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

Oct 16, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2011

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.”

Several of the charities on whose behalf the phony letters were sent have also taken issue with Bonner’s claim.  Ross wrote in the letter to Congressional investigators looking into the forgeries that, “B&A personally contacted each of the eight organizations that were defrauded.”

But Rick Turner, president of the Albemarle-Charlottesville chapter of the NAACP, “said he has never once heard from Bonner & Associates,” the paper reports.  Likewise, the Jefferson Area Board for Aging “never heard from them,” and Bonner did not notify Senior Center Inc. that their group was a target of the forgeries either.

The Hawthorn Group, a Beltway public relations firm retained by the coal industry front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, hired Bonner & Associates to pressure lawmakers in key districts not to vote for the Waxman-Markey climate and energy legislation which passed the House by a slim margin on June 26th.  Bonner’s attorney claimed in the letter to Congressional investigators that a temporary employee forged at least a dozen letters claming to represent opposition to the legislation from senior citizens’, women’s, black and Hispanic groups.

Bonner says that it immediately fired the employee after the fake letters were discovered, although the employee’s identity remains a mystery.  “He does exist, but Jack feels it is not appropriate to reveal his identity,” a spokesman for Jack Bonner, the firm’s founder, told the Daily Progress.

Despite learning of the forgeries days ahead of the critical House vote, Bonner did not reach the three Democratic lawmakers who received the fake letters until long after the vote, and apparently never reached Rep. Perriello or Rep. Christopher Carney.  Congress is investigating whether the letter forgery scandal crossed ethical or legal lines.  That investigation should be thorough and swift in order to clear the path for honest debate when the Senate returns to deliberate the bill.

This latest evidence of insincerity and misinformation adds to a growing heap of scandals plaguing the coal industry’s attempts to weaken action on climate and energy security.  Coal pushers have waged an extensive (and expensive) campaign to attack efforts to regulate their global warming emissions and move America away from fossil fuels toward a clean energy future. 

Perhaps realizing that their efforts to paint the industry’s product as “clean coal” are failing, coal front groups have grown increasingly desperate.  Joining ACCCE/Hawthorn/Bonner in the category of insincere ‘grassroots’ is FACES, a new coal front group crafted by K Street firm Adfero, ostensibly to show that ‘real people’ support coal.  Appalachian Voices discovered last week that pictures of the ‘real people’ featured on the FACES website are all iStock Photo images.  Oops.

With scandalous tactics like these, the coal industry’s front groups have marginalized themselves in the important debate on the future of America’s energy and climate security.  They have betrayed ‘real people’ with their fake letters, stock photos, and misleading outreach to elderly and veterans' groups. It is time for Congress to address the loopholes in the Lobby Disclosure Act through which these astroturf groups are able to operate in the dark.