Former Employee: Bonner “Just Got Caught This Time”

July 31, 2009 1:26 pm

Earlier today, we told you about the forged letter sent by a lobbying firm to a lawmaker, urging him to oppose climate change legislation. The letter ran under the letterhead of a local Hispanic group, but really was sent by an employee at Bonner and Associates, a Washington D.C. lobbying firm with a slew of corporate clients.

In response, Jack Bonner said the letter had been sent by a “temporary employee” who has since been fired, and blamed the problem on that one “bad employee.” But a former Bonner and Associates employee who spoke to TPMmuckraker significantly complicated that picture, portraying Bonner and Associates as a place where ethical missteps were far from rare. “They just got caught this time,” he said.The former employee, who now works on Capitol Hill, said that the pressure from Bonner management to produce results — by getting outside groups to sign onto Bonner clients’ campaigns — is so intense that the kind of outright deceit seen in this case is all but inevitable. He said that temporary employees were regularly threatened with firing if they didn’t produce enough signatures — and demonstrate enough time on the phone — to satisfy supervisors. And on many Friday afternoons, said the former employee, a group of under-performing employees would be summoned to a manager’s office to be told that they were being let go.

“Some of these projects it’s very hard to get people to sign,” said the former employee. “Management doesn’t take that as an answer. They say you need to spend more time on the phone. The only recourse you have is either to produce something, lie about it, or get fired.”

The former employee also said that many of Bonner’s staffers — especially those who cold call other groups to ask for their nominal support for campaigns — work on an hourly or weekly basis, without benefits. That suggests that the “bad employee” in this case may not have been a temp, as commonly understood, but rather one of the people directly involved in Bonner’s core business — recruiting other groups to sign on to its clients’ campaigns. Indeed, according to its website, Bonner is hiring such “temporary staffers to work for Fortune 100 and major trade association clients” right now.

The former employee we spoke to had been retained in recent years both as an hourly wage worker, and, subsequently, as a contract employee, for which he received a weekly pay check.

For more detailed background on Bonner and Associates’ modus operandi as a leading practitioner of astroturf lobbying, see this 1997 piece by Ken Silverstein for Mother Jones. See all also this rundown, put together today by Think Progress, of Bonner’s history of deceptive practices.

Jack Bonner did not immediately respond to a request from TPMmuckraker for comment on the former employee’s claims. Nor did he respond to earlier questions about who Bonner’s client was in this case, and whether others at Bonner were aware of the forged letter in advance.

Late Update Protesters with the international progressive group Avaaz demonstrated (semi-naked) outside Bonner’s D.C. office this afternoon.

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