Talking Points Memo has obtained a copy of the letter sent to Congressional investigators by Steven R. Ross, an Akin Gump attorney working to defend his client Bonner & Associates, the D.C. public relations firm embroiled in an embarrassing scandal over forged letters sent from its offices to at least three Democratic lawmakers. The forged letters claimed to represent opposition to the Waxman-Markey climate and energy legislation from nine different groups, including senior citizens’ organizations, Hispanic and women’s advocacy groups, and the NAACP.
According to the letter from Ross to Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), the Bonner employee who forged the letters received a bonus payment for his “hard work,” four days before the firm fired him after learning the letters were forgeries.
As Talking Points Memo mentions, the admission of this activity demonstrates “the dangers of Bonner’s business method,” in which employees are incentivized to generate as many letters as possible, “making fraud all but inevitable.”
Ross confirms as much, noting in the letter that (pg 5):
“The vast majority of the individuals hired to generate grassroots or ‘grasstops’ are temporary employees.”
Ross writes (pg 6):
Due to the extremely short duration of this project, on Tuesday, June 16, 2009, an incentive program was announced to encourage and reward hard work. Compensation for temporary employees is not based on the amount of letters generated. However, temporary employees could earn a small bonus payment for additional letters generated within that employee’s assigned district. It should be noted that the fired employee provided five fabricated letters on his first day of work, June 12, 2009, before the incentive program was even announced. Prior to the discovery of his fraudulent activity, since it ha appeared that the fired employee met the requirements of the incentive program, he was paid a bonus on Friday, June 19, 2009.
Ross stated earlier in the letter that “this incident, whatever its’ [sic] motivation, was an anomaly in the lengthy and honorable operation of this business.” … “…for over twenty-five years, B&A has been recognized for its professionalism and integrity in the fields of grassroots and ‘grasstops’ organizing.”
“Lengthy and honorable” is an interesting way to describe Bonner’s history of Astroturfing, the practice of hiring P.R. firms like B&A to create the appearance of support for an issue, but is in fact more aptly described as “grassroots for sale.”