A coal industry association waited until several weeks after a major House vote on climate legislation to let lawmakers know that letters sent to them opposing the bill were fraudulent, according to a congressional investigation.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal knew before the June cap and trade vote that these letters “” purported to be from minority and senior citizen groups concerned about the legislation “” were fraudulent. The letters were sent to several politically vulnerable House lawmakers in the days before the vote. The bill barely passed the House in late June, approved by just a seven vote margin.
But the association and its contractor, The Hawthorn Group, did not inform lawmakers that the letters were fake until weeks later, according to an investigation by the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
“Some here today will claim these letters can be attributed to a temporary employee, when, in fact, this fraud chiefly resulted form a systemic lack of oversight and quality control, mixed with a substantial disregard for the facts,” said Chairman Ed Markey, select committee, in a Thursday hearing about the letters.
The letters were sent out by Bonner & Associates, a subcontractor hired by Hawthorn for their expertise in grassroots campaigns.
The coal association spent nearly $10 million over the past 18 months on lobbying efforts supervised by Hawthorn and Bonner. In the three months before the vote, ACCCE paid Hawthorn $975,000 for activities related to the climate bill.
Critics say the campaign is a classic example of astroturfing, or using fake grassroots campaigns to influence policymakers, in this case pushing them to modify or kill the legislation.
Officials at the coal association say they never communicated with Bonner & Associates directly. But, the senior account official at Hawthorn charged with managing grassroots advocacy efforts for the coal group is married to Paul Bailey, the senior vice president for federal affairs at ACCCE.
Bailey joined the association in February and was given a “specific directive” to assure that he “he would not have authority to authorize or evaluate Hawthorn’s activities,” according to the documents.
Jack Bonner, the president of Bonner and Associates, said the letters were the result of “one rogue temporary employee” who acted without the knowledge of anyone at the firm. The employee worked at the firm for seven and a half business days, said Bonner, and was immediately fired upon discovery of the forged letters.
“While we take full responsibility for what happened and recognize that there were quality control and human resources improvements that needed to be made, we have learned that it is difficult to defend against a person bent on committing fraud,” said Bonner.