Forged Letters, the Fossil Fuel Lobby, and the Push Against Change

Megaphone Man - The Coal Lobby?Triple Pundit recently reported on a series of letters sent to Congressman Tom Perriello of Virginia. The letters were purportedly from constituent community groups urging a no vote on the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill that was then pending before the house. Fact is, they weren’t from constituents at all but from D.C.  “grassroots” lobbying firm Bonner & Associates – and completely forged, lock, stock, and barrel.

It turns out those first letters sent to Perriello are but the tip of the iceberg. Earlier this month, when the count had risen to 12 forgeries sent to three House Democrats, Ed Markey called for an investigation into the fraud, expressing his dismay about the chilling effect such action has on the legislative process. “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,” Markey wrote in a letter to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a lobby group for the coal industry.

And the distortion grows. With 5 more fake letters recently uncovered by Markey’s investigation, the total comes to at least 17 forged letters sent and potentially 45 more yet to be verified as legitimate.

The chain of (un)responsiblity

ACCCE acknowledged the letters earlier this month, when the count was at 12, claiming “outrage” over the forgeries, but no prior knowledge of the letters until after they had already been faxed from the office of Bonner & Associates. Bonner & Associates was connected to ACCCE as a subcontractor through the Hawthorn Group , who sell themselves as specialists in the “art of advocacy,” hiring Bonner & Associates to help practice the “advocate’s art” on behalf of the ACCCE. Neither ACCCE or Hawthorn claim any responsibility for the fraud.

As for Bonner & Associates, founder Jack Bonner placed blame solely on a “temporary employee who worked for us for 7 days (who) acted alone.”  With potentially dozens of letters it appears to have been one busy, sneaky temporary employee.

ACCCE “washes it hands” of the whole mess (or tries to)

Late last week the ACCCE, amid growing controversy and increased scrutiny, jettisoned Bonner & Associates, saying they will not work with the lobby firm again and claiming they “had done nothing wrong.”

“We’re taking this very seriously, but we do recognize that this was an isolated incident involving the wrongdoing of someone working for a subcontractor,” ACCCE spokesman Joe Lucas told the National Journal last week.

That absolution from wrongdoing doesn’t wash with everyone, however. ThinkProgress, among others, reported earlier this month that ACCCE knew of the fraudulent letters before the House vote on the Waxman-Markey and did nothing to stop it or alert Congress, only expressing its “outrage” once the letters were reported in the press after the vote in the House. The activities of Bonner & Associates prior to this incident lead to the suggestion that this was not an isolated incident.

Despite the hand-wringing from the ACCCE over the forgeries, the astroturf campaign continues apace. ACCCE continues services of Lincoln Strategy Group, a lobbying firm with GOP ties that ThinkProgress characterizes as “notorious” for its voter fraud activities.

Hijacking the debate

Thus far, three members of Congress have received a total of at least 17 forged letters urging a “no” vote on the Waxman-Markey climate and energy legislation. Of those three, only Tom Perriello voted in favor of the Waxman-Markey bill. Kathy Dahlkemper and Christopher Carney, both Democrats in Republican-leaning districts, voted against it.

There is no way to know how much influence the forged letters had in anyone’s vote, but by their very nature, the letters exemplify the willful dishonesty that can but taint the democratic process. A contentious debate on climate and energy policy is expected and even required, as it is far all important issues facing us in the new century. If we succumb to the politics of dishonesty and manipulation – he who yells loudest and riles the gut most, wins – we halt progress and let opportunity slip past; the debate has thus been hijacked.

“We’ve seen fear-mongering with our nations senior citizens with health care, and now were seeing fraud-mongering with senior citizens on clean energy,” said congressman Markey. “Lately, democratic debate has been deceptively debased by fake facts and harsh rhetoric. We must return to an honest discussion of the issues, and ensure that this sort of campaign does not further poison the well of trustworthy debate.”

A “buggy-whip” mentality to change

Tobacco doesn’t cause cancer, health care reform leads logically to “death panels,” and a low-carbon energy policy will wreck the (recently wrecked) economy and make old people shiver in the cold. How far will lobbyists, astroturfers, and the industries that hire them go to stop progress in the name of short-sighted profits built on the single-bottom-line?

Change isn’t easy. It is inevitable.

Video courtesy

See the latest five forged letters (courtesy of EnviroKnow)

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

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