Oregonian blogger Jeff Mapes had an interesting encounter at the Republican National Convention last week with Rick Berman, the Washington lobbyist behind those TV ads accusing Oregon Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Merkley of wanting to take away workers' right to a secret ballot.
"When we met, Berman easily stood out from the crowds of delegates and guests at the Xcel Center who were streaming by festooned in buttons and, for the most part, casual clothes," Mapes writes. "He's a tall, imposing figure with bullet-shaped head, a direct manner and a brassy pin-striped suit with gold tie.
"He didn't waste any time sugarcoating his mission: killing the union-backed 'Employee Free Choice Act,' which he says would 'do more damage to the country than any other issue I could think of.'"
Under current law, employers can require a secret-ballot election for employees to certify a union. Under the Employee Free Choice Act, employees could join a union just by turning in signed cards saying a majority of them wanted it. However, if 30% of the workers said they wanted a secret ballot, there'd have to be one.
Unions say the change is needed because under the present setup employers can stall elections and/or intimidate pro-union workers. Business interests - such as those who hired Berman - say that without secret-ballot elections "union bosses" will intimidate workers.
Mapes quotes Berman as saying he thinks the Employee Free Choice Act would be a terrible thing because it "would impact the balance of power in the political system by giving billions of dollars to an avowed leftist organization" - by which he means organized labor.
The Eye thought that kind of rhetoric went out with tail fins, but apparently we were wrong.
Berman's specialty is "Astroturfing" - creating organizations that appear to be grassroots but actually are bankrolled by special (usually corporate) interests. His work on behalf of right-wing causes has earned him the epithet of "Dr. Evil" among progressives.
Describing Berman's modus operandi, Mapes explains that he "sets up non-profit groups that don't have to disclose their donors, and he then uses the money to launch independent advertising efforts that, as he puts it, use the most 'aggressive' possible messages.
"Unlike, say, the Chamber of Commerce, 'I'm not going to be worried that some of my members are going to say, "Gee, you're making me look bad,'" says Berman. That's because he doesn't have any members, just folks willing to quietly write him big checks."