Response of VegSource to Rick Berman's letter

  

May 18, 2002

Dear Mr. Berman:

In response to your amusing letter of May 15, 2002, let me make the following observations.

You wrote:

Dear Mr. Nelson,

It has come to my attention that the following paragraph appeared on or about May 14, 2002, on your Internet website www.ParentalFreedom.com (also known as www.JunktheJunk.com):

"The despicable industry lobbyist [Richard] Berman lives large distorting the truth for a living (the non-profit Consumer Freedom paid Berman $254,000 in fees out of it's [sic] $514,000 budget, according to publicly available tax returns), and using whatever guile he can invent to try to block parental controls over their own children..."

Here you actually make factually correct statements. Hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

You continue:

This information is false and defamatory, and I demand that you take steps to rectify your error immediately.

Goodness, Ricky! Do go on!

You continue:

First, the Center for Consumer Freedom has never compensated me financially for my work on its behalf. The payment to which you refer was made to "Berman and Company," of which I am president. Berman and Company in turn compensated over twenty people for services performed.

Is my original statement really untrue? Let's look at the facts in a little more detail: Guest Choice is a non-profit corporation which you control. In 2000, Guest Choice paid $256,077 to Berman & Company, Inc., a for-profit corporation wholly owned by you, according to publicly available tax returns.

Perhaps I should have said you paid the money to yourself.

You continue:

Second, the Center for Consumer Freedom was incorporated in January 2002, and has not yet filed an annual tax return.

So it hasn't filed a tax return under that name. But your website, GuestChoice.com currently says: "The Guest Choice Network is now the Center for Consumer Freedom." Okay, let me clarify this a bit then: Your non-profit organization Center for Consumer Freedom filed this return under its previous name. You are my source for this information; perhaps I should be cautious about relying on its truthfulness.

You continue:

Third, the Center for Consumer Freedom has never taken a position regarding the rights of parents to exercise control over their children's diets. Your frequent statements to the contrary on www.ParentalFreedom.com are misleading at best, libelous at worst.

Rick, it's my opinion that you are anti-parent as well as anti-consumer. You're a lobbyist who's been paid by the food, beverage and tobacco industries. When a school district or official tries to remove from school grounds a machine that dispenses high-sugar caffeinated beverages to children, you scream about "freedom." Apparently your view is the freedom of your funders to sell these harmful products in the schools trumps the rights of parents who don't want their children to consume them. You're apparently unconcerned about the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes among our nations' children.

Your website calls it "brainwashing" when the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) encourages children to drink 1% milk instead of whole milk, while at the same time you defend the fastfood industry for pushing Happy Meals to children during Saturday morning cartoons.

I also think it's anti-consumer to mislead the public with junk science. Remember those "scientists" the Tobacco Institute used to pay to run around saying there was no link between smoking and cancer? The studies you champion and promote often remind me of the dangerous nonsense they used to spout.

You continue:

I have also recently been made aware of your unauthorized use of the design and HTML code from the Internet web site of the Center for Consumer Freedom. The web site at www.ParentalFreedom.com uses an unlawful copy of the HTML code from the Internet web site of the Center for Consumer Freedom's web site, www.ConsumerFreedom.com.

For your information, the HTML tag <!--CB =#PR#=--> near the bottom of the code currently operating on www.ParentalFreedom.com is a dead giveaway: the initials"PR" are those of our full-time web developer, who is prepared to assist us in legal action to protect our property.

Ever hear of "fair use?" Since the major thrust of our campaign on this site is to parody your website -- with a few changes (e.g., substituting the truth for nonsense, as well as a more attractive color scheme and graphics, if I do say so myself) -- we have reused some of your HTML. This is entirely permissible under the "doctrine of fair use."

You continue:

We expect that you will rectify the above-outlined problems within 24 hours. At a minimum, you will:

1) remove all false statements about myself and the Center for Consumer Freedom from your web sites, including www.ParentalFreedom.com, www.VegSource.com, and any other web sites over which you have editorial control;

Sorry, Rick. I can't remove what isn't there.

You continue:

2) issue a public apology on the front page of your principal Internet web site, www.VegSource.com;

Rick, here's my public apology: I'm sorry you're a tobacco company whore.

I'm afraid I can't post that apology on VegSource.com, however, because I'm not interested in giving you or your website any additional notice or traffic.

You continue:

3) and cease and desist from using copyrighted intellectual property belonging to the Center for Consumer Freedom (to wit, the HTML code) in the production and design of www.ParentalFreedom.com.

Let's talk about what you do, Rick. Let's talk about your respect for other people's intellectual property rights.

CSPInet.org is a well known website operated by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. You or your corporation or one of your non-profits -- it's hard to tell them all apart because they all sit at the same desk -- went out and purchased the domain CSPInet.com. I understand when CSPI demanded you return it since you apparently were using it to generate traffic using their trademark, you refused. The domain name was later transferred away from you and given to CSPI when you lost an ICANN dispute arbitration.

Now I find you've done the same thing to VegSource (and many other organizations). You ripped off our name by purchasing vegsource.info, obviously hoping to capitalize off the goodwill in our trademark. Expect a cease and desist letter through the mail.

You continue:

As any competent attorney will likely advise you, you are on notice that your actions and continuing harm have exposed you and your company (VegSource Interactive) to numerous legal consequences.

Yawn...

Now let's talk about falsehoods which you have published about me.

On at least three of your websites you describe me as "the Armour meatpacking empire’s principal heir." This is simply untrue.

You claim I "make [my] living bashing meat." Wrong again.

You claim I wrote a "how-to book on filing ad hominem lawsuits." I assume you're referring to "Sue the Bastards." Thanks for the plug, but have you even read the book? We all know what an ad hominem argument is, but what the heck's an ad hominem lawsuit?

I'll give you an example of what I consider to be a perfectly legitimate ad hominem argument. In deciding how much credence to give to a person's public positions, it may be reasonable to look at who's buttering their bread.

Let's look at who's buttering your bread, Rick. Here's a site that details some of the tobacco, booze and food companies that fund non-profit organizations you control (and which casts serious doubt on many claims you make including that you represent "more than 30,000 U.S. restaurants and tavern operators"): PR Watch article exposing Rick Berman's funding.

So where does all this money go once it comes into your non-profits' coffers?

Mostly to you, Rick.

Should we call this "non-profiteering?"

  • According to tax returns for your Employment Policies Institute (of which you are Executive Director), in 1997 you paid yourself personally salary and benefits of $163,967 for running EPI. That same year, your non-profit EPI paid your for-profit Berman and Company another $459,058 for "consulting services." That's a total of $623,025 you got. Again, that tax return says Berman and Company is wholly owned by you, Rick. So of the $904,709 you raised for your non-profit EPI during 1997, 69% went to either you personally or a for-profit corporation that you own. Here's a link to that tax return: 1997 EPI tax return.
  • In 1998 wearing your EPI hat, you again paid yourself salary/benefits of $163,967, and your corporation's take that year was $847,469. In other words, according to the publicly available tax returns, in your role as "Executive Director" of EPI, you paid yourself and your own company $1.011 million out of the approximately $1.272 million you raised via EPI in tax-free donations. That means 79% of charitable donations that went into your non-profit EPI you then transferred into your own bank accounts. Here's a link to that tax return: 1998 EPI tax return.
  • In 1999, as head of EPI you paid yourself salary/benefits of $163,026. You also paid your corporation another $508,173 for "consulting." So out of the $1.237 million you raised that year for EPI, you paid yourself and your corporation $671,199. Thus in 1999, according to the tax return, you only transferred 54% of that particular non-profit's cash into your bank accounts. For this tax return see: 1999 EPI tax return.
  • In 2000, GuideStar.org states you raised $1.185 million for EPI, but as EPI's 2000 tax return is not yet publicly available on the web, we don't yet know how much of that you ended up putting in your own personal and corporate bank accounts. Was it between the 54% and 79% of total donations you've apparently taken for yourself previous years, which would translate to your getting between around $640,398 and $936,879? Click here for preliminary 2000 EPI tax info
  • As previously noted, we do know that during 2000, wearing your Guest Choice hat, you did pay $256,077 in cash from non-profit Guest Choice to your own for-profit business account. Since you raised a total of $521,163 for Guest Choice in 2000, that means 49% of those donations went to you. Click here for that tax return.

So in about an hour of digging, and looking at only some of the tax returns from only some of the non-profit organizations you control, Rick, I found $2,561,737 that ended up in your own personal or company bank accounts, which you yourself transferred directly from these non-profits of yours. I'm guessing there's much more.

Rick, that's a lot of butter. Think about what it's doing to your arteries!

Jeff Nelson
President
VegSource Interactive, Inc.
http://www.vegsource.com

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