to the New York Times.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has obtained an audio copy of the recording.
In the presentation, Berman and Hubbard discussed the “lose pretty or win ugly” philosophy that underlies the “typical Berman and Company model,” how their firm came to be involved in energy issues after receiving support from “some companies,” and how they run their campaigns “through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors” in order to provide their clients “total anonymity.”
Here are some highlights, along with the audio of the full recording. Click here for a full transcript of the recording.
Berman on his daily mission to “screw with the labor unions”:
“If you're on offense, there are groups out there and I don't need to name names or what have you, well yeah we'll take the labor unions for example. I am well known for going after the labor unions for a thousand different reasons. And people say, ‘Well, what's your offense?’ I say, ‘I get up every morning and I try and figure out how to screw with the labor unions. That’s my offense.’ (Inaudible.) I’m just figuring out how am I going to reduce their brand. How am I going to take their brand, and everybody has a brand, that's that public opinion brand.”
Berman explains his anti-Humane Society work by saying, “We represent a lot of agriculture interests”:
“Repositioning the opposition suggests telling people, ‘Oh, you think that this group is a group that does X, well, let me tell you, what they are really doing is Y. I don't care what they tell you that they are doing, they are doing something else.’
One of the classic cases, some of you may have even seen the ads that we do. We represent a lot of agriculture interests who are being attacked by the Humane Society of the United States. The Humane Society of the United States is not connected to your local pet shelter. They raise money with these weepy ads on television showing dogs and cats in crates and cages and they get a lot of money. They get their 19 dollars a month. But, then they use the money to attack farms, actually farmers, who raise all sorts of animals for food. Because the Humane Society of the United States, if you look at them, and you don't have to look at them very closely to see this, it’s basically a vegan organization. They don't want people killing animals for food.
So, repositioning them in the public's mind by saying, ‘Hey, give to your local shelter, but don't give to the Humane Society of the United States because they are not who they say they are,’ is an attempt at repositioning.”
Hubbard explains why Berman and Company started going after environmental groups:
“But to rewind a little bit, I want start by telling how this whole thing came about. Prior to us getting involved in Colorado, I guess this was maybe six to nine months ago, we received some support from some companies and foundations who had seen a lot of these past ads and campaigns that we ran, going after the Humane Society and other people, and they said, "My god, we need this for our industry. For our cause right now because these anti-energy groups are getting a free pass and no one is going on offense against them and hitting back hard."
So we received funding to start something called Big Green Radicals. And Big Green Radicals was and continues to be a national campaign and the initial targets of that campaign were the Sierra Club, NRDC, and Food and Water Watch.
And if you’re wondering why those three organizations frankly, were the targets of this public educational campaign, while they’re all unique in general, they’re all very, very powerful nationally. They’re all very, very powerful in Washington D.C. when it comes to lobbying. They are behind some of the most stringent and nasty anti-energy initiatives and legislation out there. And most of them have very, very large budgets. And we'll get into that a little bit later. But this is how the campaign started.
Hubbard explains why Berman and Company started working on fracking issues in Colorado:
“So how did we get involved in Colorado? The Big Green Radicals Campaign gave us the perfect platform to engage. And we have currently received some support from companies to take that Big Green Radicals campaign that we've started at the national level and dig in at the Colorado level.”
Berman on using “fear and anger” in the Colorado fracking campaign because “there is no sympathy for the oil and gas industry”:
“Fear and anger have to be part of this campaign. If you want to win, that's what we’re going to do. We're not going to get people to like the oil and gas industry over the next few months.
There is no sympathy for the oil and gas industry. So we're not going to tap into the sympathetic, ‘Oh, I'm sympathetic for all those poor guys who are running the energy companies.’
What you got to do is get people fearful of what is on the table and then you got to get people angry over the fact that they are being misled. No one likes being lied to. No one likes being told, ‘Oh, this won't hurt.’ And so, that is central to the messaging campaign going forward.”
Berman on how they run campaigns through his nonprofits to keep donors secret:
“The last thing that I'll tell you: Jack mentioned that there was some companies who have been supporting what we're doing, and who have pledged to do some stuff in the future. People always ask me one question all the time, ‘How do I know that I won't be found out as a supporter of what you're doing?’
We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don't know who supports us. We've been doing this for 20 something years in this regard. And to the degree to anybody is concerned about that I will tell you there are all sorts of ways, all sorts of firewalls that have been established to get this done on an anonymous (inaudible), and we have just a few minutes left for questions if you want.”
Berman on how he is “religious about not allowing company names to ever get used”:
“But it's not up to me to say who funds me. If the company wants to say that they are funding me, or the company wants to tell somebody else, that's their business. It's not up to me. What's up to me is to do is to report factually.”
Jack said that I was a lawyer. It's one of the things that I use in my business, is my aversion to being found out of making stuff up. I don't make stuff up. So, if I quote authoritative sources. It doesn't matter who funds me. They have given me the opportunity to present a point of view. And if someone says, "Well, that's not a legitimate point of view." I say, ‘If I cite the chairman of the Department of Public Health at Harvard University, and I put that in an ad. I don't have to say who gave me the money for that ad. The question is, is the ad right or wrong?’ (inaudible) But what people always want to do is they want to know who funds me, so that they can then attack the funder. They want to shoot the messenger and they want to say, ‘If they're funding it, it must be wrong.’
So, I am religious about not allowing company names to ever get used. At least I'm not going to allow them to get used. And I don't want companies to ever admit that because it does give the other side a way to diminish our message.
So if you want to know who is funding us in this room you'll have to go around and ask everybody individually.
Berman on budgeting for the Colorado fracking campaign and how he has already gotten “six figure contributions” from companies in the room:
“So, that's like a question of how high is up? Because you can spend a lot of money. Let me give you an example. We were retained to do a campaign in New Jersey. We had two months for the campaign. We were given 2 million dollars. The issue is not important. We started out with 76 percent disapproval. In two months, we got down to 60 percent disapproval. So we moved the needle 16 points with 2 million dollars in two months. We were really proud of ourselves, expect for the fact that we lost because we started out so bad. 76 percent is a long way down to get the majority on your side. (Inaudible.)
So that’s what 2 million bought in two months. You guys are a lot closer to even. So I would tell you that between now and the end of the session, if you will, November, if you guys on what I’m talking about here, I know your spending a lot of money on the positive stuff, if you spent somewhere between 2-3 million dollars on extending this campaign it would be, I think it would be a game-changer.
I think 2-3 million dollars would be a game-changer.
What individual companies contribute, is quite frankly, up to them. We've had six figure contributions to date from a few companies in this room to help us to get to where we are. But you know, if people gave fifty thousand, one hundred thousand, more if they thought well of it, that would be up to them. We don't have a schedule.
I will tell you this, all of our money is spent transparently. If anyone wants to see where it is spent, they can see it. Very little overhead for something like this because once you start it's just media and we don't have a big overhead on buying media. We're not, you know, one of the major PR firms (inaudible).”
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