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.
First off, there is the Massachusetts’ connection. Representative Ed Markey has announced that he will pursue a Congressional investigation (see after the fold). Senator John Kerry has already written forcefully (and thoughtfully) about this. 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. 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, for the moment, this is just Representative Tom Perriello — but what are the odds that these false-flag letters were sent to only one member? (Already, there is reporting that Senator Conrad likely received similiar false letters.) 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?
Second, there are some very basic legal questions as to 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.”
Third, there is the “who is behind it” question? Now, again, Bonner wants us all to accept that this was a “rogue agent”, not reflecting the intents or business practices of the firm in any way, shape or form. … Got it? Today’s news is 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 think Clean Coal is the right thing for a religious holiday, sending out a Santa to give out “clean coal” and 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.
- Bonner & Associates isn’t responsible because it was all the unsupervised (unnamed) intern acting in a way totally out of line with the firm’s business practices.
- ACCCE isn’t responsible because the hired Bonner & Associates who failed to follow ACCCE’s “high ethical and professional standards”.
Sort of reminds me of something: “Teacher, it isn’t my fault, the dog ate my homework …”
UPDATE: Since writing this, several new items and developments:
- Brad Johnson, Wonkroom, Fraudster Bonner’s Client Exposed: ACCCE, King Coal’s Dirty Front Group
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.
- Pete Altman, NRDC Switchbard, ACCCE Hired Firm That Forged Opposition Letters
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?
- Sierra Club, “Is Coal Behind Forged Letters? Sierra Club Urges Department of Justice to Initiate Criminal Probe of Bonner & Associates Carl Pope’s statement:
“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.
Chairman Markey’s letter to Bonner & Associates;
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Markey Queries Bonner and Associates
WASHINGTON (August 3, 2009) – Today Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, sent an investigative letter to Jack Bonner of Bonner & Associates asking for information regarding letters sent to at least one member of Congress. These letters, purportedly from prominent African-American and Hispanic civil rights organizations, urged changes to the Waxman-Markey clean energy bill, but were not produced nor approved by the organizations.
The letter seeks answers on the practices of Bonner & Associates, whether other instances of this nature occurred, and documentation of those events.
The letter is included below.
August 3, 2009
Mr. Jack Bonner
Bonner & Associates
1101 17th Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Mr. Bonner:
Recent news reports indicate that Bonner & Associates or a person under its control (collectively “Bonner & Associates”) was involved in submitting to at least one Member of Congress letters from prominent African-American and Hispanic civil rights organizations urging changes to the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 when in fact the persons whose names were on the letters did not sign nor approve of the letter, and did not make their stationery available for the letter. Thus, it appears that Bonner & Associates misappropriated the letterhead or logo of these two prominent civil rights organizations and then faked the signatures of persons working at those organizations.
This fraud on Congress distorts the legislative process and disserves the American people. It represents a serious breach that needs to be fully understood as to the extent and scope of these wrongful acts. In order to enable us to understand the facts and circumstances relating to this matter, I ask you to respond to the following questions:
1. On its web page, Bonner & Associates touts its reputation for getting so-called “grasstops” from minority organizations and veterans groups, among others, to support a client’s position. Were the faked letters from the NAACP and Creciendo Juntos part of a “grasstops” effort? What company, companies or organization hired Bonner & Associates to generate “grasstops” support in Virginia? To the best of your knowledge, have these client companies or organizations registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act? How much is Bonner & Associates being paid for its “grasstops” efforts relating to the Waxman-Markey bill?
2. Is Bonner & Associates generating “grasstops” or “grassroots” in other states or in other Congressional districts for these same or similar clients concerning the Waxman-Markey bill? Please identify a) other states and b) Congressional districts in which Bonner & Associates is engaged on (i) “grasstops” or (ii) “grassroots” concerning the Waxman-Markey bill and for which clients. Were the letters from these civil rights groups shared with either (i) any of your clients, or (ii) other “grasstops” or “grassroots” advocacy coalition members? Was it discussed during any conference calls or on email distribution lists so that this false information could have been used to leverage in a misleading way to enlist civil rights or other organizations support in Charlottesville or anywhere else in the country? Were these letters provided to other firms as part of a coordinated effort?
3. Some news reports suggest that Bonner & Associates may have terminated your agent that it alleges was responsible for the faked letters. If those stories are accurate, on what date did this agent first begin working (either as an employee or contractor) for Bonner & Associates? Was this agent a contractor? If yes, what was the term of the contract? Were any other agents fired or contracts terminated as a result of what has come to light?
4. Of all the people who work for or with Bonner & Associates to generate “grasstops” in 2009, what percentage operates as a contractor? Does Bonner & Associates market itself to potential clients as having local agents available to generate “grasstops”? How many of these agents are full time and how many are temporary?
5. As a general matter, how does Bonner & Associates compensate and assess performance of persons in the field or in call centers (”boiler rooms”) who are instructed to find “grasstops” and “grassroots” support? Is there a quota system – i.e., a minimum number of letters or calls of support to earn one’s pay during a given period of time? Are such persons compensated per letter or call of support? If so, how much? Does the compensation vary according to the nature of the organization involved in the “grasstops,” so that, to use one example, labor unions have one compensation level and religious organizations have another?
6. Does Bonner & Associates provide a script or similar material to persons working from boiler rooms to generate “grassroots” support for clients concerned about the Waxman-Markey bill? Is there a similar script or similar material given to persons hired (as an employee or contractor) to generate “grasstops” support for clients concerned about the Waxman-Markey bill? In each instance, if the answer is yes, please provide a copy of any such script or similar material.
7. Assuming that the news reports referenced in question #3 are accurate, how was that person compensated? Specifically, did this person have a quota of “grasstops” letters? Did this person receive compensation for each letter sent? What was this person paid for generating the letter from a) the NAACP, and b) Creciendo Juntos?
8. Did Rep. Thomas S.P. Perriello receive any letters concerning the Waxman-Markey bill that were generated by Bonner & Associates? How many? Were any of those letters sent without the knowledge and consent of the person whose name appeared as the signatory of the letter? How many? Please provide copies of all letters sent to Rep. Perriello, including those sent fraudulently and otherwise.
9. According to news reports, two of the fraudulent letters sent to Rep. Perriello were on the letterhead of the local chapters of the NAACP and Creciendo Juntos. How did Bonner & Associates come into possession of the letterhead or logo of these two civil rights organizations? Specifically, in each and every instance identified in question #6, identify who obtained the letterhead or logo and how the letterhead or logo was obtained.
10. Did any other Members of Congress receive letters that were sent a) without the knowledge and consent of the person whose name appeared as the signatory, or b) with misappropriated organizational logo or letterhead? If yes, provide copies of all such letters.
11. Explain in detail the steps that Bonner & Associates undertook (such as audits, employee or contractor interviews by outside counsel) to respond to question #10. In addition, please explain your internal control measures to prevent the kind of fraud being reviewed herein.
12. Have any documents relating to Bonner & Associates’ “grasstops” efforts concerning the Waxman-Markey bill been destroyed since you or anyone in management first became aware that there might have been improprieties regarding your work in this area?
For purposes of your reply, the term “Bonner & Associates” means anyone whom Bonner & Associates employs now or previously and anyone with whom Bonner & Associates had or has a contractual relationship. The term “letter” includes correspondence sent via mail, overnight or courier service or by email, and specifically includes the content of an email as well as any attachment thereto. Any part of a question above that is sub-designated should be responded to separately so the answer would not be combined with a response to another sub-designated part of the question.
Given the seriousness of this matter, I hope this has your fullest attention. Please respond to these questions by August 12, 2009. If you have any questions, please contact Gerard J. Waldron or Michael Goo with the Select Committee staff.
Edward J. Markey
cc: Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Ranking Member
Rep. Thomas S. P. Perriello