Bonner & Associates Coached Employees To Lie To Generate Letters to Congress - Will Congress Rein In Such Astroturf?

Fri, 2009-08-28 17:18Brendan DeMelle
Brendan DeMelle's picture

Bonner & Associates Coached Employees To Lie To Generate Letters to Congress - Will Congress Rein In Such Astroturf?

An interesting and potentially explosive attachment was included with a 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 claiming to represent opposition to the Waxman-Markey climate and energy legislation from nine community groups. 

Attached to Ross’s letter, which was obtained by Talking Points Memo, is a set of “Talking points for ACCCE” distributed to the temp employees to guide their conversations with targeted groups whom they would be calling to drum up opposition to Waxman-Markey in key Congressional districts.


As EnviroKnow.com reports:
“Crucially, the talking points specifically instructed employees to lie to the community organizations they were calling, telling them they were working with seniors/veterans groups and that other seniors/veterans groups had written the letter they would be signing. They were in fact working directly for a coal industry front group, and the letter was written by Bonner and associates.”

The memo instructs Bonner employees, the “vast majority” of whom are temporary workers hired to generate calls and letters to Congress from pre-selected organizational targets, to “Relate to the group that you are approaching” and “Make the conversation personal.”

Ross’s letter and the list of “Talking points for ACCCE” that Bonner employees used to guide their conversations about the pro-coal contract provide a fascinating window into the world of astroturfing.

As Ross divulges, Bonner’s team does a lot of prep work to create draft letters for targeted organizations before they are even contacted to gauge their support for the cause.

Page 6 of the Ross letter says:
“Due to the time sensitivity of this contract and for the convenience of the organization, logos were copied from the organization’s [sic] websites and inserted onto the draft letters.  These drafts were then sent to the organization for their review, approval, and signature with the logo formatted as letterhead.”

Presumably, any “draft letters” created on behalf of organizations that disagree with the campaign are not sent out.  But recent revelations of forgeries originating from Bonner’s offices do not provide much assurance that this is a fool-proof system, a vulnerability which Bonner is now addressing with its new ‘no forgery’ policy.

Although the forged letters appear to have been the work of a single temp worker, many questions remain about the ACCCE/Hawthorn/Bonner campaign to drum up opposition to Congressional action on climate and energy legislation. Congress needs to continue investigating these firms to determine the full extent of the damage caused by their activities.

Despite the fact that Bonner & Associates learned that thirteen of the letters generated by one of its temporary staffers were forgeries four days before the Waxman-Markey vote on June 22nd, Bonner failed to discuss the forgeries with any of the lawmakers who received them until July 13th, seventeen days after the House approved the legislation.

Perhaps most critically, Congress should demand to know which firm developed the “Talking Points for ACCCE” document.  This one-pager instructs employees to lie to the community organizations they were calling, telling them they were working with seniors/veterans groups and that other seniors/veterans groups had written a letter they could sign onto. They were in fact working on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry front group which retained Hawthorn Group and its subcontractor Bonner & Associates.

The clear solution to limiting the potential for this type of fraud emanating from Washington lobby firms is to end the astroturf loophole in the Lobby Disclosure Act, as pointed out by DeSmogBlog founder Jim Hoggan, and echoed by an unnamed Congressional staffer quoted in the New York Times’ coverage of the Bonner forgeries:

“Because of the way lobbying contact is defined in the act, you only have to register if you make direct contact with members of Congress,” said a Congressional staff member investigating the fake letters who asked that his name not be used while the inquiry was continuing. “The sham is that if you go spend $1 million to get other people to make those direct contacts, it’s not considered lobbying.”

Correct. It’s considered astroturf, a shady practice that has no place in our democracy.

Previous Comments

Does a minor scandal like this really warrant this kind of coverage?

And reading the attachment to the letter, Bonner was asking seniours some sensible questions. Like what seniors would think if their energy bill doubled, which it could because of draconian climate change legislation.

Seems to me that green groups should be asking seniors and other regular citizens too what they would do if their heating bill doubled.

How can they sleep knowing they will leave behind a world devastated by climate change? Have they talked to their grandchildren about the selfishness necessary to continue on a destructive path today, safe in the knowledge that the implications will only be felt by future generations? Is their life better or worse before the built environment was redesigned to include an automobile trip between every activity? Did they know that the last person who called them was not actually calling “on behalf of seniors,” but rather was working for a coal-industry front group? Would their answers be different if the coal-industry front group had identified itself in an open and ethical fashion before beginning its push poll? Go on, you can probably think of some more.

And how would seniors pay their electricity bill if it suddenly doubled due to climate change legislation Richard? Environmental activists are often so ideological that they lose touch with ordinary everyday people like seniors who live on a fixed income.

Ain’t that cute! Paul is pretending to care about seniors. I think we should raise Paul’s taxes to help pay the seniors’ bills.

It’s a serious question VJ. That AGW activists like yourself can be so dismissive of the question is one of the reasons why you can’t gain any real legislative traction on the issue.

Raise your eyes and look beyond the borders of America.

Also why on Earth will your bills double? How much will the taxpayer be charged for adaptation under business as usual?

Not to mention the “invisible” costs of energy:

1) supporting foreign terrorists who destroyed buildings and lives on 9/11, costing billions
2) environmental costs of coal mining, including burying villages and people from collapsing heaps of coal ash, mercury poisoning of the land, sulphur poisoning of peoples lungs.
3) borrowing money to fund our trade deficit, ever growing and much of it due to imported oil

but somehow I doubt you are looking for a serious answer.

I am a senior whose electric bill has been reduced substantially by installing energy efficient devises, and turning off lights more often, curtailing wasteful use.
I am as comfortable as ever. Just paying less money to the power company. If everybody eases use, we wont have to build more power plants, which will put up my electric bill.
Thank you for your concern, paul s.

well - not from a regular news or climate news source, but I think desmog is more about criticizing money spent by the skeptic side … and so this series of articles is not so much about astroturf and misrepresentation or scandal, but specifically an attack against less than perfect behavior on the skeptic side.

The line about astroturf having no place in a democracy would mean more if there was more acknowledgment of the fact that these campaigns are spread across the political map and in fact are more of a feature of the left than the right.

”..these campaigns are spread across the political map and in fact are more of a feature of the left than the right.”

And your source for this assertion is?

I regard my planet as important. Do you have another one?

“Minor scandal”??? What planet do you come from? This is a major scandal. A PR firm has instructed its employees to lie and to manufacture uncertainty in AGW and cause people to think action is not needed, and if action is taken that it will cost people dearly. There is no “minor scandal” in this. It is completely repulsive!

Also, you and your ilk, Paul, gripe of having your freedoms of speech and expression quashed by the “AGW activist/alarmists”. YOU HAVE NO FREEDOM TO LIE OR TO MISINFORM PEOPLE!!! You and your ilk are among the most repulsive people on this planet, people whose actions, if successful in your goals, will result in the extinction of millions of species and the rendering of much of this planet uninhabitable for human societies!

I am sick of you! Go away and never come back!

This is a trivial scandal. A couple of dozen phony letters? And the employee has been fired?

No one was instructed to lie. Someone did something illegal and lost his/her job. What more do you want?

well - they keep saying astroturf should be illegal and has no place in a democracy so it seems this is a call for law makers to swing into action …. and since all the power is on the left now, the left should be able to set up some serious remedies for this problem quite quickly.

If they choose not to act, then astroturf becomes approved policy of the left in that they elected to let it continue.

Power belongs to the left, so I can only conclude that this series of articles is a call to throw the bums out.

First you claim that the Bonner and Associates story is getting no “traction in the major media”.

Now you claim that the attention given to the Bonner and Associates is indication of some sort of anti-Obama populist uprising.

You’re hilarious.

* * *

Here’s yet another clue for you, RickJames:

http://tinyurl.com/nr6s5z

– bi (http://frankbi.wordpress.com/)

(Let’s ignore paul s’s repeated attempts to spin this incident away.)

* * *

Ross’s signature (on page 7) looks like 2 concentric ovals. Is it really a signature? Could the Akin Gump letterhead be forged too? I mean, in the light of the current revelations, why not?

* * *

“Due to being short-staffed and given the incredibly short time frame of this project, however, some letters were transmitted to Capitol Hill before they could be thoroughly reviewed.”

The time frame was so short that fake signatures and fake position titles began to magically appear on the forged letters too? Do the fake signatures also look like concentric ovals?

– bi (http://frankbi.wordpress.com/)

I”d like to hear more about the idea of amending the Lobbying Disclosure Act to remove the loophole.

I”m also concerned about the use of “non-profit” to describe institutes that lobby, er, I mean, research and put out position papers that reflect their clients, er, I mean, donors” commercial interest.
Why should the Heartland Institute get away with not listing its donors? They are energetically working to contaminate the public discourse.

(apologies, frankbi, I shouldnt have fed the troll.)

I wonder if this Bonner thing is going to get any traction in major media?

Hard to find much on this whole thing outside of AGW sites.

“I wonder if this Bonner thing is going to get any traction in major media?”

Here’s a clue, RickJames:

(1) Click on the last hyperlink in Demelle’s blog post, which is the 2nd link in the 3rd last paragraph.

(2) Achieve enlightenment.

(3) You can thank me for it later.

– bi (http://frankbi.wordpress.com/)

okay - but my standard of traction in major media is when an average guy in the street has actually heard something about it - If I go out side right now and ask the first 20 people I meet if they’ve heard of this at all - the answer will be no 20 times I’m afraid - no traction. If I ask if they’ve even heard of Bonner and associates - a blank stare will be the result - everytime.

How would your twenty do?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJuNgBkloFE

Yeah, alright. That was uncalled for.

To be fair, check the link on the right for a British version. Also read the uploaders comment on the British one.

“but my standard of traction in major media is when an average guy in the street has actually heard something about it”

Great, so you define “traction in major media” in terms of something _other_ than the major media themselves! Americans in general may not be idiots, but I think you are.

* * *

Here’s another clue, RickJames:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125141781288665345.html

Here’s yet another clue:

http://tinyurl.com/n5naux

AAUW [the American Association of University Women] sent out an email alerting their 100,000 members about the fraud asking them to contact their member of congress to support the investigation. I emailed Cathy McMorris-Rodger’s office to ask her support reminding her about our branch.”

That’s 100,000 people who now know about this incident.

– bi (http://frankbi.wordpress.com/)

More like 100,000 deleted e-mails. ;)

You can keep trying to drown dout the story, paul s.

But the fact is, it’s a big story, and it’s not going away soon.

And any efforts by you to drown it out will just make it bigger.

– bi (http://frankbi.wordpress.com/)

Nice article. I agree with what you said. Thanks

I agree with you.