Complaint Spotlights ‘Dr. Evil’ Campaign Against Drunk-Driving Protections

Rick Berman
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Not too many people oppose efforts to keep drunk drivers off the road. But then, not too many people are known to enemies and friends alike as “Dr. Evil,” and revel in their role as the poster boy for deceptive astroturf corporate lobbying.

We’re talking, of course, about TPMmuckraker favorite Rick Berman, who has built a lucrative business by creating a string of industry-funded front groups that have fought efforts to fight smoking, drinking, and obesity without revealing their corporate clients.

Drunk-driving, too. In 2008, New York was considering legislation to mandate that ignition interlock devices — which work by requiring drivers to pass a breathalyzer test to be able to start the car — be placed in the vehicles of convicted drunk drivers. Berman’s American Beverage Institute, funded by the restaurant industry, ran ads in the New York Times and the New York Post warning that “activists” wanted to put the devices “in every car in America,” meaning, “the end of moderate and responsible drinking prior to driving … No more champagne toasts at weddings, no more wine with dinner, no more beers at a ballgame.”

The ad didn’t specifically mention the legislation, but its message and timing suggested it was a clear effort to defeat the bill. In other words, Berman and his clients appear to have been concerned that a law targeting only convicted drunk drivers would somehow cut into the profits of the restaurant industry. Talk about a concern for protecting profits.

In the end, Berman’s effort failed, and ABI and the interlock bill passed and was signed into law last year. It’s known as “Leandra’s Law,” after an 11-year old girl killed by a drunk-driver.

But now, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society — which has run afoul of Berman’s clients by fighting animal testing and factory farming — have filed a complaint with the state’s Commission on Public Integrity, alleging that Berman and ABI violated state law by failing to register as lobbyists before running the ad.

“Rick Berman has for years been running a commercial public relations operation and masquerading as a nonprofit organization,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Now, it appears that he is violating the law by failing to disclose to New York authorities his lobbying efforts to protect drunk drivers. The state should mete out the strongest penalties for this illegal conduct.”

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