The Humane Society of the United States has a new dog. It’s a watchdog called Humanewatch.org. Really this bulldog is David Martosko, director of research, at the Washington D.C.-based non-profit Center for Consumer Freedom. Martosko explains that he brings a libertarian sort of notion to his work. People should have choices and actions that limit a person’s choices are not good. He sees the HSUS as one of several animal rights organizations that intend to limit our food choices to the rice and vegetables featured in a vegan diet.
“No one should try to strong arm the marketplace to limit the choices people have,” he says. “HSUS uses emotionalism to drive its marketing and fund raising. But people who get sucked into that emotionalism are sacrificing their choices. When it’s all put together it’s a net negative for society.”
Martosko is from Strongsville and has three research assistants who help him dig up dirt on HSUS. The news he finds about the animal rights activist organization is revealed in stories on the site as well as the organization’s Facebook page.
“I’m really just an investigative reporter,” Martosko told me in a phone conversation yesterday. “Everything I report has to be backed by facts.”
That’s especially true with the HSUS which employs a staff of 23 lawyers to make sure that if anyone is saying anything liable, they can be ready to pounce.
“Most of what I have gotten has come straight from their tax returns,” Martosko says. That would be especially true of the revelation that this animal-loving organization with a name that sounds like a direct connection to the local animal humane shelters spends only a fraction of its budget supporting the animals in a shelter. “About one half of 1%,” says Martosko.
“The vulnerability of HSUS is their deception in the fund-raising,” Martosko says. “Seven out of 10 people surveyed think of HSUS as an umbrella group for local animal shelters. HSUS understands that they are misleading people.”
On the site Humanewatch urges visitors to redirect their HSUS donations to their local shelter. It also challenges HSUS to give 50% of its reported $100 million budget to the animals that are shown in its advertising appeals. In 2009 the organization reported $82 million in revenue and income and $218 million in total assets.
“I don’t want to dry up the donations to HSUS,” Martosko says. “I just want them to go to the purpose that the donors think they are giving to.”
He notes that the organization puts more towards its own employee pension fund than it has toward animal shelters.
Martosko says his revelations have had an impact. While the HSUS had a 72% positive image in 2004, it is now down to 47%. He also notes that other watchdogs of charitable organizations have downgraded their operational rankings of the HSUS. “The respected nonprofit charity rating service Charity Navigator has officially downgraded HSUS to a level lower than the crazies at PETA. And the charity watchdog American Institute of Philanthropy gives HSUS a C-minus rating.”
Martosko's technique is to play offense and not defense. He goes for the “push points” that truly motivate people, fear, love, anger, greed and sympathy. And he is not above doing the outrageous or the humorous approach to poke the group and attract attention. A recent blog entry has a cartoon of Homer Simpson with a doughnut. In another a chimpanzee is asked to act as guest author. Recently he rewrote the headlines on the New York Times front page to mock an article investigating the firm that established Center for Consumer Freedom.
The result is a skyrocketing number of hits on his blog. A chart on the site compares his skyrocketing hits which double the number registered for the blog of HSUS president Wayne Pacelle. “You’ve got to do something to attract people’s attention,” Martosko says. “We get lots of visits from people who had one of our stories forwarded to them because it struck them as funny.”
However, the Ohio native sees no humor in what’s ahead with the proposed ballot issue HSUS is trying to gather signatures for. “We are going to see plenty of footage of chickens crammed into cages,” he says. “Much of it will be 8 to 10 years old, but that’s what’s in the HSUS playbook and it has worked before.”
Ohio is a test, he says, to see if the “carpetbagger” approach of bringing in hired signature gathers works. Some 14 other states which have created livestock care boards of their own are waiting to see how things play out in Ohio.
“There is plenty of money to be spent on both sides,” he says. “But there is not much grassroots work on the HSUS side. It’s all coming from out of state. It’s like they are saying, ‘Let us show you the path to enlightenment.’ It seems like the are saying, ‘What Ohioans did last year doesn’t matter.’ ”