There are two organizations that never back down from a fight: The Humane Society of the United States and HumaneWatch. Of course the entire reason for the existence of that second group is to keep an eye on the first group. A few weeks ago, I editorialized about both, stating that HumaneWatch might have raised some good points when they released their candid look at the most recent HSUS returns. The flip side of that column was a question about the strength of the HSUS suit against the alleged misuse of funds by the National Pork Board.
Wayne Pacelle emailed me the next day, calling out HumaneWatch and the integrity of Rick Berman, the man who runs that Washington-based watch dog group. Fair enough, good journalism demands the free and open airing of all sides of a story and editing in a particular slant is worthy of a flag and a penalty half way back to the other guy’s goal line.
To be scrupulously fair and to make sure there was no room for misunderstanding, misquoting or misinterpretation, I emailed my questions to Mr. Pacelle. His responses were returned to me the same way. Links throughout this column will take you to related material. Good reading and, as usual, I invite your comments.
Q: Mr. Pacelle, after you read my opinion piece (Jolley: HumaneWatch comes out swinging, HSUS comes out slinging) you sent an email taking HumaneWatch to task on two fronts. First, you called the organization a project of the “discredited Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF).” Would you detail the points you see as discrediting CCF?
A: The Center for Consumer Freedom is one of a spider web of front groups created and run by a Washington public-relations and lobbying operative named Rick Berman, who got his start in this line of work by attacking anti-smoking advocates on behalf of Big Tobacco. Today, for example, Berman runs a group called the Center for Union Facts to attack labor unions. He runs a group called the American Beverage Institute to attack Mothers Against Drunk Driving and oppose anti-drunk driving campaigns.
The Center for Consumer Freedom attacks animal welfare groups, along with health and nutrition groups that fight obesity and public health threats posed by tanning beds and mercury in fish. The Washington Post, USA Today, and other editorial boards have called him out as a shill for industry groups, who conceal their contributions behind Berman’s front groups. CBS’s 60 Minutes did a profile on Berman and the piece dubbed him “Dr. Evil,” because he takes on the most unpopular causes on behalf of corporate clients whose identities are hidden from public disclosure by characterizing their payments to Berman for his services as “donations.”
Bloomberg News has exposed the fact that some of Berman’s phony nonprofit front groups, such as the Center for Consumer Freedom, have funneled 92 percent of the money they take in a given year right back to Berman and his private lobbying and PR firm, Berman & Company, and five independent tax law experts were cited in the Bloomberg story as questioning the legality of this tax scheme. Could you imagine if HSUS hired a private firm called Wayne Pacelle & Company to perform its lobbying and PR services, and paid me and my firm 92 percent of the donations it has taken in? That would be a scandal, and rightly so. He’s neither a good source nor a reputable ally for leaders in agriculture.
Q: The second front was your objection to some of the claims HumaneWatch made most of which were based on their review of your tax forms. One statement they made complained that only about half of one percent of your revenue went to local animal shelters. Their complaint, which is echoed by many others, is that HSUS fund-raising efforts takes a lot of money away from local shelters but leaves many people with the impression that much of it goes to local resources. I think your successful efforts post-Hurricane Katrina is uppermost on their minds. Would you talk about those fund-raising efforts?
A: We have the term, “humane society” in our name, and so do a lot of local shelters. But that doesn’t make us merely a shelter operator or an umbrella for all of them, and we’ve never claimed either mantle. We’ve been the “Humane Society of the United States” for nearly 60 years, and we provide more hands-on programs for animals than any other organization in our field, and we also attack the root causes of cruelty, in order to prevent suffering. We would not attract the extent of public support we do if we were just a pass-through organization for local shelters. In fact, there’s no group that serves such a function for the 3,500 individual animal shelters in the U.S., and no group ever has. Indeed, since half the brick-and-mortar shelters in this country are government-run and funded by municipal tax dollars, the whole notion is misapplied. Let me underscore that HSUS is not a grant-making group or a foundation, just like the American Farm Bureau Federation or the National Rifle Association are not grant-making groups. Does the NRA just fund gun ranges, or the Farm Bureau fund farms, or the AARP fund senior citizen centers?
Yes, we show dogs and cats, along with farm animals and wildlife, in some of our promotional materials, as you would expect, but all of those images come from the work that HSUS and its affiliates do. HSUS has its own veterinarians and our own animal shelters and animal care centers and we conduct our own rescue work, spay and neuter work, and pet wellness clinics – we don’t need to make grants to other groups to lay claim to hands-on work for animals.
For instance, I was just in Southeast Asia, where in Bhutan alone, our veterinary teams with our international arm have sterilized 45,000 street dogs. That exceeds the intake of nearly any shelter in the United States, or any high-volume spay-and-neuter clinic, and that’s just one of the dozens and dozens of hands-on programs that we run. The implication from this false framing invented by CCF is that we don’t do hands-on work, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Our donors get a steady stream of information about our work on factory farming, puppy mill abuses, animal fighting, seal clubbing, the exotic animal trade, our wildlife land trust activities, the use of chimps in research, animal rescue and disaster response, and so much more. Anyone who reads our magazine, called All Animals, or looks at our web site, (www.humanesociety.org), can see that our programs are much more sophisticated, wide-ranging, and impactful than simply making grants to shelters. That would be Animal Welfare 1.0., and we do Animal Welfare 4.0 at HSUS.
Q: Let’s talk about the size of HSUS membership and how it has changed. HumaneWatch said “HSUS’s All Animals magazine had a circulation of about 530,000, a better estimate of HSUS’s true membership size, since the magazine is included with a $25 membership. (HSUS likes to claim it has a “constituency” of 11 million, which inflates its influence greatly.).” There is a huge gap between your magazine’s circulation and your constituency claim. Are the circulation numbers accurate and how do you define your constituency?
A: I am glad to clarify this, because this is more misinformation. To get All Animals, an individual or institution must make a one-time gift in a calendar year of $25 or more, or sign up to be an automatic monthly contributor. We have about 530,000 who make that one-time gift of $25 or more. But the large majority of our donors make smaller contributions. Someone who donates $5 or $10 multiple times in a year is a constituent of the HSUS, but does not get the magazine.
We count among our supporters people who have donated in the last several years, and we recruit about 500,000 new donors each year. We also have a number of affiliates – including The Fund for Animals, Doris Day Animal League, Humane Society International, Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust – and we count their supporters within our constituency count. We also have about 1.6 million fans on our main HSUS Facebook page and 170,000 followers on Twitter, and these people are also among the most informed about our work, take actions we recommend, and are part of our constituency, too.
Q. Two of the statements made by HumaneWatch that were probably the most troubling to me were “HSUS paid $7.7 million to Quadriga Art, a fundraising consultant (recently exposed by CNN) that is (reportedly under investigation in New York and California). Between 2009 and 2011, HSUS paid Quadriga about $25 million” and “HSUS also reported paying about $333,000 to Infocision Management, whose questionable practices were (exposed by Bloomberg) this fall.” What’s the nature of the HSUS relationship with those two groups and would you discuss how they earn their compensation?
A: HSUS, like the NRA or any other major organization, runs a large and sophisticated marketing, fundraising, and public awareness program. Increasingly, we do more of our marketing online and on television. But direct mail, and spreading our message through that channel is part of that process. Quadriga is a vendor of ours, and so is Infocision, which does phone work. Both of these companies have hundreds of non-profit clients, and are among the go-to vendors in the nonprofit sector for certain services, such as producing direct mail premiums and running telephone call centers. Show me a group that does no marketing, or no advertising, and I will show you an organization with a very small base of supporters. HSUS conducts broad marketing work to build a major constituency, so we can attract supporters in every community to spread our message.
What is important here is that, measured against other excellent charitable organizations with strong reputations and which provide great service to the public, HSUS gets high marks: HSUS is rated a 4-star charity (the highest possible) by (Charity Navigator), approved by the (Better Business Bureau) for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar’s (Philanthropedia) experts as the #1 high-impact animal protection group, and named by (Worth Magazine) as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities.
Q: Let’s talk about your international work. You told me “I was just in Southeast Asia, where in Bhutan alone, our veterinary teams with our international arm have sterilized 45,000 street dogs. That exceeds the intake of any shelter in the United States, or any high-volume spay-and-neuter clinic, and that’s just one of dozens and dozens of hands on programs that we run.” Tell me more about the three or four largest programs funded completely or in part by HSUS.
A: We have hundreds of programs. But I’ll pick four to mention to you, excluding our international street dog programs because you and I have already mentioned them. HSUS runs the largest wildlife rehabilitation center in the United States, which is located in South Florida. We directly touch 10,000 to 15,000 injured and orphaned wild animals a year just through that one facility (we also run two other wildlife rehabilitation centers, with our partner The Fund for Animals, in California and Massachusetts).
Second, we run the nation’s largest and most diverse animal sanctuary, called the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas. We have approximately 1, 000 animals rescued from all sorts of dangerous circumstances – chimps from research labs, exotic antelope from captive hunting ranches, tigers from roadside zoos, horses from cruelty and neglect cases, and so many more animals in need of a place of sanctuary.
Third, our veterinary division, among many other things, goes to Indian reservations in the West and conducts free spay/neuter, vaccination, and wellness check-up programs for pets and the people who care about them; in these areas, there are few vets, and there is crushing poverty, and we are a lifeline for these communities.
Fourth, we have invested millions in developing an immunocontraceptive vaccine for a variety of mammals, for humane population management. We are working, with government or private partners, on contraception programs for elephants in South Africa, for wild horses in the West, and for deer on island ecosystems. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.
Q: Let’s get to one of the major reasons behind my column, the HSUS suit against the NPPC and their claim that it’s a continuation of your successful effort to get UEP to the bargaining table. I wrote “Dave Warner, director of communications for the National Pork Producers Council, emailed this statement to Meatingplace, ‘This latest attack by the Humane Society of the United States against America's family pig farmers, like the animal activist's previous ones, won't work and won't scare pig farmers into abandoning practices that protect the well-being of their animals. HSUS's charges are baseless, without merit and frivolous. Its claim that pork checkoff funds have been misused is patently and demonstrably false’.
Warner left no doubts about the NPPC position. Let me ask the question posed in my column directly to you: “Does HSUS have a case against the National Pork Board or are they just engaging in some legal shenanigans in order to force NPB to the bargaining table?”
A: You can read our complaints. We have (hard evidence) that the Pork Board used check-off funds to participate in NPPC lobbying events. NPPC says the charges are baseless, yet it quickly acted to remove evidence of the Board’s high-donor “Partner” status in its Alliance lobbying program. Within days of the HSUS complaint, the U.S. Food Policy blog reported that the Pork Board had been (removed) from the Alliance website.
HSUS and pork farmers also filed a (complaint) over the $60 million pay-out from the Pork Board to the NPPC for the use of the ‘Pork: The Other White Meat’ slogan. NPPC used $500 million from the checkoff to make the slogan successful, so producers should not have to pay again for it, especially in light of the slogan being put to bed.
Q: Thousands of people read cattlenetwork.com. What would you like to say to them?
A: There are some folks in animal agriculture who caricature HSUS, charging that we are trying to end animal agriculture. But why would we work jointly with the United Egg Producers if we were against all animal agriculture? Why would HSUS have a pig farmer serve as its VP of Outreach and Engagement who leads our Rural Affairs program? Why would we work with the Nebraska Farmers Union on marketing of humanely produced animal products? Why would I serve on the board of the Global Animal Partnership, which conducts an animal welfare rating program and certifies products from farmers who raise animals in humane and sustainable ways?
My request to your readers: Look at the facts, not the rhetoric from groups that don’t like HSUS’s reform-oriented campaigns. Farmers and other leaders in agriculture can help solve animal welfare problems, and we look forward to working with anyone who wants to be constructive and help in solving problems for animal welfare.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.