Bonner & Associates

ACCCE Hires New PR Firm With Bush Ties To Push Coal

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) has hired two new public relations firms to hock its message in the wake of the disastrous job done by Bonner & Associates. 

ACCCE has retained HDMK, a PR firm with very strong ties to former President George W. Bush and the Republican Party, to manage its national media efforts, while Dan Ronayne, a managing director of the Howard Consulting Group, was retained to work with regional reporters.

HDMK is run by Terry Holt, the national campaign spokesperson for George W. Bush in the 2004 election and the former spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner.  Other HDMK partners include Trent Duffy, a former deputy press secretary to President George W. Bush, Jim Morrell, former deputy chief of staff to the House Republican Conference and a speechwriter for former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL), and Chad Kolton, another long-time Republican communications operative who served in the Bush administration as press secretary at the OMB and FEMA.

House Committee Hearing To Investigate Coal Lobby’s Fraudulent Letters to Congress

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming is holding an investigative hearing on Thursday to further probe fraudulent letters sent to Congress by the coal industry’s public relations machine in an effort to derail clean energy and climate legislation.

The committee, chaired by Rep.  Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), has uncovered more than a dozen fraudulent letters sent to several members of Congress by Astroturf specialists Bonner & Associates, who were operating under contract for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).

Markey’s committee hearing will feature some of the central figures in the controversy, including victims of the fraud.  DeSmogBlog has written extensively on Bonner’s Astroturf work for ACCCE, documenting the disgraced D.C. firm’s attempts to derail passage of the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill.  Fraudulent letters originating from Bonner’s office were sent on behalf of groups representing senior citizens, women, minorities and veterans in a repugnant scam.

Beyond exploring the specific evidence of Bonner’s fraud on Congress at the behest of the coal industry, the hearing will look generally at the practice of Astroturf, a vile public relations tactic sullying current debates over health care and energy legislation.  Industry-funded Astroturf involves the creation of a false appearance of actual grassroots support – often orchestrated by former tobacco lobbyists and fossil fuel industry apologists.

Astroturf-Busting Hotline Launched

Groups Seek New Evidence in Bonner Scandal

A coalition of groups, including some that were impersonated by coal lobbyists fighting against U.S. climate change legislation, have banded together in search of further evidence of wrongdoing in the ballooning fraudulent letter scandal.

Five prominent non-profits have launched the “Polluter Fraud Hotline” (1-866-363-4648), inviting average citizens or industry insiders to blow the whistle on any deceptive or illegal tactics that big polluters and their lobbyists are using in opposition to clean energy legislation.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW), National Wildlife Federation, NAACP, and Center for American Progress Action Fund and Sierra Club are also calling for Congressional action to ensure that this type of orchestrated deception of elected lawmakers never happens again.

Bonner & Associates Never Contacted Rep. Perriello and Several Charities Defrauded In Forged Letter Scandal

In the wake of the forged letters scandal involving lobbyists for the coal industry, D.C. astroturf firm Bonner & Associates claimed to have reached out to Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) and several Virginia charities whose names appeared on the fraudulent letters.  It turns out that Bonner never contacted Rep. Perriello or at least three of the groups it claimed to have informed about the letter forgery episode. 

Bonner & Associates’ attorney Steven R. Ross of Akin Gump wrote in an August 12 letter to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming that Bonner took immediate action in late June once it learned of the scandal, which it has blamed on a rogue temporary employee.  Ross stated in the letter that Bonner left messages with Perriello’s office on July 1st and that “on July 13, B&A staff succeeded in directly speaking with congressional staff for Rep. Perriello.”

But the Charlottesville Daily Progress reports that Rep. Perriello’s press secretary, Jessica Barba, has confirmed that Bonner & Associates never contacted Perriello’s office.  “I asked everybody in our office, did anybody hear anything from them about this?” Barba said. “They hadn’t. Nobody in our office ever talked to them.”

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.

Astroturf attack on democracy is intentional - and should be illegal

Adfero and Bonner’s actions are planned and deliberate

You can’t convict someone of a crime unless you can prove that the accused was acting with intent - that they did what they did on purpose. By that standard, Astroturfing specialists at the Washington, D.C., PR firms Adfero Group and Bonner & Associates have demonstrated that they are guilty, even if what they are doing is - at this point - not technically a crime.

It should be. Because the Astroturfers are subverting democracy. By their own description, the firms are holding the U.S. democratic system up for sale. They’re using the old totalitarian tactic of gathering rent-a-crowds to push around politician. And, as Bonner boasts on its own website, they are doing it in a way that that gives them a specific advantage over lobbyists who, thanks to good legislation, would have to declare who was paying their bills.

Bonner & Associates Paid Bonus to Letter Forger Before Firing Him

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.

Bonner & Associates Spin Machine in Full Gear To Defend Sullied Brand

Usually PR firms like to be behind the news, not in the headlines themselves.  But Bonner & Associates – the D.C. Astroturf shop busted for mailing forged letters to Congress attacking the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity – finds itself under the spotlight trying to save its tarnished brand. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that Bonner continues to blame a rogue temporary employee for the forgeries, resurrecting an age-old PR maneuver - when caught with your pants down, blame the button maker.  “It was a setup!” of course.  No systemic pattern of shady behavior to see here!

Bonner has lawyered up, hiring veteran Akin Gump attorney Steven R. Ross, in another classic defensive posture often used to convolute the matter and issue veiled threats of countersuits to dissuade investigators from looking deeper into the muck.  Attorney Ross claims that Bonner & Associates were victims in the scheme, overwhelmed by “being short-staffed and given the incredibly short time frame of this [two-week] project,” and therefore, according to Ross, “some letters were transmitted to Capitol Hill before they could be thoroughly reviewed.”

Bonner's Dishonest Tactics Date Back a Decade Plus

The D.C. astroturf specialist Bonner & Associates has been feigning innocence that its employees were forging letters to Congress in an industry-funded attack on the Waxman-Markey climate change bill. But DeSmogBlog researcher Nathanael Baker has turned up a 12-year-old article that shows this kind of questionable public manipulation is old hat in the Bonner offices.

The Ken Silverstein article, from a 1997 edition of Mother Jones, shows that Bonner has been duping American politicians on behalf of everyone from stale cigarette smoke-and-mirrors gang at Philip Morris to the coal barons of the Western Fuels Association.

Silverstein identified two particular tactics: the “virtual petition” in which people are induced to sign a statement (with a release in fine print) only to have their signature scanned and inked onto a petition; and the recruiting of “white hats,” in which Bonner engages influential people lobby for their clients without ever identifying the funder - sometimes without being completely open about the nature of the issue on which they were lobbying.

ACCCE Coal Lobby Drops Bonner & Associates Over Forged Letters

Like a bad habit, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) has dropped Bonner & Associates, the Astroturf lobbying firm led by Jack Bonner, whose “white collar sweatshop” forged at least a dozen letters to Congressmembers urging them to vote against the Waxman-Markey climate bill.

While ACCCE continues to claim that “this was an isolated incident involving the wrongdoing of someone working for a subcontractor” – an excuse first put forward by Jack Bonner, who blamed a rogue temporary employee for the forgeries – Congress is investigating the extent to which Bonner and ACCCE went to mislead lawmakers.

The fake letters were sent to at least three Democratic Congressmembers, and claimed to represent opposition to the climate legislation from nine different groups, including senior citizens’ organizations, Hispanic and women’s advocacy groups, and the NAACP.  So far, investigators have confirmed 13 forged letters sent to the three lawmakers, and dozens more letters are currently being probed to determine if they were authentic messages or more of Bonner’s forgeries.


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