Employment Policies Institute Is a PR Firm Masquerading as a Think Tank. And They SUCK at It.

No one takes the Employment Policies Institute seriously


As research director at the mendaciously named Employment Policies Institute, Michael Saltsman has one job, and one job only: Defend his restaurant and retail industry patrons from proposals to raise the minimum wage.  And yet it is on Saltsman’s watch that the $15 minimum wage has quickly transformed from a “near insane idea” to codified law in Seattle, California, and New York.

To borrow a phrase from the Republican frontrunner: Sad!

No wonder Saltsman has taken to the pages of the Orange County Register to blindly lash out at the upstart minimum wage advocates who are, let’s be honest, totally kicking his supply-side ass:

Advocates for the policy at a far-left Seattle think tank made the contrarian case that California’s rising minimum wage is entirely consistent with our past experience.

Hey, that’s us! And yet in criticizing our post, Saltsman not only fails to extend the common courtesy of throwing us a link, he refuses to even mention our name. What a dick.

Here at 100% plutocrat-funded Civic Ventures, we chuckle at the notion that our shop is “far-left” (Nick Hanauer’s mission is to save capitalism, not overthrow it), though since such ideological nomenclature is inherently subjective, whatever. But to be clear: We are not, nor have we ever claimed to be a “think tank.” (I only chose the title “senior fellow” because I think it’s funny.)

Compare that to Saltsman’s Employment Policies Institute, which disingenuously claims to be a “non-profit think tank,” while actually being neither. In fact, it is actually just one of several profitable front groups run out of the offices of DC-based lobbying and PR firm Berman and Company. In a 2014 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, the New York Times‘ Eric Lipton explains how it works:

LIPTON: Yeah, I was – you know, set up an interview with the research director. I got the address of his office. I went to the eighth floor of the building on Vermont Avenue, like four blocks from the White House. The elevator opens, and it’s Berman and Company. And I go in and, you know, there’s a bunch of awards on the wall, advertising awards, public relations awards that Berman and Company has won for its work, you know, doing ad campaigns on behalf of various industry groups.

And so I didn’t see any evidence at all that there was an Employment Policies Institute office. And in fact when I started to interview the people there, they explained that there are no employees at the Employment Policies Institute and that all the staff there works for Berman and Company, and then they sometimes are just detailed to the various think-tanks and various consumer groups that he operates out of his office.

And he bills them, sort of like a law firm would bill various clients.

Wow. What a great scam. And it has been from the Employment Policies Institute’s start. Note: I refuse to refer to the organization by its three-letter abbreviation, EPI, because it was obviously named to sow confusion with the real EPI, the pre-existing and pro-minimum wage Economic Policy Institute. Hell, not-EPI even apes EPI’s favicon, causing me to repeatedly click on the wrong browser tab:

A Tale of Two EPIs

What a bunch of shameless trolls.

Legally, not-EPI is registered as a tax-exempt 501c3 (or, illegally one might reasonably argue; something the IRS should look into before President Cruz eliminates the agency), so it doesn’t have to report the names of its funders—though it’s safe to assume its money mostly comes from the restaurant, accommodations, and retail industry. As for how it spends its money: “more than half” of its multi-million dollar budget is paid to for-profit Berman and Company for staffing and operations, an “atypical” arrangement that prompted Charity Navigator to issue a “Donor Advisory.”

And what sort of return are not-EPI’s donors getting on their investment? Not much these days. Minimum wage hikes have been passed all over the place in recent years, even in blood-red states like Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota and Nebraska. Ouch. Oh, and the Orange County Register? For all that donor money, you’d think not-EPI could place its op-ed in a more prestigious (and less infamously libertarian) outlet. I mean, according to Saltsman, Civic Ventures isn’t even worthy of mentioning by name, and yet we routinely get our stuff placed in the likes of Politico, the Atlantic, the Hill, PBS NewshourDemocracy Journal, and the New York Times.

Hey, where’s Rick Berman’s TED Talk, Michael? My boss has two of ‘em! Geez, for a high-priced PR firm you guys sure do a shitty job of garnering press.

Sure, I suppose I could spend some time actually refuting Saltsman’s op-ed instead of just shoving his face in it. But really, why bother? Saltsman is a huckster and a hack—a paid propagandist masquerading as a “research director” at an “institute” that doesn’t exist. With this, I’ve now linked to his op-ed four times, showing him more respect than he showed me and infinitely more than he deserves.

But if he thinks I’m going conflate his solemn tone with serious discourse, he’s got another think coming. Civic Ventures is not a “think tank” or an “institute,” nor do we pretend to be. We’ve got no funders to appease, no conventions to uphold, no fiction to maintain. So there’s nothing to constrain me from calling bullshit on Berman and Company’s fake think tank game.

We’re kicking your ass in the minimum wage debate, Michael, because we’re right and you’re wrong. And because frankly, we’re simply better at this PR stuff than you.


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