(This column began life as a comment on Carla Axtman's Boogeyman Boogie column, but couldn't get through the spam filter, so I am offering it separately as an adjunct background piece. Hat-tip, apologies and thanks to Carla. CL)
Carl Axtman has drawn attention to Oregon's U.S. Senate race being one of several in the cross-hairs of an organized big business campaign aimed simultaneously at fighting off the challenge of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would widen the means by which workers could form unions, and at defeating Democratic senatorial candidates who might provide the margins allowing EFCA to pass. This column has a narrower focus on one of the main forces behind that campaign, lobbyist Rick Berman's astroturf empire, how it works, and why Jeff Merkley may have emerged as a particular Berman target.
To start, let us note the acronyms of the Employee Free Choice Act and the Employee Freedom Action Committee: EFCA and EFAC. This is not an accident, but a standard confusion sowing operating procedure in Rick Berman's stable of pro-corporate, anti-worker, anti-health astroturf groups.
As Carla's WW link also points out, we've already seen the beginning of this national anti-union, anti-Democratic campaign in Oregon. Jeff Merkley was the very first of the candidates targeted by Berman & Co. The anti-Merkley anti-union broadcast and print ads that appeared shortly before the May primary were EFAC.
If you go to the "States" section of the EFAC website you can tell which campaigns are being targeted by the fact that they start by saying "[Name of candidate] is doing labor union bosses' dirty work" followed by other cookie-cutter smeary boilerplate. Since you have to click on states one at a time, and only six of 33 races are targeted so far, this limited cut-and-paste lack of content takes patiences to discover. The other states just have some facts about donations to candidates.
In addition to Merkley, Tom Allen of Maine, Bruce Lunsford of Kentucky and Al Franken of Minnesota, whom Carla mentions, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana also are on the Berman/EFAC hit list (so far).
But Jeff Merkley was first. At the end of May, no other candidate was doing labor union bosses' dirty work, or if one was, EFAC's site didn't tell you that. A peek into Berman & Co.'s operations may show why.
Let's start with Berman & Co. itself. Suppose you wanted to contact Rick. Here's how: Mailing address: 1090 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20005; Telephone: 202-463-7100; Fax: 202-463-7107; Email: Rick@bermanco.com.
Now let's turn to labor. We find a triangular stool. One leg is EFAC. EFAC is a 501(c)4, meaning a tax-exempt non-profit corporation allowed to conduct education and advocacy around issues and legislation. Who is EFAC's Communications Director? Tim Miller. Suppose you wanted to contact Tim. Here's how: Mailing address: 1090 Vermont Ave NW. Suite 800 Washington, DC 20005; Tel.: (202) 420-7864; Fax: (202) 463-7107.
Hey, look at that! Same address, and Tim and Rick have the same fax machine!
Next leg is the Center for Union Facts. The Center for Union Facts is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, i.e. supposedly restricted to charitable and educational activities. You may remember CUF from the primary season too. They were the ones who ran some random-seeming anti-union ads with the tag line "Thanks, Union Bosses!" Who's their Communication Director? Well, the website doesn't say.
So how would you contact them? Mailing address -- you guessed it -- is: 1090 Vermont Ave NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20005; tel.: 202-463-7106. Be careful! If you dial one digit wrong, your ear will buzz from Rick & Tim's fax machine! Remember that number.
Now, it turns out that CUF has a subsidiary website Teachers Union Facts, with an interesting URL: teachersunionexposed.com. Suppose you wanted "interviews, comments, or information," whom would you contact?
Why, Tim Miller! E-mail email@example.com, or call (yes!) 202-463-7106. But don't get that last digit wrong, unless you want your ear to buzz! (Wonder if that's ever happened to Bill Sizemore?)
The third anti-labor leg is the oldest, and indeed may be the oldest of Rick Berman's large Augean stable of front groups, into which following anti-union work only begins to penetrate: The Employment Policies Institute, a policy research non-profit, tax status not stated, which these days seems much concerned with the dangers of excessive minimum wages.
Who is their Communications Director? Yup, Tim Miller. I know, I know. But if you think this game is too easy, don't blame me. Take it up with Rick and Tim. Mailing address (ho hum): 1090 Vermont Ave. NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20005; Tel: 202-463-7650 ext. 109; Fax (there it is again): 202-463-7107.
Now, to get at a couple of other interesting things, we have to take brief excursion outside of labor and anti-union matters, though not outside of scurrilously mendacious and nasty class warfare. Let's pay a visit to The Center for Consumer Freedom, another 501(3)c.
Their Communications Director? Why, that extremely busy fellow, Tim Miller, of course. No mailing address supplied this time, but his phone contact, 202-463-7112, is eerily familiar (old parodic images of multi-phone movie mogul desks pop into my mind).
So, what's so interesting about the CCF? Actually, too much to go into here entirely.
But one thing is that CCF provides insight into the whole structure of Berman's activities. It seems that in 2005, for example, "over 40% of the expenditure" of this "charitable and educational non-profit" was paid to Berman and Company, Rick's very much for profit organization, for "management services." The pattern is standard.
In other words, Rick Berman has a cozy if sleazy little, or not so little, self-dealing operation going, that manipulates not-for-profit tax statuses for their tax advantages while funneling money profitably into his pockets. It rakes in millions, making the Bill Sizemore criminal enterprise and Lon Mabon's family profits from peddling hate look like mom & pop operations.
Most if not all of these supposedly free-standing organizations operate out of the same office suite, even share office machinery, as we have seen, and share personnel, who, while formally employees of the non-profits (with Tim Miller, we're at four and counting) in reality are employees of Berman's underlying core monstrosity, merely attributed to or divided among one or more of its hydra heads.
In 2004 the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an IRS complaint against the CCF for violating their tax exempt status over exactly these issues, along with engaging in impermissible political campaigning and other non-charitable activities. The fate of that complaint isn't clear, but the pattern continues. Whether this is a testament to Berman's skills as an attorney or low-quality Bush administration regulation is hard to say.
The Center for Consumer Freedom also brings us back to why Jeff Merkley was the first target of the Employee Freedom Action Committee, backed up by the Center for Union Facts, around the time of the primary. One of the CCF's main issues in recent years has been opposition to the regulation of payday loans. Success in getting the Oregon legislature to pass exactly such a regulatory law was of course one of Jeff Merkley's signature achievements as Speaker of the House.
Many years ago, the CCF, under a different name, also was founded with seed money from Philip Morris. Since then it has had a continuous role as a tobacco industry propagandist, so it may be that the proposed tobacco tax in the Measure 50 children's health insurance referendum played a role as well in Jeff's pride of place as a target for the Employee Freedom Action Committee and the Center for Union Facts.
EFAC, as a 501(c)4, is permitted to advocate about legislation, and has therefore constructed its highly campaign-political interventions in Senate races around the Employee Free Choice Act. Its advocacy certainly is pushing the envelope on the distinction between issue and legislation education and advocacy vs. partisan electoral activity.
This is nothing new on the anti-union front either. In 2006, CREW asked Charles Grassley and Max Baucus, then the chair and ranking member of the Senate Finance Commitee, to investigate Richard Berman and the Center for Union Facts:
Today [14 Feb 2006], CREW asked Sens. Grassley and Baucus to investigate whether CCF and CUF are engaged in charitable activities or whether they are in fact, merely front organizations for for-profit industry entities.
“Mr. Berman’s pattern of abusing the laws that govern charitable organizations requires a thorough investigation by the Senate Finance Committee,” CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said today. “Richard Berman is giving Jack Abramoff and former Christian activist Ralph Reed a run for their money as to who can reap the greatest profits by exploiting laws intended to promote charitable works.”
Whether this pattern provides any opportunity for pushback on the multi-state senatorial campaign Carla points out, I don't know.
According to CREW, Berman's current anti-union, anti-card-check work is complemented by another organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which apparently uses much of the same specious, over-the-top rhetoric of intimidation.
One other question about the EFAC - CUF nexus for Oregon is whether Berman & Co. will put any resources behind Bill Sizemore's anti-teachers-union initiative through the Teachers Union Facts branch of CUF. There is some precedent. In 2006 CUF ran some of its generic anti-union ads in support of Howie Rich's effort at an Oregon TABOR clone and Berman shared a platform with Don McIntyre at a Rich sponsored-conference.