When we last left Tom Perriello (D-VA), he was fending off GOP attacks for his vote on the climate and clean energy bill saying, “The Republicans may win some seats because of this vote, but they can’t regain their souls for demagoguing the issue.”
Turns out some conservatives never had a soul to lose. As reported by the Charlottesville, VA Daily Progress, before the vote, Perriello’s office, “received at least six letters from two Charlottesville-based minority organizations voicing opposition to the measure”:
The letters, as it turns out, were forgeries.
“They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization,” said Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit network that tackles issues related to Charlottesville’s Hispanic community. “It’s this type of activity that undermines Americans’ faith in democracy.”
… The person who sent the letter has not been identified, but he or she was employed by a Washington lobbying firm called Bonner & Associates.
As ThinkProgress reports, “Forgery Group, Bonner & Associates, Has A Decades-Long History Of Astroturf Tactics,” which I’ll excerpt below. TP acquired the forged letters, which you can see if click on the image:
The fake letters say the groups are writing because “we are concerned about our electric bills. Many of our members are on tight budgets….” Needless to say, Bonner & Associates, with its many past and present fat-cat corporate clients, including the coal industry, isn’t on a tight budget.
Jack Bonner claims this was done by a “temporary employee” — a “bad employee” who has now been fired (see his statement here). TPM has been doing some excellent reporting, however, and explains just how bogus this “plausible deniability” defense by Bonner is:
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.
Clever strategy. Staff up on “temps” — push them to do ethically dubious things, and then, on the rare occasion they get caught, just dump the “bad” egg and say “that’s not how we do business.”
But ThinkProgress’s Victor Zapanta makes clear that this is precisely how Bonner does business, with his “long history of shady tactics and big business corporate associations”:
Show Me the Money: Founder Jack Bonner bragged in 1994 that the group has no “idealogical or political bent,” the Washington Post noting that “if you’ve got the money and need some ‘regular people’ to flog your issue, Bonner will find them for you.” [8/23/94]
Defrauding the U.S. Government: In 1986, the firm was caught defrauding the U.S. government in order to retain a contract. Bonner & Associates was fraudulently submitting names from phone books, yearbooks, agency employee books, and other sources. The firm claimed to fire the offending employee: “We fired the people we determined were involved in it”¦what they did was in direct violation of the written policy of the firm.” [New York Times, 12/18/86]
Fighting the Smoking Ban on Behalf of Philip Morris: Bonner & Associates was hired by Philip Morris during the early 90s to build opposition to the workplace smoking ban. A 1994 National Journal piece reports that the firm “was paid about $1.5 million to solicit 7,000 letters to OSHA from small businesses, criticizing the indoor air proposal.” [National Journal, 12/3/94]
Killing Health Care Reforms on Behalf of PhRMA: After the group was hired by PhRMA to kill Maryland legislation that would have affected prescription drug legislation, they faxed dozens of community leaders with a petition that was meant to appear grassroots, “including grammatical errors and a handwritten cover letter.” A community leader that received one of the faxes said, “I wish they would take off the masks. If the drug industry wants to organize people at the grass roots, they should be honest.” [Baltimore Sun, 3/9/02]
This is what we are up against.
This incident demonstrates the incredible lengths that the vested interests of health care and energy are willing to go through to undermine reform. With Congress going on recess soon, more of these astroturf tactics will undoubtedly occur as corporate backed anti-reform groups gather in Congressional districts throughout the country to obstruct health care and clean energy reform (see TP’s Right-Wing Harassment Strategy Against Dems Detailed In Memo: ‘Yell,’ ‘Stand Up And Shout Out,’ ‘Rattle Him’).
This is how the deniers are eating our lunch on the climate bill. We must redouble our efforts. The good news is that with this fraud being exposed, we have the chance to fight back. E&E News PM reports:
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and one of the main authors of the climate bill, announced this afternoon that his committee would launch an investigation into the matter.
“This fraud on Congress shows that some opponents of clean energy have resorted to forgery and theft to block progress,” Markey said in a statement. “This is an appalling abuse, and Congressman Tom Perriello deserves great credit for seeing through it and casting a vote that will create clean energy jobs in Virginia and throughout the United States.
Let me give the final word to the NAACP, which issued the following statement:
“The NAACP is appalled that an organization like Bonner and Associates would stoop to these depths to deceive Congress. In this case Bonner and Associates are exploiting the African-American Community to achieve their misdirected goal. These tactics illustrate that discriminatory tactics normally used to deceive voters are now being used to deceive the Congress,” stated Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy.