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Originally published September 11 2015

The dark side of libertarianism: Pushing corporate poisons under the false banner of "consumer freedom"

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) Most Americans have never heard of a Washington, D.C., lobbyist by the name of Richard Berman, but he is one of the people responsible for all that is wrong in the nation's capital and our political system.

According to the web site Consumer Deception, Berman runs a couple of different Washington-based public relations and lobbying firms, one of which is called the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a firm that ostensibly has a reputation as being libertarian-leaning.

Formerly known as the Guest Choice Network, CCF was established by Berman in 1996 with seed money from tobacco giant Philip Morris.

Like thousands of other lobbyists who infest Capitol Hill, Berman "arranges for large sums of corporate money to find its way into nonprofit societies of which he is the executive director," Consumer Deception notes. Then, he "hires his own company as a consultant to these nonprofit groups." For example, of the millions of dollars donated by Philip Morris between 1995 and 1998, 49 percent to 79 percent of that money went directly to Berman or his other PR firm, Berman & Co.

Influence peddler

The Consumer Deception web site further notes:

Richard Berman is an influence peddler. He has worked out a scheme to funnel charitable donations from wealthy corporations into his own pocket. In exchange, he provides a flurry of disinformation, flawed studies, op-ed pieces, letters to the editor, and trade-industry articles, as well as access to his high-level government contacts, who are servants of the industries he represents.

Berman might be known to some Americans who were old enough to understand the political process in the mid-1990s. In 1995, Berman and Norm Brinker, his former boss at Steak and Ale Restaurant, were both implicated as the special-interest lobbyists who donated $25,000 to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, the latter of whom was forced to appear before the House Ethics Committee over influence-peddling charges. Berman and Brinker were lobbying against a hike in the federal minimum wage.

The longtime Washington lobbyist has also acted as a paid shill for the alcohol industry. As noted by Consumer Deception, Berman once appeared before a House panel arguing against lowering the permissible blood alcohol level – an initiative backed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) – saying that lowering the level further would ensnare responsible social drinkers.

In a December 1994 story, The New York Times reported that Berman has always maintained he had a close relationship with Gingrich for many years. At the time, he also sidestepped questions about a note he had scribbled to Gingrich thanking the Speaker for getting him as a witness to appear before the House panel discussing blood alcohol content (BAC). Some Democrats at the time were accusing Berman of donating the $25,000 so he could influence the House hearing.

The lobbyist's lobbyist

Other reports on the dates in question insinuated that the check Berman had sent to Gingrich was financial support for a college history course Gingrich was teaching via video conference entitled, "Renewing American Civilization."

"The donation was under the condition that Gingrich would teach in the class values supported by Berman's business-backed organization, the Employment Policies Institute Foundation," Buzzfeed News reported in January 2012.

Democrats also inferred that Gingrich improperly used congressional resources and staff in preparing and transmitting the lecture via satellite.

The San Francisco Chronicle, which is quoted on the Consumer Deception page, said this about CCF:

While it bills itself as "devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices," others describe it variously as a front group, PR agency or tool for the restaurant and alcohol industries.

Berman certainly is not the only high-powered Washington lobbyist, and the Republican Party is certainly not the only party targeted by special interests; just as many of them target Democratic lawmakers and presidents. Collectively, these men and women work behind the scenes to rob the electorate of its voice and its consent.

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