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Lobbyists' Claws Out Over Destination of Humane Society Donations

Puppies available for adoption sleep peacefully Dec. 21, 2017, at the Humane Society of Southwestern Michigan in Benton Harbor, Mich.(Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium via AP)

A shaggy dog sadly sits in a park begging for spare change and the occasional dollar bill from passers-by hoping to raise enough for a meal. Suddenly, an evil business executive reaches down and grabs all of the money in a video created to show how the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) takes money that donors wrongly believe is going to help homeless pets at their local shelters.

“Despite its advertising full of cats and dogs and calling itself a ‘humane society,’ the Humane Society of the United States is not affiliated with local humane societies that run pet shelters,” Garrett Fulce, spokesman for the Center for Consumer Freedom, wrote in an email last week.

“Only 1 percent of the money raised by HSUS is given to pet shelters. Recent HSUS solicitations were found not to include a disclaimer acknowledging that there is no such association, while also claiming that only 19 percent of HSUS donations go toward fundraising when the accurate figure is 52 percent,” Fulce added.

However, the Humane Society of the United States has complained for years that it is the Center for Consumer Freedom being deceptive in its attacks on the HSUS.

Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle told Politico in 2015 that the CCF’s campaign against his group was nothing “swift-boating on steroids.”

Pacelle said the Humane Society has never claimed to be a shelter charity.

The Center for Consumer Freedom filed a complaint this month with the Federal Trade Commission against the Humane Society. Fulce said the nonprofit organization also passed along the allegations of 77 people who claimed they had been duped by the society.

The CCF complaint alleged that donor money is being used to pay the salaries of dozens of HSUS employees, funding executives’ pensions and is stashed in offshore accounts.

Will Coggin, managing director of the CCF, told PJM what the Humane Society of the United States had done was one of the more egregious examples of donor deception.

“The organization is using bait-and-switch fundraising… they are using the money they raise in a way that is totally outrageous,” he said. “They prey off the good will of the public that think these guys are affiliated with their local animal shelter.”

He said CCF had also targeted groups like PETA that were “taking away meat, dairy and egg products or driving prices because they don’t believe people should be eating them.”

“And say what you will about PETA, they at least are very open about what they believe and what they want for everyone,” Coggin said.

Speaking of PETA and groups like it that advocate for animal rights, the HSUS on its website claimed, “CCF hirelings sling mud on behalf of companies that profit from the mistreatment of animals—including the most extreme actors within the agribusiness sector.”

A Humane Watch report, a project of the CCF, showed the HSUS had $51.5 million in Caribbean funds and paid nearly $3 million to HSUS executives — almost four times as much as was spent on shelters, which was less than $809,000.

The report also showed the Humane Society of the United States spent $4.25 million on lobbying governments, five times more than it spent on grants to shelters.

HSUS put $604,000 behind a group called the “Oklahoma Stewardship Council” to lobby government officials, 31 times what it spent on animal shelters in Oklahoma. Another $800,000 was spent to influence government officials in Massachusetts through “Citizens for Farm Animals.” That was 1,600 times more than was spent on shelters in that state.

“Regulators need to stop well-meaning Americans who want to help pets from being ripped off,” said Coggin. “Donors want to help homeless animals—not wealthy D.C. executives who mislead the public about how their money will be used.”

But before you start pointing the dirty end of the stick at the HSUS, the Humane Society website argued, it would be good to look at where CCF money goes.

“CCF is one of the 35 or so shadowy nonprofit organizations or web-based campaigns founded by or associated with millionaire lobbyist and PR professional Richard Berman,” an HSUS statement reads. “According to CCF’s 2008 tax filing, 92 percent of all revenue taken in by CCF went straight into the pockets of Berman and his for-profit PR firm which appears to be nothing less than a personal enrichment scheme.” Food companies and meat processors have been among the center’s key donors.

The Center for Consumer Freedom’s complaint to the FTC also claimed the Humane Society of the United States used “significant name confusion” to lead donors to believe it was affiliated with local pet shelters.

“Polling has found that most Americans incorrectly believe that HSUS is an ‘umbrella group’ for pet shelters; that it is some kind of national office for the local humane shelters,” the complaint charges. “In fact, there is no affiliation between HSUS and local humane societies.”

The Center for Consumer Freedom concludes that HSUS, according to the FTC’s definition, has “deceived the public for years in order to raise hundreds of millions of dollars.” The CCF also urges the FTC to take “appropriate action.”

The shaggy dog video is not the only time the Center for Consumer Freedom has gone after the Humane Society of the United States.

The CCF, through its Humane Watch project, ran an ad in Politico that showed HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle on a Wanted Poster in which he was referred to as a “predator” charged with “shortchanging America’s needy pets.”

“Pacelle and the Humane Society of the United States raise money with tear-jerking images of dogs and cats,” read a CCF statement released along with its Predator ad. “Yet HSUS gives only 1 penny of every dollar it raises to local pet shelters while pouring millions into the pockets of Pacelle, his fellow executives, and the organization’s pension plan.”

Referring to the Pacelle Wanted Poster, a Center for Consumer Freedom statement explained the ad should be considered “our way of saying ‘season’s greetings’ to one of America’s most shameless exploiters of shelter animals.”

“Capitol Hill is currently dealing with sexual harassment scandals,” the CCF statement concludes. “Our ad is a reminder to staffers and lawmakers that there’s more than one breed of predator.”