Front Groups in Real Time

July 27, 2009

Front groups is a topic mentioned in various chapters in the book including Chapter 2 (ethics) and Chapter 10 (issues management).  Here is a link to one web site examining a prominent front group operator in detail,   The “operator” is Richard Berman.   Berman’s two most prominent front groups are the Center for Consumer Freedom (a pro-food and beverage front group) and (another pro-food and beverage group) The web site is run by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) ( .  The site describes Berman as follows:  “Richard Berman has been a regular front man for business and industry in campaigns against consumer safety and environmental groups. Through his public affairs firm, Berman and Company, Berman has fought unions, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, PETA and other watchdog groups in their efforts to raise awareness about obesity, the minimum wage, the dangers of smoking, mad cow disease, drunk driving, and other causes. Berman runs at least 15 industry-funded front groups and projects, such as the Center for Union Facts and holds 16 “positions” in those organizations.”

Here is how CREW defines itself:

“Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials — regardless of party affiliation — who sacrifice the common good to special interests. CREW advances its mission using a combination of research, litigation and media outreach. CREW employs the law as a tool to force officials to act ethically and lawfully and to bring unethical conduct to the public’s attention through:

  • Litigation
  • Freedom of Information Act Requests
  • Ethics Complaints
  • Internal Revenue Service Complaints
  • Federal Election Commission Complaints
  • Requests for investigations “


The Center for Consumer Freedom (  describes itself  as “The Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices. We believe that the consumer is King. And Queen.”  They sand in opposition to “A growing cabal of activists has meddled in Americans’ lives in recent years. They include self-anointed “food police,” health campaigners, trial lawyers, personal-finance do-gooders, animal-rights misanthropes, and meddling bureaucrats.” ( )  A key issue for them now is debunking the obesity problem in the U.S.  This includes the defense of high fructose corn syrup.  The site is worth a visit for its very fun ads (the ads are meant to be funny” and their collection of cartoons about food and beverage issues.  The Center has an ongoing feud with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that will the subject of a later blog. 


Visit both CREW, Berman Exposed, and Center for Consumer Freedom web sites before answering the questions below.


Questions to Consider:

  1.  Does the Center for Consumer Freedom meet the requirements to be called a front group?
  2. How does the Berman Exposed web site help to contribute to transparency?
  3. How would you characterize CREW’s agenda—what do they want?
  4. The Center uses humor in its advertisements.  Do you think the messages are effective in getting their message across?  Why or why not.
  5. Does the Center’s use of humor help to mask key points about the issues, such as high fructose corn syrup, that should be discussed publically?  In other words, how does the Center’s message serve to frame the debate and what points in the issue is ignored?
  6. What is the justification for the Center and Berman’s other groups?
  7. What ethical issues does CREW face?
  8. What ethical issues does Berman face?
  9. What are the transparency (Chapter 3) issues in the case?

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