Despite a disappointing showing on-field, Super Bowl XLVIII succeeded where it really matters: attracting 111 million pairs of eyeballs to TV screens on Feb. 2. While most fans associate the Big Game with ads for beer and car companies, groups with a political message are increasingly using football’s biggest stage to pitch their ideas. Case in point: For the second year in a row, anti-union group the Center for Union Facts ran a Washington area ad aimed at bolstering support for the Employee Rights Act, FCC filings tracked by Sunlight’s Political Ad Sleuth show. The group paid $57,000 for one 30 second ad slot that ran before kickoff on local Fox affiliate WTTG.
The Employee Rights Act — sponsored by Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in the Senate and Tom Price, R-Ga., in the House — would mandate that all workforce votes on whether or not to unionize be done by secret ballot, rather than publicly, as is the current practice. “Employees should have the right to join a union or not, and they should be able to decide without being fearful of that decision,” Hatch said in a press release. The Center for Union Rights’ ad for measure, dubbed the “Super Bowl Toilet Commercial” on the group’s official Youtube page is a repeat of the advertisement it used for last year’s game.
The Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization run by consultant Richard Berman out of his firm Berman and Co‘s Washington office. CUF describes itself on its “About Us” page as an organization “that fights for transparency and accountability in America’s labor movement.” Berman himself has faced scrutiny from MSNBC and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) for his role in dozens of similar nonprofit groups, which are not required to reveal their sources of funding. CREW, a Washington watchdog group has devoted an entire site to the consultant: Bermanexposed.org, which describes him as a “Washington, D.C.-based hired gun who uses front groups to defend his corporate clients against the public interest.” According to the Center for Union Facts’ 2011 990 form, Berman’s firm receives the lion’s share of the organization’s funding, which earned the Center for Union Facts a donor advisory warning on Charity Navigator.
In an appearance on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Berman argued: “Nonprofits not disclosing their donors, is something that is well known to people on the left, on the far left and on the right. All through politics people have nonprofits that are advocacy nonprofits and they all are refusing to submit donor lists because people don’t want to have their right to free speech curtailed by people coming after them.”
Other groups that sought to make a political splash on Super Bowl Sunday include former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, R, who announced his comeback re-election bid with an ad that showed off his snorkeling skills.