The breaking news in the lobbying world last Friday: lobbying firm Bonner & Associates had forged letters from minority organizations to send to Representative Tom Perriello (D-VA) in opposition to the American Clean Energy & Security Act. Now, of course, it is all an intern's fault (or is it a temp worker ... or a contract employee ... oh, it really doesn't matter since this goes against Bonner's long-standing practice of, well, engaging in deceptive and questionable lobbying practices.)
This is a story that won't go away, for any number of reasons.
A gift that keeps on giving ...
Why this won't go away ...
1. There is the Massachusetts' connection.
There is a basic 'touch the nerve' here for many members of Congress -- if they outright can't trust letters that they receive from constituents and constituent organizations, how are they to communicate. (Note that one anti-energy smart practices organization, the truthiness-laden named Americans For Prosperity, have put out instructions on how to disrupt members town hall meetings and to create the appearance of a larger presence than they can actually muster which we are seeing play out, in ugly ways, across the country. And, AFP has instructed people to lie and pretend that they are in Members districts when they call Representative's offices, to the point of recommending having a zip code and phone number prepared to use to prove that they are constituents.)
And, as of Friday, this was just Representative Tom Perriello and to-- but what are the odds that these false-flag letters were sent to only one member? (Internal ACCCE documents show that false letters to at least three House members, two of who voted against the bill in part due to constituent contacts.)
Members of Congress were commenting on the high number of anti-ACES phone calls and letters that they have received. How many of these were simply dishonest (fraud?) like AFP has recommended? How many were false letters like those Tom Perriello discovered?
2. There are some very basic legal questions For example, what are the criminal violations (if any ...) for putting a letter, falsely, on an organization's stationary (violating copyright? Trademark protection? fraud?), mailing this (postal fraud), and, well, who knows what else (conspiracy to commit fraud). There have been multiple calls [to join one] for a Department of Justice investigation into the matter.
In a letter sent to [Attorney General] Holder, Sierra Club Legal Director Patrick Gallagher argues that at a minimum, the firm Bonner & Associates appears to have committed fraud, and that a thorough investigation may reveal that the firm "devised a scheme to defraud constituents of Rep. Perriello ... by depriving them of the intangible right to the honest services of their representatives."
3. There is the "who is behind it" question? And, as well, how does this relate to an overall fossil foolish campaign against a clean energy future? And, how does this link to similar health care, banking, telecomm, etc astroturfing activities.
Now, again, Bonner wants us all to accept that this was simply the work of some from of 'rogue agent', not reflecting the intents or business practices of the firm in any way, shape or form. ... Got it? Monday's news was that the massively funded, astroturf American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity contracted (e.g., paid) Bonner for support. As they explained,
We are outraged at the conduct of Bonner and Associates
Outraged, outraged I tell you! Outrage from the people who promote "Clean Coal" as part of a religious holiday, who sent out a Santa to give out "clean coal" and who created "clean coal caroling'? Outrage from people who are systematically distorting the debate over energy in this nation and to perpetuate (and expand) the use of an energy source responsible for massive devastation from destroyed mountaintops to damaged lungs of our children to damaging the oceans (acidification) to destroying the habitability of the planet (global warming) to ... I'm outraged ... aren't you?
Bonner and Associates was hired by the Hawthorn Group – our primary grassroots contractor – to do limited outreach earlier this year on H.R. 2454. Based upon the information we have, it is clear that an employee of Bonner’s firm failed to demonstrate the integrity we demand of all our contractors and subcontractors. As a result, these egregious actions led to falsified letters being sent to Members of Congress. “ACCCE has always maintained high ethical and professional standards. In this case, the standards and practices that we require for grassroots advocacy outreach were not adhered to by Bonner and Associates. In this sense, the community groups involved, the Members of Congress who received the fraudulent letters, as well as ACCCE, were all victimized by this misconduct.
Okay, so lets get this.
Sort of reminds me of something: "Teacher, it isn't my fault, the dog ate my homework ..." But, truly, now I'm outraged ... So, on 3 August 09, ACCCE was "outraged" with, as above, the emphasis as to how
ACCCE has always maintained high ethical and professional standards.
Well, it turned out that those "high ethical and professional standards" include deciding to sit on the information about the fraud for over a month. In fact, ACCCE internal documents show that they had learned of Donner & Associates' highly questionable (if not directly illegal) activities no later than 24 June 2009, two days before the House vote on the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy & Security (ACES) Act. And, ACCCE made a public statement about Donner & Associates activities only on 3 August, the Monday after Charlottesville Daily Progress broke this story on 31 July. (And, by the way, that they been caught doing very similiar things before -- and also used the 'rogue employee' excuse.)
Now, as for "high ethical and professional standards ..."
Don't know about you, but now I'm the one who is outraged.
In addition, the story continues to mount. Originally it was letters to just one Representative, Representative Tom Perriello (D-VA). Then it was three Representatives. And, well, there seem to be new developments every time looking at this. Representative Perriello's spoke to reporters to let them know that his staff has found additional forged letters on the letterheads of the Jefferson Area Board for Aging and the American Association of University Women. Hmmm ... we have to wonder whether any other Representatives are as diligent as Tom Perriello when it comes to people impersonating constituents.
Dahlkemper's office also declined to identify the groups. Her spokesman, Zac Petkanas, called it "an unfortunate incident involving several out of thousands of letters that Rep. Dahlkemper received regarding this important issue."
Carney's office did not respond to messages Wednesday.
The Congressional and criminal investigations likely will have a lot of letters to search through to try to figure out just how many of the communications to Congress over ACES (and health care) are similarly fraudulent forgeries and misrepresentations.
Some useful links / discussions:
ACCCE’s choice of Bonner comes a little surprise, as Bonner has built a reputation as one of the most effective and amoral Astroturf companies inside the Beltway, having generated “grassroots” campaigns on behalf of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.
This makes our discovery that ACCCE changed their lobby disclosure report for the 2nd quarter of this year even more interesting. ... ACCCE initially reported a whopping $11,317,625 for lobbying on climate issues in the US House and Senate; then four days later ACCCE submitted a revised report, showing just $544,853 in lobbying expenses That's over $10.5 million that ACCCE suddenly realized it didn't want to report as direct lobbying. At first, we figured that must have been tv advertising. But now we have to wonder - maybe that money has something to do with Bonner and Associates?
"We believe the allegations against Bonner and Associates are so serious that they merit immediate investigation by the Department of Justice. These kind of dirty tricks have no place in our democracy. Bonner needs to come clean about what they did and be held accountable. Both the coal industry's ACCCE and Bonner have denounced the sneaky tactics and firmly placed blame elsewhere. It is clear that the Department of Justice and Congress may be the only ones can really figure out who is responsible for these dirty tricks. "Big Oil, Big Coal and other special have already spent more than $100 million to kill a comprehensive clean energy jobs and climate plan. By faking these letters, Bonner and the special interests they represent admit that an army of lobbyists and hundreds of millions of dollars still can’t overcome real grassroots power. This just proves we need to redouble our efforts to demonstrate how much real support there is for clean energy jobs.