Wednesday’s Plain Dealer featured a large ad on page 9 urging Congressman John Boccieri — a fence-sitter on health care — to vote no on the pending reform bill. The not-quite-full-page ad has a picture of Boccieri atop photos of President Obama and Nancy Pelosi (the latter seemingly chosen for its snarling expression) under a headline “A majority of Representative Boccieri’s district opposes the health reform bill.” It asks, “If he votes for it, who is he representing — you or them?” It urges Boccieri’s constituents to ask him not to add the “$2 trillion” cost of health-care reform to the “$12 trillion” deficit.

  • Berman
The ad was sponsored by a group with the pleasant, well-meaning-sounding name “Rethink Reform.” It’s an advocacy group run by a corporate lobbyist named Richard Berman. The guy’s bio sounds like he was the model for the main character in the film Thank You for Smoking. His myriad organizations sport deceptive names like “Center for Consumer Freedom,” “Center for Union Facts” and “Employment Policies Institute.” “Rethink Reform” is a project of the Employment Polices Institute, according to its website.

Working for tobacco companies, alcohol distributors and fast-food chains, among others, Berman has opposed the minimum wage (the main goal of the Employment Policies Institute), claimed unions hurt workers, fought against anti-smoking laws, smeared animal-rights activists, declared high-fructose corn syrup healthy, and even downplayed the danger of mercury-laden fish to pregnant women. He was in the thick of the drive to kill the Clinton health-care reform initiative in 1993-94. One of his groups, “Sunlight Scam,” attempted to show that tanning was completely safe, so you know John Boehner is probably a huge fan of his. Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has a website,, where you can learn more.

Needless to say, Berman doesn’t have the interests of Boccieri’s constituents at heart as much as those of his own corporate masters. Rethink Reform’s website acknowledges “we need reform,” but then worries that “it’s too big, it’s too expensive and [will] have too many unintended consequences.” For whom exactly? Well, we’re not sure. Most of EPI’s funding comes from anonymous donors, although the right-wing John M. Olin Foundation’s name has been linked to the group.

Northeast Ohioans and John Boccieri aren’t the only ones being targeted by Rethink Reform. Their ads are airing on cable news networks and local TV, and have also appeared in The New York Times and USA Today. As health-care reform moves toward passage, Rethink Reform and other industry and right-wing groups are becoming increasingly frantic. Talking Points Memo has a good breakdown of just how desperate and freaked-out they are. — Anastasia Pantsios

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