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Posted at 10:37 AM ET, 02/24/2011

Left-wing front group doesn't like public employee study

By Jennifer Rubin

At 9:45 a.m. yesterday, my post "Public employee unions: Entitled to their own views, but not their own facts" went up on the website. In that post, I reviewed two studies on public employee unions. One was from the Center for Union Facts and one was the work of professors from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and the University of Chicago. These debunked studies that favored two pro-union narratives, namely that union public employees are underpaid and that unfunded liabilities for union benefit plans aren't all that large.

At 11:23 a.m., I received an e-mail from the communications director for
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Garrett Russo. His letter read in part:

Today, you published a post in the Washington Post's Right Turn blog regarding a study released by the Center for Union Facts that questions the findings of an earlier study showing that public-sector employees are underpaid. I thought you might be interested to know that the Center for Union Facts is a project of Richard Berman, a Washington, D.C.-based hired gun who uses front groups to defend his corporate clients against the public interest. I also thought you might be interested in seeing the numerous "positions" Mr. Berman holds within these groups. . . .

Last year, CREW launched this website (www.bermanexposed.com) to introduce the public to Richard Berman, the PR svengali. Several reports have explored Berman's tactics. Mr. Berman was recently interviewed on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, where he was questioned about the funding for his numerous front groups. He has created at least 23 of these tax-exempt groups and "projects," of which the Center for Union Facts is only one.We have contacted the Senate Finance Committee Chairman and ranking committee members in the hopes of initiating an investigation into Berman, and his misuse of the 501(c)(3) status for his groups.

I responded to Russo:

Other than the fact you don't like Mr. Berman do you have anything substantive to say about the report's contents? Or the Northwestern study?

And where can I find a list of CREW's donors?

At that point Russo fell silent. I've yet to hear back from him.

But let's look at what CREW is and why it's so interested in telling me bad things about Berman. Back in 2006, long before Karen Tumulty came to The Post, she wrote an informative piece on CREW. A sample:

Since its founding in 2003, CREW has worked through legal and regulatory channels to press allegations of impropriety almost exclusively against Republicans. Ironically, given CREW's new prominence as a favorite target of vast-left-wing-conspiracy theorists, its litigious approach borrows heavily from the conservative group Judicial Watch, which in the 1990s helped propel Paula Jones' sexual-harassment accusations against Bill Clinton into his impeachment.

[Executive Director Melanie] Sloan, a former congressional staff member for such liberal lawmakers as Michigan's John Conyers and New York's Charles Schumer, was working as an assistant U.S. Attorney when two Democratic activists approached her with the idea of trying something like Judicial Watch from the left. For its first 18 months, CREW was a one-woman shop. An early target was the seemingly invincible DeLay. Sloan asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the House majority leader's fund raising and sued the Federal Election Commission to get more info about his dealings with a Kansas utility.

But it's no wonder Russo wouldn't answer my question about donors. Karen explained:

For an organization dedicated to holding government accountable, CREW isn't transparent about its own operations. Organized as a 501(c)3 under federal tax laws, it does not have to reveal the names of all its donors. "I wouldn't have any donors if I revealed all my donors," says Sloan. However, CREW acknowledges that it has received $100,000 from the foundation of liberal financier George Soros and several annual donations of at least $10,000 from that of entertainer Barbra Streisand.

In 2008 Soros's Open Society Institute gave $250,000 to CREW.

Others have looked into CREW's operation. In 2008 Roll Call reported:

The ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has made its mark by issuing dozens of complaints since 2003 alleging that Members of Congress have taken official actions that benefit their families, friends or financial benefactors.

But a review of entities against which CREW has filed complaints and information about its donors suggests that the organization may be guilty of the same practice -- attacking groups and individuals who are the foes of CREW's donors.

Roll Call's report continued:

In February 2006, CREW asked the Senate Finance Committee to investigate the Center for Union Facts, an anti-union group, and its sister organization, the Center for Consumer Freedom, which CREW claimed are "front organizations for for-profit industry entities." The complaint noted that the Center for Union Facts Web site had "negative information about unions," including the Service Employees International Union. Later that year, CREW launched a Freedom of Information Act request, followed by a lawsuit, to get the Department of Labor to hand over documents regarding the department's contacts with the founder of the two centers.

On Sept. 1, 2006, CREW received $75,000 from the SEIU, according to documents that the union filed with the Department of Labor.

"CREW has long targeted Richard Berman, the executive director of the Center for Union Facts, the Center for Consumer Freedom and other alleged charities, for doing the bidding of business behind the veil of nonprofits," [Deputy Director Naomi] Seligman said.

Ah, so CREW has been on its Berman vendetta for some time. And plainly its agenda includes going after those who would undermine the position of organized labor.

Likewise, Roll Call explained:

The Gill Foundation is heavily invested in organizations advocating gay and lesbian rights. One of the prime antagonists of the gay rights movement is Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), who introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Two weeks before the 2004 election, CREW filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging that Musgrave's campaign was operating out of her district office in Loveland, Colo. Musgrave Chief of Staff Guy Short said the allegation was untrue. He said Musgrave's office never was contacted by the Justice Department and to the best of his knowledge the allegation was never investigated by the DOJ.

In September 2005, CREW named Musgrave to its list of the "13 Most Corrupt" Members of Congress, and filed a complaint against her before the FEC in February 2007. The FEC dismissed that complaint.

In September 2006, CREW filed complaints with the IRS and the Postal Service against two "anti-gay marriage organizations" in Minnesota for allegedly supporting a state Senate candidate.

The Gill Foundation donated $125,000 to CREW in 2006, according to the foundation's annual report.

Roll Call reviewed a similar pattern concerning its legal onslaught against anti-Castro groups. "While CREW will not release its donor records, since 2003 the group has received $125,000 from the Arca Foundation, according to the foundation's annual reports. Over the same period, Arca -- a family foundation that has backed a host of liberal causes -- has provided about $1 million to organizations to advocate opening ties to Cuba and reducing barriers to travel."

So what can we conclude from all this? CREW really isn't a neutral watchdog group. It has a left-wing agenda that serves the purpose of its left-wing donors. And one of its pet projects is hounding Berman. But I don't suppose CREW has any interest into looking into George Soros's multiple organizations. Well, of course not! You don't bite the hand that feeds you.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 24, 2011; 10:37 AM ET
Categories:  law  
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Comments

Politics in Washington writ large.

Posted by: Lazarus40 | February 24, 2011 11:05 AM | Report abuse

When educational requirements are included in the stats, it's clear that public employees are paid less than those in the private sector with equivalent educations. Using a study which cherry picks what they want to measure and what weight they give to subjectives like job security and assumptions that workers will stay in the same union job until retirement is deceitful. Pretending that all workers are deserving of the same pay regardless of the educational requirements for their jobs is deceitful, but that's what we've come to expect from the right and their corporate funded studies.

Posted by: fingersfly | February 24, 2011 11:19 AM | Report abuse

"When educational requirements are included in the stats, it's clear that public employees are paid less than those in the private sector with equivalent educations. "

they should be paid even less because they don't produce anything useful.

Posted by: engdre | February 24, 2011 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I am admittedly a left-of-center Democrat who rankles at some of your columns that seem to me scripted from the right wing playbook. But I am also a seeker of truth -- bitter or sweet -- and I think your take-down on CREW in today's "Right Turn" was fair and balanced (take that, Fox!). I am always suspicious of secretly funded public policy front (read: hit) groups and, since the public employee unions are the hot-button issue right now, I would like to see you put both Messrs Berman and Russo under the klieg lights and sweat out the truth about their facts and their sponsorship. I am sending this same letter to Rachel Maddow.

Posted by: kantcould | February 24, 2011 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Why aren't all you righties, instead of being lawyers in Washington, clamoring to become public school teachers to cash in on the huge salaries they are paid?

Posted by: jiji1 | February 24, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Why aren't all you righties, instead of being lawyers in Washington, clamoring to become public school teachers to cash in on the huge salaries they are paid?

Posted by: jiji1 | February 24, 2011 11:46 AM
---------------

Well, I'm a lawyer who left the private sector for a job with the state that pays more, has better benefits, requires less work and is pretty much permanent regardless of the economy. Does that count?

Posted by: paco33 | February 24, 2011 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Jennifer, you have to stop being correct on everything, you're going to make your colleagues at the Post jealous!

Posted by: WashingtonDame | February 24, 2011 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Did everyone see the most recent instance of Fox blatantly lying, this time about the real support for unions in this country - 61% in favor of unions, not 61% opposed as reported by Fox.

http://mediamatters.org/blog/201102230009

Posted by: fingersfly | February 24, 2011 12:38 PM | Report abuse

engdre said, "they should be paid even less because they don't produce anything useful"

The fact that you don't make use of your education is your fault, not teachers.

Posted by: fingersfly | February 24, 2011 12:42 PM | Report abuse

engdre said, "they should be paid even less because they don't produce anything useful"

The fact that you don't make use of your education is your fault, not your teachers. The fact is that states with teachers unions have better SAT and ACT scores than those without.

Posted by: fingersfly | February 24, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I, for one, certainly don't mind when the liberals shine a bright spotlight on the Koch's and others of their ilk that want to bankroll politics to suit their agenda's.

I also enjoy reading on the outing of the liberal groups. Each time one of these liberals scream about Koch brothers, I want to scream right back about George (Mexico) Soros, bankrolling our politics.

I personally think the Supreme Court screwed the pooch on allowing corporations into the game (legally, not like they weren't before).

Posted by: stinkyliberals | February 24, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Nice investigation job. However, what you forgot to address in your haste to bolster your agenda is that the Center for Union Facts is obviously a biased organization with a right-wing political agenda. Did you know that before posting a review that bolsters your own bias.

That being the case, any "facts" you or the Center for Union Facts publishes are suspect.

Posted by: Chagasman | February 24, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

"When educational requirements are included in the stats, it's clear that public employees are paid less than those in the private sector with equivalent educations."

You are confusing education with credentalism. Education is a lifelong process, and a BS or MS in Education is essentially meaningless. How about comparing the total compensation of teachers to their real peer group -- the other college applicants with SATs in the 400-500 range?

Posted by: Inagua1 | February 24, 2011 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Brilliantly done, Jennifer!

Now, if only your colleagues at the post would stop pretending that CREW and other such "public interest" operations are really neutral.

I believe Nader started this scam with his Center for Auto Safety, funded by plaintiffs' lawyers to plant in the minds of potential jurors the hazards of American built cars ,and the charade has snowballed since.

To my knowledge CREW has only gone after one Dem, Cong. Jefferson, and then only after he was caught with tin foil wrapped packages of money n his freezer.

Posted by: clarice2 | February 24, 2011 3:27 PM | Report abuse

" personally think the Supreme Court screwed the pooch on allowing corporations into the game."

Does that include corporations like the New York Times Corporation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, General Electric Corporation owners of NBC, and the JusticeBros Corporations.

You see like paying taxes corporations do not actually SPEAK. People speak and assemble and a corporation is just one form of assembly. But you know that.

Posted by: econrob | February 24, 2011 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Crew is about the most sham for Democrats front groups you can get and all they do is spend dem money dreaming up accusation about Democrat enemies. Not only would I like to see their donor lists, I'd like to see their internal communications with elected democrats and their campaigns.

Posted by: accentmark | February 24, 2011 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Please publish the total compensation packages, benefits and per diems of the top 10% of Union Management

Under that number please publish the average union worker's income before and after dues are extracted

The comparison will enlighten

Posted by: georgedixon1 | February 24, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

CREW manipulated the whole sordid Mark Foley case. They withheld information. They altered emails. They set up a false flag operation and blog called Stop Sex Predators to release the Foley texts.

They've always been a group of Democrat operatives.

Posted by: quilly | February 24, 2011 4:11 PM | Report abuse

You are confusing education with credentalism. Education is a lifelong process, and a BS or MS in Education is essentially meaningless. How about comparing the total compensation of teachers to their real peer group -- the other college applicants with SATs in the 400-500 range?

Ouch ! That's going to leave a mark !

Posted by: mtkennedy | February 24, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Was a CREW member in that MN Airport Mens Room by any chance? Or did a crew member once talk to a CREW member? Beck is back on it...

Posted by: aardunza | February 24, 2011 4:20 PM | Report abuse

All this common sense, factual information might cause many a WaPo reader to suffer from fits of cognitive dissonance. You see, they come to the WaPo to specifically shield themselves from stuff like this.

This, plus the Weigel piece in Slate debunking the Koch Brother paranoia means it's been a bad day for lefty propaganda.

Posted by: TheLastBrainLeft | February 24, 2011 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Rick Berman ?

Are they kidding?
The very same Richard Berman who said “Cripples” threaten the nation’s economy?

The Worshipfull Master who believed anyone with a disability, or a child in a wheelchair, or a loved one who is blind should all sit in their houses and rot?

“The ridiculous Americans With Disabilities Act will CRIPPLE the hospitality industry”

Yup, Berman said that.

Protections for the disabled, according to Chairman Berman, will take down the nation’s economy.

Chairman Rick ‘advised’ the clueless 1989 American Congress that ” a vote against the Americans with Disabilities Act was " like kicking a cripple”

He should know.

According to Chairman Rick, the spineless President Bush and his pantywaist legislature supported the ADA ONLY because they were "afraid of appearing insensitive”.

Mr. Berman is certainly not threatened with sensitivity.

Rick Berman’s bottom line?


If you...
are a member of a union
lost a child to a drunk driver
want a better life for livestock
have a parent in a wheelchair
want to feed the hungry
are bothered by smokers while you eat in a restaurant
support higher salaries for teachers & firefighters?

Chairman Rick believes you have no reason for living.

Posted by: TerryWard | February 26, 2011 3:26 PM | Report abuse

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