In mid-May, Richard Berman, the infamous president of corporate public relations firm Berman and Company, published an op-ed in The Washington Times decrying an investigation into the lack of female directors in Hollywood because, in his view, “China’s growing direct and indirect control of soft communications like movies and radio” is a greater concern. Calling the probe of gender bias in the film industry a “domestic comedy,” Berman concluded, “instead, let’s focus on the tragedy that is China’s ongoing control of women’s bodies, USA assets and the movie industry.”
The column was the first in a series of op-eds by Berman about China’s financial interest in American communications industries that culminated this month with the soft announcement of a new Berman project. Of course, Berman being Berman, he didn’t exactly make it clear that he was promoting his own campaign and gave no indication of who was funding it. Instead, in a post onIndependent Journal Review, he simply encouraged readers to watch a video that would “scare” them about Chinese ownership of American radio stations.
The video was hosted on the YouTube page of the Center for American Security, a heretofore unknown entity. The group’s Facebook page, however, gave away the game by initially referring to Berman’s July 1 USA Today op-ed on China as “[o]ur piece” before editing out the reference. The Facebook page also includes a link to a website called China Owns Us, described as “a project of the Center for American Security,” that features a white paper on “China’s Stealth Power Play in the United States.”
The website doesn’t have an “About” page or any actual information about what the Center for American Security is. Is it a new non-profit or just a “project” of one of the pre-existing non-profits Berman uses to do work for his clients? Corporate records reveal that it is technically a separate trade name for the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee, a section 501(c)(4) organization that Berman has used to campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act and President Obama’s health care reform efforts.
It’s unclear what exactly led to Berman’s newfound interest in Chinese ownership of movie theaters and radio stations. He is well-known in Washington, DC for using non-profit groups established and run by his for-profit firm for “shoot the messenger” campaigns on behalf of corporate interests. Berman’s non-profits, which include the Employment Policies Institute and the Center for Organizational Research and Education, have not previously focused on media ownership.
Corporate records also show that the Center for American Security is not the only new project operating out of the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee. Last March, the group also started using the Coalition to Unite America as a trade name. But what is that?
It’s the name Berman placed on digital ads the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee ran attacking Donald Trump this spring. One ad asked whether Trump represented entertainment or leadership while the other featured children worrying about Trump, including asking why he is “such a bully.” Berman once told a room full of energy executives, “If you want a video to go viral, have kids or animals.”
Though the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee reported spending $355,000 on independent expenditures opposing Trump to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), viewers of the actual ads would have had no way of knowing Berman’s group was behind the attacks. Neither the videos nor the website that hosts them, Trump-Truth.org, mention the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee, just the Coalition to Unite America. On the flip side, the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee’s filings with the FEC, which were previously reported on by OpenSecrets, make no mention of the Coalition to Unite America.
In effect, by creating and using multiple trade names, Berman is able to distance his own organization from any backlash over the ads. The viewer wouldn’t know the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee was involved while anyone looking at FEC records wouldn’t be able to go find the actual ads for which the group reported paying because they were put out under the Coalition to Unite America’s name. Only someone checking obscure DC corporate records could make the connection between the two names.