Washington Babylon — May 15, 2009, 9:57 am

Corporate Front Man: Richard Berman manages the news on key labor-backed bill

Richard Berman, a prominent lobbyist for the food and restaurant industry, is one of the leading opponents of the hotly-debated Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would make it easier to organize labor unions. Berman is the sole owner and executive director of Berman and Company, a for-profit management firm that runs fifteen corporate-funded groups. He holds at least sixteen positions within these interlocking organizations.

Two of Berman’s groups are fighting EFCA: the non-profit Employee Freedom Action Committee and the Center for Union Facts, a grassroots lobbying firm that gathers “information about the size, scope, political activities, and criminal activity of the labor movement.” The two groups share office space and staff.

Berman is not required to publicly disclose financial information about his company. Federal tax returns for his non-profit, the Center for Union Facts, however, show that it took in $2.5 million in 2007, almost entirely from unnamed donors, including one individual who put up $1.2 million. About half of the group’s money was spent on an anti-union print and online ad campaign, and $840,000 went to Berman and Company for “management” services. The Center rails against highly-paid union officials, listing on its website the annual salaries of top officials at the AFL-CIO. The federation’s three highest-paid employees — president John Sweeney, vice-president Linda Chavez-Thompson, and secretary-treasurer Richard Trumka – make about $680,000 combined, well less than what Berman’s company took in to manage only the Center for Union Facts.

The Orlando Sentinel ran an item Monday, “Growing Number of Dems Opposing EFCA,” which cited a political consultant named Joe Kefauver and another local political official — “both longtime Democrats who supported Obama” — as being stern opponents of EFCA, with Kefauver adding that support for organized labor shouldn’t be the only “litmus test for being a good Democrat.” The article was instantly posted on a website run by Berman’s Center for Union Facts.

What the article didn’t mention is that Kefauver has long and close ties to Berman. The most recently available public disclosure forms list Kefauver as both a director of Berman’s Center for Consumer Freedom, and as a compensated “director of development” for Berman’s Employment Policies Institute Foundation. Berman and Company has also paid Kefauver’s firm for consulting services.

Up until early-2007, Kefauver was in charge of all of Wal-Mart’s state-level lobbying efforts in Florida. “Joe was responsible for prioritizing and developing the company’s legislative and political agenda, their interaction with Governors, Attorneys General, Mayors and legislative leaders, as well as executing the company’s aggressive store expansion program,” says his firm’s website. Wal-Mart is one of the vocal corporate opponents of EFCA.

Next time it writes about EFCA the Sentinel might want to look for someone other than a Berman plant as a source.

Update: Berman had an op-ed of his own in the Sentinel earlier this year.

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