Coal lobbyists caught forging letters to Congress

By , Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor

This week, we learned an important lesson on what to do when reality fails to conform to our political beliefs: Just make a forgery!

We saw it with the so-called birthers – people who believe that Barack Obama isn't really president because he isn't a US citizen – when they produced an obviously fake birth certificate stating that Obama was born in Mombasa, Kenya.

And we saw it again with Bonner & Associates, a Washington lobbying firm working on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), which got caught sending forged letters to at least three House Democrats, urging them to vote against the climate bill that passed the House in June.

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On Friday, Brian McNeill of the Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress, broke the story that the firm had sent six letters with letterheads from the NAACP and Creciendo Juntos, a Latino nonprofit, to Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello, a freshman Democrat who voted in favor of the bill.

The online environmental magazine Grist obtained copies of the letters, both of which read in part:

We support making the environment cleaner, but the reason we are writing is that we are concerned about our electric bills. Many of our members are on tight budgets and the sizes of their monthly utility bills are important expense items. The cost to heat and cool our homes, run hot water and use other appliances is very important to those on a budget.

After news broke of the forgery, Jack Bonner of Bonner & Associates emailed the left-of-center blog TPMmuckraker to say that the fake letters were the work of "a temporary employee," who was immediately fired. Mr. Bonner did not identify this rogue ex-employee.

Later on Friday, Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, launched an investigation into the letters. Mr. Markey was joined by the Sierra Club, who called for the Department of Justice to investigate Bonner & Associates for mail fraud, a federal crime that carries a 20-year prison sentence.

It gets worse. On Tuesday, it emerged that six more fake letters had been sent to two other House Democrats – Reps. Chris Carney and Kathy Dahlkemper, both of Pennsylvania – who ended up voting against the bill.

This was a day after a document surfaced that indicated that ACCCE was aware of the forgeries in late June, and yet remained silent.

Apparently, this isn't the first time that Bonner & Associates has engaged in such shenanigans. Think Progress, a blog affiliated with the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund, gives a history of the firm's "astroturf" – that is, fake grassroots – tactics. In one now-familiar-sounding incident in 1986, the Bonner & Associates was caught attempting to defraud the US government by submitting fake names from telephone books and yearbooks. The firm claimed to have fired the employee responsible. [Editor's note: The original version mischaracterized the relationship between Think Progress and the Center for American Progress.]

Sudden termination aside, flacking for fossil fuels is good work if you can get it. Bloomberg reported on Friday that oil and gas companies spent a total of $82.2 million on Washington lobbyists in the first half of 2008, compared with the $12.1 million laid out by solar and wind companies. The Center for Public Integrity found that ACCCE spent almost $10 million on lobbying efforts in all of 2008.

If you think that's the life for you, note that Bonner & Associates now has an opening for a temp position in its DC office.

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