The $16 Million Elephant in the Room

JugglingWayneLast month, the Washington Times editorial board published a piece, “The inhumane society,” detailing the dishonesty of HSUS—epitomized, the paper argued, by the group’s contributions to a 14-year smear campaign (coordinated by HSUS and other animal-rights radicals) to ban elephants from the circus. Those who follow our efforts know how this movie ended: Ultimately, a federal court uncovered a scheme in which activists paid a key witness—who lied under oath—almost $200,000. The judge called this witness “essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness who is not credible” and deemed an animal-rights lawsuit against the circus “frivolous and vexatious.”

As a result, Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, brought a federal racketeering lawsuit against activists, resulting in HSUS and the other animal extremists writing a $15.75 million check that covered Ringling’s legal fees, wreaked by the prolonged crusade. (ASPCA, another organization named in the suit had already settled its part for $9.3 million.)

HSUS seems to think that animal lovers shouldn’t be phased by its settlement. In a letter responding to the Times’ editorial, HSUS spokesman Alan Heymann explained that the lawsuit was “settle[d] earlier this year,” and that the group “continues to be transparent about where donor dollars go.”

This insistence on transparency is surprising, given HSUS’s statement following the settlement. HSUS claimed that “no donor dollars from The HSUS will go to Feld.” That seems to be misleading at best, and perhaps outright false. HSUS’s insurance company denied it coverage regarding the RICO suit. HSUS has sued its insurer to try to get coverage, but there’s no guarantee HSUS will win—and the RICO lawsuit settlement was already paid in May.

Our polling also contradicts HSUS’s claims of ongoing “transparency and good stewardship of donations.” Last year, over 1,000 self-identified donors to the Humane Society of the United States reported that they supported the group “to help HSUS care for animals in shelters.” Upon learning that only 1% of the HSUS budget is used for this end, 84% of HSUS’s benefactors agreed “HSUS misleads people into thinking that it supports local humane societies and pet shelters.” That doesn’t exactly sound like transparency and good stewardship.

If you don’t take our word for it (or the words of the group’s very own donors), consider the evaluations of objective third-parties: Charity Navigator pulled HSUS’s rating and replaced it with a warning to donors. And the charity evaluator CharityWatch routinely gives HSUS bad grades on its report cards.

This isn’t Heymann’s first flop, either. Last year we told Bloomberg News about a complaint we filed with the IRS due to HSUS’s apparently filing of incorrect tax returns for years. HSUS had been wrongly inflating its finances against IRS instruction. Heymann’s brainless response in the story was “The only thing I would ask is that you consider the source of these allegations.” Well, Bloomberg did consider the source—and the facts—and ran the story. And in its most current tax return HSUS has changed the way it reports some of its income—presumably as a response to our allegations.

HSUS claims the Times is issuing “ad-hominem, false attacks” at the allegedly “respected” HSUS. But the facts speak for themselves, and a group that trades on the generosity of others to attack farmers or pay legal bills doesn’t earn any respect in our book.