A Response to HSUS’s “Open Letter” to Agriculture Journalists

FarmerWayneHSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle penned an “open letter” to ag journalists on Friday, complaining about how his organization is supposedly receiving unfair coverage. As usual, Pacelle neglects to mention key facts that you should be aware of when making decisions about the trustworthiness and legitimacy of HSUS.

  1. Pacelle says his group gets high marks from Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, but that doesn’t mean much. Charity Navigator’s rating of HSUS neglects to factor in that HSUS misleadingly classifies tens of millions of dollars in fundraising costs as “program” expenses. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance was exposed in USA Today for having a glaring conflict of interest, taking money from the very charities it rates (including $15,000 from HSUS). The much tougher analysis from the American Institute of Philanthropy/CharityWatch gives HSUS a C-minus grade, and Animal People, an animal-rights newspaper, calculates that HSUS spends an outrageous 55% of its budget on overhead. That’s not the mark of an efficient charity.
  2. HSUS’s agriculture campaign is stocked with and led by vegan radicals. HSUS farm-animal VP Paul Shapiro was on the “steering committee,” alongside a convicted arsonist and a spokesman for an eco-terror group, of a magazine that was a cheerleader for terrorism. HSUS food policy director and ex-PETA activist Matt Prescott created a campaign comparing farms to Nazi concentration camps, and also rationalized burning down a laboratory. Then-HSUS VP Miyun Park told an animal rights conference that what Pacelle calls “limited reforms” in agriculture are really just “a step in the right direction” toward HSUS’s overall goal of “get[ting] rid of the entire industry.”
  3. Pacelle uses the words “disingenuous” and “ludicrous” to describe the framing of HSUS as a group that is primarily about funding shelters. However, polling of HSUS’s own donors, and the public at large, shows that this is what people think their money is going towards—- shelters and shelter pets. Even Wayne Pacelle himself admitted recently “I think there is some confusion among the general public and I think there’s occasional confusion with, with donors.” This confusion among the public  is unquestionably true. Perhaps it’s because all of HSUS’s fundraising material has pictures of sad-looking dogs and cats in shelters.
  4. Disclaimer2Pacelle claims that all of HSUS’s TV ads have a disclaimer. That may be true in January 2014, but TV ads for the years 2009-2011—nearly a three-year period–provided to us by a national monitoring service showed that 99% of the airings did not contain a disclaimer. This data was used in our report documenting HSUS’s deceptive fundraising that was then sent to two dozen state attorneys general. (Our report analyzes HSUS TV ads, telemarketing, and direct mail.) If HSUS has now added a disclaimer to all of its TV ads, (“all” is questionable), it’s almost certainly a disclaimer that can be appreciated by those with good eyesight and an ability to speed-read. (See the image at right.)
  5. Pacelle claims that HSUS helps shelters in other ways, but he doesn’t mention that HSUS charges shelters for services. For example, HSUS charges shelters up to $25,000 for a shelter evaluation, HSUS charges an admission fee to its shelter conference, and it charges for courses at its Humane Society University (which is not formally accredited). Moreover, HSUS is taking money from local communities that donors wrongly think is going to help shelters. Charitable giving is finite. A dollar given to HSUS—a gift that the donor likely thinks is going to help local shelters already—is one less dollar for the local community.
  6. Pacelle engages in logical gymnastics by presenting the false analogy of people thinking the NRA funds gun clubs or the American Farm Bureau Federation funds individual farmers. The trouble is that no one thinks the NRA funds gun clubs or that the AFBF funds farms. No one. Yet polling reveals the public at large and HSUS donors do think HSUS is primarily about supporting local shelters–a misconception that benefits HSUS and it is not aggressively seeking to reverse.
  7. Pacelle complains about others caricaturing HSUS, yet he then caricatures the work of our executive director in other, totally unrelated fields. Pacelle writes that he “fought…Mothers Against Drunk Driving on alcohol use and automobiles.” Actually, he advocates for tougher drunk-driving laws in some circumstances, but opposes radical efforts to have Breathalyzers installed in all cars, a position echoed by the founder of MADD. As for fighting unions, he advocates that workers be allowed to vote in private on whether to join a union, and workers be allowed to stop the union from using their dues for political causes. These are hardly nefarious positions to take; in fact, polling shows that the public agrees with this point of view. But Pacelle doesn’t put his screed in context.

wayne-pacelle-imageWayne Pacelle doesn’t want you to report the truth. He just wants people to swallow whatever line he and HSUS are trying to feed at the moment.

The truth is much broader than simply our HumaneWatch campaign that educates the public about HSUS. Pacelle brags on his blog that “Few are in a position to speak for the animals like Wayne Pacelle.” Yet Wayne Pacelle has never run a farm. He is not an expert on good animal husbandry or animal science. He’s an outsider with a long history of a radical animal rights agenda – he has said, “I don’t want to see another cat or dog born” – who has gained influence because he took the reins of a group with a lot of money that looks moderate in comparison to PETA. Wayne Pacelle may have slicker public relations campaigns than PETA, but he and other HSUS leaders do not believe there is such a thing as “humane” animal agriculture. For all its praise of small artisan farmers, try and find one instance where HSUS suggests to its members where they should buy their meat. You’ll be searching a long time.

Pacelle may be able to charm (or badger) some members of the media into doing his bidding. But as journalists, we hope you will seek the rest of the story.