July 25, 2016

Berman Group Quietly Ran Anti-Trump Ads Under Obscure Trade Name

By Matt Corley

In mid-May, Richard Berman, the infamous president of corporate public relations firm Berman and Company, published an op-ed in The Washington Times decrying an investigation into the lack of female directors in Hollywood because, in his view, “China’s growing direct and indirect control of soft communications like movies and radio” is a greater concern. Calling the probe of gender bias in the film industry a “domestic comedy,” Berman concluded, “instead, let’s focus on the tragedy that is China’s ongoing control of women’s bodies, USA assets and the movie industry.”

The column was the first in a series of op-eds by Berman about China’s financial interest in American communications industries that culminated this month with the soft announcement of a new Berman project. Of course, Berman being Berman, he didn’t exactly make it clear that he was promoting his own campaign and gave no indication of who was funding it. Instead, in a post on Independent Journal Review, he simply encouraged readers to watch a video that would “scare” them about Chinese ownership of American radio stations.

Center for American Security

The video was hosted on the YouTube page of the Center for American Security, a heretofore unknown entity. The group’s Facebook page, however, gave away the game by initially referring to Berman’s July 1 USA Today op-ed on China as “[o]ur piece” before editing out the reference. The Facebook page also includes a link to a website called China Owns Us, described as “a project of the Center for American Security,” that features a white paper on “China’s Stealth Power Play in the United States.”

The website doesn’t have an “About” page or any actual information about what the Center for American Security is. Is it a new non-profit or just a “project” of one of the pre-existing non-profits Berman uses to do work for his clients? Corporate records reveal that it is technically a separate trade name for the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee, a section 501(c)(4) organization that Berman has used to campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act and President Obama’s health care reform efforts:

Enterprise Freedom Action Committee

It’s unclear what exactly led to Berman’s newfound interest in Chinese ownership of movie theaters and radio stations. He is well-known in Washington, DC for using non-profit groups established and run by his for-profit firm for “shoot the messenger” campaigns on behalf of corporate interests. Berman’s non-profits, which include the Employment Policies Institute and the Center for Organizational Research and Education, have not previously focused on media ownership.

Corporate records also show that the Center for American Security is not the only new project operating out of the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee. Last March, the group also started using the Coalition to Unite America as a trade name. But what is that?

It’s the name Berman placed on digital ads the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee ran attacking Donald Trump this spring. One ad asked whether Trump represented entertainment or leadership while the other featured children worrying about Trump, including asking why he is “such a bully.” Berman once told a room full of energy executives, “If you want a video to go viral, have kids or animals.”

Though the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee reported spending $355,000 on independent expenditures opposing Trump to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), viewers of the actual ads would have had no way of knowing Berman’s group was behind the attacks. Neither the videos nor the website that hosts them, Trump-Truth.org, mention the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee, just the Coalition to Unite America. On the flip side, the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee’s filings with the FEC, which were previously reported on by OpenSecrets, make no mention of the Coalition to Unite America.

In effect, by creating and using multiple trade names, Berman is able to distance his own organization from any backlash over the ads. The viewer wouldn’t know the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee was involved while anyone looking at FEC records wouldn’t be able to go find the actual ads for which the group reported paying because they were put out under the Coalition to Unite America’s name. Only someone checking obscure DC corporate records could make the connection between the two names. 

Special Interest-Funded Party Groups Spend Further and Further Down-Ballot

The growing emphasis on state policy goals by both political parties has led to the proliferation of political organizations designed to raise and spend money – much of it from special interests – to win specific state offices. The most prominent of these groups are the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations, but other party-connected groups target secretary of state, state legislator, and state Supreme Court races. Read More ›

We’re Still Waiting on Explanations From the Republican FEC Commissioners

The Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) has been heavily—and rightly—criticized for its failure to enforce federal campaign finance laws. New research by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), however, shows an additional—and even more basic—area where a number of FEC commissioners are failing in their jobs: the three Republican commissioners have repeatedly failed to fulfill their legal obligation to explain their decisions to block enforcement. Read More ›

McDonnell Decision Unjustified, but Leaves Avenues to Prosecute Corruption

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the bribery conviction of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, a man who freely admits that he sold access to himself and to his subordinates to a wealthy business man to lobby them to use government funds to pay for a study for the businessman, all in exchange for nearly $200,000 in cash and luxury goods, including a Rolex watch and flights in a private jet. In doing so, the Court issued a badly reasoned decision that unnecessarily and without textual basis narrowed the scope of the federal bribery statute. As Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (“CREW”) stated in the wake of the decision, it will make important corruption charges more difficult to bring and more difficult to prove, and it may result in serious corruption going unpunished. Read More ›

Lawmakers, Guns and Money: Members of Congress Spent $25K on Guns Since 2013

Following the horrific shooting of innocent civilians at an Orlando nightclub on June 12, many members of the media were quick to point out the National Rifle Association’s heavy-handed influence and how it contributes to the inaction of elected officials on gun-control issues. Read More ›

Dark Money Groups Targeted By Complaints Ran Last Minute Attack Ads in AG Races

Earlier this week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed IRS complaints against 10 politically active non-profit groups that sought to influence elections across the country in 2014. Many of the groups violated their tax-exempt status by impermissibly making politics their primary activity while others significantly underreported their political activity. CREW also filed complaints with the Department of Justice against six of the organizations that appear to have made false statements to the IRS about their political activity. Read More ›

What’s Duncan Hunter Drinking?

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) has come under fire for charging thousands of dollars in personal expenses to his campaign, leading to FEC and Ethics complaints from CREW. Beyond the expenses he has admitted to being inappropriate—video games, oral surgery, a garage door opener—we’ve also found issues with what his campaign classifies as “Food & Beverages.” Read More ›

© 2015 Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, all rights reserved.
• 455 Massachusetts Avenue NW • Sixth Floor • Washington, DC 20001 • 202-408-5565 •


Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington®, and the
“CREW | Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington” wordmark are registered trademarks.