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August 10, 2009

LetterGate: Fossil Fuel Lobby Ready to Point Fingers; What About the Targeted Reps?

Posted in: Corruption,DC/K Street elites,Environment

Amid the Bonner & Associates, Hawthorn Group, American Coalition for Clean-Coal Electricity shenanigans of falsified (fraudulent) letters, with 624856455_51ba44acee_m.jpgall implicated in LetterGate pointing fingers away from themselves, we have to ask: Do these excuses and explanations pass a basic laugh test?

A quick recap: On Friday, 31 July, news reporting came out that Bonner & Associates had sent letters on minority organization letterhead, with invented staff names, to Representative Tom Perriello (D-VA) urging a vote against the American Clean Energy & Security (ACES) Act. On 3 August, ACCCE put out a statement expressing their "outrage" that a sub-contractor would act so unethically and it came out that Hawthorn Group, an ACCCE contractor for years, was the middleman in the deal. More information came out during last week, such as that it was more than Perriello and that ACCCE had know about the fraud since no later than 24 June but had taken no action to inform anyone of it until the business day after it broke in the press … And, well, lots of excuses. . . .

So, when it comes to the laugh test, two quick examples of patterns that suggest some laughter (and, well, crying. . .).

ACCCE aggressively stated, in their public comment after this was reported in the press (six weeks after they knew about it), that, "We are outraged at the conduct of Bonner and Associates."

Okay, outraged? Yet another excellent piece by Sue Sturgis at Facing South is worth reading but, perhaps the title tells you all: "‘Clean coal’ group behind forged anti-climate bill letters tied to deceptive tactics before." As discussed there, when fighting against the Lieberman-Warner Coal-Subsidy Act, an ACCCE (actually, ABEC — just before ABEC transformed into ACCCE) employee represented ACCCE as an environmental group and denied that the group had any connection to utilities.

After publishing our story about the deceptive call, we heard from Steve Gates, ACCCE’s communication director. He blamed a new staff member who decided to "wing it" when asked some off-the-script questions and said the person was "no longer working on this project,"

Does that sound eerily familiar to the ‘it was a rogue employee’ excuse from Bonner & Associates this time around?

Okay, as to Bonner & Associates, there is a raft of good reporting going around as to this group’s tradition of questionable practices. As per Zachary Roth at TPM,

a closer look suggests a culture at Bonner and Associates that makes such deception all but inevitable. As one former employee put it, at Bonner, distortion "was the norm rather than the exception."

There is the issue of the ‘temporary employee,’ given as the smokescreen excuse from Bonner to emphasize that the firm has no real responsibility in the matter:

all employees who make calls to solicit "grassroots" support for campaigns — the bread and butter of Bonner’s business — are defined as temporary, rendering essentially meaningless Jack Bonner’s assertion last week that the forged letters were sent by a "temporary employee."

Considering that, should it surprise anyone that Bonner & Associates has a long history of questionable tactics? How about this from earlier this decade as an example of deceptive practices?

After the group was hired by PhRMA to kill Maryland legislation that would have affected prescription drug legislation, they faxed dozens of community leaders with a petition that was meant to appear grassroots, “including grammatical errors and a handwritten cover letter.”

Now, research tools can quickly yield interesting results. From 20 years ago,

In 1986, the firm was caught defrauding the U.S. government in order to retain a contract. Bonner & Associates was fraudulently submitting names from phone books, yearbooks, agency employee books, and other sources. The firm claimed to fire the offending employee: “We fired the people we determined were involved in it… what they did was in direct violation of the written policy of the firm.”

In summary. . . well-worn excuses

In the past, when caught in misrepresentation, ACCCE quickly points out that it was someone acting outside instructions, "no longer working on [the] project."

In the past, when caught in fraud, Bonner & Associates fired the offending employee because "what they did was in direct violation of the written policy of the firm."

These comments are eerily similar to what we’ve heard from Bonner & Associates in relation to the fraudulent letters re the American Clean Energy & Security (ACES) Act.

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.

And, the two other Representatives who we know received fraudulent letters certainly aren’t as engaged:

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.

Their silence continues. Unlike Tom Perriello, Dahlkemper and Carney seem ready to cooperate with the fossil-foolish lobbying and aren’t, it seems, taking steps to assure that honest constituent voices are protected from this sort of fraud.


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