HSUS Desperately Misleads Congress…Again
Following Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle being grilled at a recent U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing, one Senator submitted follow-up questions to Pacelle about HSUS’s deceptive fundraising. We received a copy of Pacelle’s responses—and he is doubling down on deception and blaming us for his problems.
HSUS is facing tough questions. But as expected, Pacelle submits carefully crafted responses that often don’t answer the questions. It will soon become clear from his rhetorical maneuvering that Pacelle has not been conducting himself or his organization in an honest manner. (After all, this is the same Pacelle who wrote a check to pay a witness in an alleged racketeering scheme that cost his organization and donors millions to pay the legal settlement.)
Let’s be clear about one thing up front: Following Pacelle’s responses, we stand by our previous conclusion that he lied to the subcommittee. Pacelle testified regarding HSUS TV ads that “Those ads say that we’re not giving the money to animal shelters” and that there is “explicit language” to that effect. But as Pacelle admits in his response to the follow-up questions, there is no explicit language in HSUS TV ads (or direct mail, or telephone solicitations) to that effect.
Now for the mental gymnastics that Pacelle offers. The heart of his argument is that HSUS 1) offers a disclaimer in some of its advertising, but not all of it, and yet 2) is confident that its donors know full well what HSUS does. If that makes any sense, we have a beachfront villa in North Dakota to sell you.
Here are some excerpts from Pacelle’s responses. We encourage you to read the full replies, but this should give you a taste of how he continues to mislead and deceive—to say whatever it takes to justify ripping off Americans to fund his radical, PETA-like agenda. All questions are from the Senate.
Question: In the course of the hearing, you said that your ads have a disclaimer stating that the money will not be used to fund animal shelters. What percentage of your 2014 TV ads explicitly (not implicitly) state that none or only a portion of the funding raised by your ads will be used to support local animal shelters?
Pacelle: “We run limited TV ads.”
Our response: That is not an answer to the question. Additionally, if that is HSUS’s position on transparency then why doesn’t HSUS include disclaimers in its more voluminous direct mail campaigns? Pacelle was asked this, and responded in a way that can only be described as laughable. (See below.)
Pacelle: “all of [our TV ads] state that local humane societies are independent from The HSUS – including 100 percent of our ads in 2014.”
Our response: The question is what percentage of ads “explicitly” has a disclaimer that donations to HSUS don’t go to pet shelters. So, the answer should be 0%. Pacelle, of course, goes out of his way not to say this.
And what of the disclaimer Pacelle mentions? Here’s a screen-cap of an ad from 2014. There’s a disclaimer here. See if you can find it. No, it’s not the tiny font at the bottom of the screen. That says “Adopt a pet” and “Buy animal friendly products.” It’s the even more miniscule line under HSUS’s logo. It’s fine print of fine print. You practically need a magnifying glass to read it. If you can’t read a disclaimer, it’s not a disclaimer. It could just as well have been printed in Japanese and would have been of equal value as a warning. Pacelle could still claim it was in the ads—even if you can’t read it.
Pacelle: “This whole issue is a contrivance of [HumaneWatch].”
Our response: Wayne often whines about us shining a bright light on him. Not much of an answer. Look at our recent poll of over 1,000 self-identified HSUS donors. The vast majority say they feel misled by HSUS once they learn how little of their donations go to pet shelters. We received similar responses in 2013 and 2012 from HSUS donors.
Further, HSUS itself conducted internal polling of its donors, published in 2011, which discovered that about two-thirds of HSUS donors believe that their contributions will go towards funding “local animal shelters for unwanted, injured or stray animals.” For Pacelle to claim that this issue is a “contrivance” shows he rivals the state of Nebraska for output of bovine excrement. Simply put, HSUS is blaming the victim: its own donors.
Question: Do you have similar disclaimer language on all of your direct mail solicitations? If not, why do you have it on some television ads but not on fundraising letters?
Pacelle: All of our direct mail solicitations are absolutely clear about the mission and work of our organization.
Our response: Huh? Again, Pacelle does not answer the question. How many direct mail appeals have a disclaimer? We’ve obtained copies of many HSUS appeals and have yet to see a disclaimer on any of them.
Pacelle: “Indeed, it is telling that neither [HumaneWatch] nor our other adversaries have ever cited a single piece of our direct mail that suggests we run local animal shelters. We are confident that no donor who opens and reads our mail could have any doubt whatsoever about our mission.”
Our response: In fact, in our 2012 report on HSUS’s deceptive fundraising we pointed to HSUS solicitations as perpetuating the deception that HSUS is primarily about caring for pets. For instance, in a 2010 direct mail letter HSUS stated “You can help us save unwanted puppies, kittens, cats and dogs from becoming grim statistics”—referring to the number of cats and dogs put down in shelters every year. (Read other examples in our report.) Here’s a copy of a 2013 direct mail appeal that states, “I know you are a person who is appalled and outraged about animal cruelty, abuse and neglect, and the terrible things that happen to puppies, kittens, dogs, cats and other animals. That’s why you joined HSUS in the first place!”
Exactly. HSUS simply thinks it can throw in the words “other animals” or the image of a cow into its advertising, while flooding the ads with dogs and cats, and then say its fundraising is clear. This is excuse-making for manipulation. People think they’re primarily helping cats and dogs with their donations when that is not the case at all. And surveys which Wayne has seen bear out the deception.
HSUS direct mail appeals most certainly do perpetuate confusion. If they didn’t, why do so many HSUS donors think they’re funding pet shelters?
Question: Do you have similar disclaimer language offered upfront in all of your telephone solicitations? If not, why not?
Pacelle: “Our very limited telephone solicitations are also absolutely clear about the mission and work of our organization. Our callers describe actual HSUS programs and ask donors to support them. We are confident that no donor who has a conversation with one of our agents would think we are an organization that runs local animal shelters.”
Our response: Pacelle again refuses to say yes or no to a simple yes-or-no question. The answer is no. No disclaimer is offered upfront over the phone in any solicitation we’ve ever read (solicitations must be filed with some states). Once again we have Pacelle asserting—with no evidence—that HSUS donors are not confused, when mountains of evidence points to the contrary. Here’s a copy of a script for a tele-solicitation from 2014-2015 that is all about pets, for instance.
Question: Do you think having “Humane Society” in your name coupled with ads featuring mostly dogs and cats perpetuates confusion among donors who think HSUS is actually running pet shelters?
Pacelle: “The notion that our television ads are in any way misleading is a fiction invented by political opponents of the HSUS and propagated by [HumaneWatch].”
Our response: If they aren’t misleading in any way, why did HSUS decide to start putting disclaimers in its ads that it is independent from local humane societies? Such a change came in 2011—after we launched HumaneWatch.org and complained publicly of HSUS’s misleading advertising. Such an inclusion of a disclaimer must be regarded as an admission of guilt that, at the very least, HSUS’s older ads were deceptive. Of course the “disclaimers” are a farce but the tiny words give Wayne his cover to say that he is informing the public.
Question: Would you be willing to include a clear message in all of your fundraising, advertising and materials that clarifies that HSUS doesn’t run pet shelters?
Pacelle: “Our messaging focuses on the positive accomplishments of the HSUS and the work we are actively engaged in to help all animals. … Moreover, the notion that the government, acting at the behest of groups like the CCF [ed.: that’s us again!], would try to dictate the content of our materials is alarming.”
Our response: Pacelle missed another opportunity to answer yes or no. It seems that HSUS is unwilling to voluntarily include such a disclaimer. And notice the straw man argument attacking us: This has nothing to do with free speech. The question was whether HSUS would voluntarily add a disclaimer to clear up common confusion. There is no First Amendment protection for deceptive practices or consumer fraud.
Question: Do you have any reason to believe that your donors are unaware of how little support HSUS gives in direct funding to shelters?
Pacelle: “Our donors support the HSUS because they believe in our mission to help all animals. Our donors know this is our mission … Our donors also know that we provide extensive support to local shelters.”
Our response: Yet again Pacelle fails to answer a simple yes-or-no question with a yes or a no. The answer should clearly be “yes.” As we said before, HSUS conducted an internal poll that found most donors thought they were funding animal shelters. In fact, Pacelle himself admitted in late 2013 that “I think there is some confusion among the general public and I think there’s occasional confusion with, with donors.” (Audio at the link.) Pacelle’s claim that “our donors know” is false, no matter how many times he makes it—and he knows that.
Question: Do you believe that your fundraising takes away from local humane societies?
Pacelle: “Absolutely not. Americans are charitable people, and their compassion and generosity is not a zero sum game.”
Our response: He knows the valid answer is absolutely yes. Charitable giving is a zero-sum game. People only give so much money to charity every year. We have documented that HSUS donors think they are funding pet shelters. We have documented that HSUS knows through internal polling that donors think they’re helping animal shelters. Pacelle himself has admitted that there is confusion with donors. Of course HSUS’s fundraising takes away from local pet shelters. Pacelle obviously continues to believe we’re all stupid.
Finally, Pacelle addressed a few issues about hunting. Pacelle claimed that “The Humane Society of the United States and I are not opposed to hunting.” However, “not opposed to” is not the same thing as “support.” Note that HSUS never really says what it would do “if it could.” However Pacelle is on record saying “If we could ban all sport hunting in a moment, we would.”
Pacelle also claims that his critics recycle “a series of old quotes of questionable provenance that I allegedly made while in college and in my first job out of college.” There’s nothing “alleged” about his quotes against hunting. They come from a book, an Associated Press article, and essays Pacelle wrote. These are hardly Internet rumors. And out of college Pacelle was in charge of the anti-hunting group Fund for Animals, which merged with HSUS once Pacelle took over HSUS.
Pacelle has never disavowed his earlier views. He has only said they are “old.” That’s hardly a disclaimer of the “old” Wayne.