The Phantom ‘Constituency’

Who’s an HSUS “constituent”? Why, HumaneWatch is.

Surprised? We aren’t.

Here’s some background for the unfamiliar: the Humane Society of the United States (an animal rights group not affiliated with humane society pet shelters) claims that it has 11 million “members and constituents.” The implication is that HSUS has widespread mainstream support, which is crucial for HSUS since it spends so much money on lobbying. Legislators tend to listen to groups with the biggest clout. (In fact, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle will appear on Capitol Hill today with Michael Vick.)

However, we’ve long questioned the credibility of HSUS’s self-generated statistic. According to its latest tax return, HSUS’s All Animals magazine, which is included in an HSUS membership, has a circulation of about 450,000. So are the other 10.5 million people all HSUS “constituents”?

And what exactly is a constituent, anyway? HSUS doesn’t say. But now we have another clue.

When we removed ourselves from an HSUS email list last week, we received a message that began, “Dear Constituent.” A-ha. Simply being on an HSUS email list—whether or not you agree with HSUS’s animal rights agenda—earns you the “constituent” label.

How far does this nonsense go? You might remember that we unearthed an internal HSUS document from the late 1980s breaking down the “members and constituents” into its relative parts. Back then, 34.3 percent of HSUS’s tallied constituency consisted of simply “prospects.” Presumably, prospects are people who may not even agree with HSUS at all, so it may be dishonest of HSUS to count them as “constituents.” (A “prospect” is generally someone on a mailing list who hasn’t made a donation.)

That was then. In today’s world, HSUS has more means to expand its constituency and its prospects. If HSUS buys a direct-mail list, are all the addressees considered HSUS “constituents”? Are HSUS’s Facebook fans and Twitter followers all classified as “constituents”? (Wouldn’t there be some double-counting in there somewhere?)

Here’s the bottom line: HSUS is counting people as constituents who don’t even agree with it. And in today’s age of social media, it’s easy for a puffed up figure to get even more ridiculous. The best way to think of it is that HSUS really represents just 1/23—4 percent—of its puffed-up constituency, or about 1 in 670 Americans. That’s probably all the support an extreme agenda can hope to muster.