It’s unrealistic to drive major social change but not stir a backlash from the special interests fighting for the status quo. That’s the dynamic at work with every major leader and organization that upends conventional thinking.
Over its sixty-two year history, The HSUS has had to contend with all kinds of individuals and interests who feel threatened in some way by the organization’s mission to confront animal cruelty in all its myriad forms and places. The motivation behind such opposition varies, but typically involves a perceived threat to one’s financial position, convenience, pleasure, strongly-held way of life, or standing in the world.
Opposition to the animal welfare movement dates back long before the founding of The HSUS in 1954. The earliest efforts at instituting a humane stance to animal treatment were met by resistance. The belief that animals hardly mattered and that we could have our way with them was widespread.
When Wayne Pacelle took the reins at HSUS in 2004, a number of critics in animal use industries recognized that they were about to confront a much more strategic, focused and powerful adversary than they’d ever faced. As Wayne and the rest of the HSUS team racked up gains, a more organized opposition coalesce, one that has spent millions of dollars to try to thwart the organization’s advance.
At the core of this opposition is the public relations firm led by the infamous Rick Berman, who has made a career out of concocting a web of nonprofit front groups that exist for the sole purpose of attacking public interest groups. Berman has a history of attacking anti-smoking advocates and even Mothers Against Drunk Driving, along with the U.S. Center for Disease Control. His attacks against The HSUS take a number of forms, but most occur under the banner of a 501(c)(3) Berman founded, the Center for Consumer Freedom.
Berman collects money from corporations that feel threatened by The HSUS — animal use interests, the trade associations for the pork and cattle industries, trophy hunting groups, and others — and then levels false or falsely framed attacks. These funders run their money through Berman’s nonprofit organizations, which in turn are insulated from having to disclose donors. Many of his nonprofits have donor advisories on Charity Navigator.
The footprint left behind by these front groups is easy to uncover. Dozens of these groups are headquartered under the single roof that is Berman’s PR firm in Washington, DC. The same fifty or so employees in his firm hold various titles at many of his non-profit groups. They spend their time attacking legitimate nonprofit organizations, including The HSUS, acting as hired guns. While much is not disclosed, Berman has spent millions attacking The HSUS.
What’s particularly insidious about the tactics employed by Berman’s groups is the gross distortion and misrepresentation they direct at the mission of The HSUS. At their core, these tactics seek to deceive the public, and in the process, create unwarranted fear and outrage directed towards The HSUS. They propagate the baseless allegation that The HSUS is at war with family farmers, or even more absurd, that the hidden mission of The HSUS is to convert the world to veganism. But perhaps the most outrageous claim by Berman and his front groups is that The HSUS is deceiving pet lovers into donating. They contend that donors’ contributions don’t fully go towards supporting animal shelters. This is absurd on its face, since the work of The HSUS is global in scope both in terms of region as well as species, in accordance with the vision of its founders. All sorts of animals are helped by the work of The HSUS and the generous contributions of its supporters. A full 80 percent of the operating expenses of The HSUS go toward animal protection programs, with the remaining 20 percent going to supporting the infrastructure of the organization, as shown in the chart below:
Organizations and individuals who fund Berman aren’t worried about an alleged inefficient use of dollars by The HSUS. Quite the opposite, they fear that The HSUS has become too effective, and continue to desperately throw money at Berman, hoping that despite his lack of impact, he will somehow secure some wins for them. Berman launched his “HumaneWatch” website and campaign just a few years after Wayne Pacelle assumed the role of President and CEO of The HSUS. At an industry conference, Berman warned potential funders that if they did not act quickly to stop The HSUS, it would be too late.
Another foe of The HSUS is multimillionaire Forrest Lucas, who created an organization called. Protect the Harvest in 2010. Lucas and his group, along with agriculture leaders in Missouri and Iowa, oppose policy makers and activists who don’t agree with their agenda of defending Big Agribusiness, puppy mills, animal-based circuses, trophy hunting, and other abusive industries. Lucas is a sort of one-man Super PAC fighting animal welfare, and particularly the work of The HSUS. While The HSUS has beaten Lucas on ballot measures in Massachusetts, Missouri, Oklahoma, and other states, he’s a major funder of initiatives against the organization and a continuing presence when major battles for animals emerge.
What’s noteworthy is that despite these concerted and well-funded efforts to tear down the work of The HSUS, advances for animals continue at a brisk pace. Those advances include a clear trajectory to end extreme confinement of animals on factory farms, an end to invasive experiments on chimpanzees, a significant reduction in the number of seals killed in Canadian seal hunts, the enactment of laws to crack down on puppy mills, felony-level penalties for malicious animal cruelty in all 50 states, restrictions on the exotic animal trade, and an end to American horses being slaughtered for overseas human consumption.
Wayne Pacelle’s Salary
CEO compensation is an often discussed topic. In the case of many Fortune 500 companies, CEOs command hefty compensation packages including base salary, bonuses, pensions, and stock options totaling millions of dollars. Shareholders and corporate boards gladly vote to approve such packages even when profits lag. CEO compensation rarely correlates to corporate earnings in many of these cases.
Matters are quite different in the nonprofit world. A high-degree of financial transparency is demanded by donors and charity evaluators. It is also mandated by United States tax law, which requires that nonprofits file an annual IRS Form 990. This filing requirement is in place to ensure that nonprofits do not abuse their tax-exempt status. The entire Form 990 for The HSUS can be viewed on its website for tax year 2015 and previous years, along with financial statements and annual reports.
The salaries of key employees, including Wayne Pacelle, can be viewed in Part VII of the HSUS Form 990. The HSUS’s volunteer board of directors sets all the salaries, after viewing compensation for similarly sized non-profits. Pacelle makes less than most managing organizations of a similar size, and for comparison makes less than half the salary of the head of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the head of the National Rifle Association.