A coal industry group paid over $7 million last fiscal year to the company that hired Bonner & Associates, the astroturf lobbying firm behind those forged letters to Congress. That’s according to internal documents obtained by congressional investigators and examined by TPMmuckraker.
Jack Bonner, the founder of the firm that bears his name, will go before a Congressional committee this morning to explain how those letters — which purported to come from local community groups, and urged lawmakers to oppose climate change legislation — got sent.
Bonner has blamed the letters on a temporary employee, since fired, and claimed that it was a “victim of fraud” itself.Bonner’s company had been hired by the Hawthorn Group, a public relations firm that in turn was working for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal-industry lobbying group. The massive sum paid last year by ACCCE to Hawthorn — a PR firm which it has worked with since 2000, and to which it has close ties — raises questions about the nature of the other work done on behalf of the coal industry, which has been a staunch opponent of efforts to address global warming.
The letters were sent on the letterhead of a local NAACP group, as well as Hispanic, seniors, women, and veterans groups.
The internal documents — obtained by the House Select Committee for Eneregy Independence and Global Warming — also confirm the ways in which Bonner routinely cuts corners in its campaigns to create the impression of grassroots support for its clients positions. They show that it’s Bonner’s standard practice, especially on campaigns with tight schedules like the coal-lobby effort — to pull logos from the websites of community groups that have nominally agreed to end letters, then create “letterhead” for the pre-written letters.
The documents also describe a process in which Bonner hires temporary workers, trains them quickly and pushes them to one goal — getting as many letters signed and returned as possible. Phone-bankers read a quick script, then send targets pre-written letters on stationary created by using the group’s logo from its website. The groups are asked to sign the letters and return them in a pre-paid FedEx envelope.
In the ACCCE campaign, the script — which you can see here — made no mention of the coal industry or of climate change.
The documents also confirm, as has previously been reported, that Bonner discovered the fake letters on June 22, before the House vote on the climate change bill, but did not notify the lawmakers who received the letters until July 1 or later — after the vote. Two of those lawmakers, Rep. Chris Carney and Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, voted against the bill, which narrowly passed.
In addition, the documents reveal that, according to Bonner, the temporary employee blamed for the forged letters created the first ones “within hours” of his arrival. And that he had been hired and fired by Bonner back in 2003, but according to an internal company probe, he changed his first name when he applying to work on the ACCCE campaign on June 3, after seeing an ad in Roll Call.
Also testifying this morning before the committee, chaired by Rep. Ed Markey, will be Rep. Tom Perriello, who along with Dahlkemper and Carney received the forged letters, and officials with the community groups on whose letterhead the letters were sent.
Grab the popcorn.