The coal industry’s top front group has admitted to hiring Bonner & Associates to block clean energy reform. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a public-relations juggernaut funded by electric utilities, mining corporations, and other coal interests to derail mandatory limits on global warming pollution, “acknowledged” paying for Bonner’s “outreach” fraud — the forging of letters from civil rights organizations opposing the American Clean Energy and Security Act:
The group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity acknowledged this afternoon that it had contracted Bonner & Associates earlier to perform “limited outreach,” but the advocacy group denounced the firm’s actions.
ACCCE’s choice of Bonner comes a little surprise, as Bonner has built a reputation as one of the most effective and amoral Astroturf companies inside the Beltway, having generated “grassroots” campaigns on behalf of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.
When not paying for Astroturf fraud, ACCCE was the top lobbyist on climate change and clean energy last year, spending $10.5 million on powerhouse lobbyists such as the Podesta Group and Guinn Gillespie. ACCCE has been praised for the “sophistication” of its public message of supporting mandatory emissions limits in theory while virulently opposing the passage of any actual legislation.
In addition, ACCCE has a $20 million budget for online campaigns for “shaping public attitudes” in favor of coal, has run tens of millions of dollars of television and radio ads, has handed out “clean coal” t-shirts and baseball caps, and even promoted “Frosty the Coalman” carols.
More about ACCCE from the Wonk Room Resource Library.
ACCCE’s official response, from President Stephen Miller, explains that Bonner and Associates was a subcontractor to the Hawthorn Group, the PR firm that has boasted about its ability to gin up fake grassroots fervor for “clean coal”:
We are outraged at the conduct of Bonner and Associates. Bonner and Associates was hired by the Hawthorn Group — our primary grassroots contractor — to do limited outreach earlier this year on H.R. 2454. Based upon the information we have, it is clear that an employee of Bonner’s firm failed to demonstrate the integrity we demand of all our contractors and subcontractors. As a result, these egregious actions led to falsified letters being sent to Members of Congress.
“ACCCE has always maintained high ethical and professional standards. In this case, the standards and practices that we require for grassroots advocacy outreach were not adhered to by Bonner and Associates. In this sense, the community groups involved, the Members of Congress who received the fraudulent letters, as well as ACCCE, were all victimized by this misconduct.
“ACCCE has initiated an extensive review to gather all relevant facts pertaining to this situation. Additionally, we are evaluating all possible measures — including potential legal action — as a part of our commitment to ensure that high ethical standards are followed when conducting outreach to community groups, elected officials, and other members of the public.
“Over the past ten years, ACCCE’s public outreach program, as managed by the Hawthorn Group, has enabled more than 100,000 constituents to legitimately communicate with their elected and appointed officials on behalf of energy and environmental policies that sustain economic growth. We are proud of this work, and will continue to promote policies that will advance environmental progress, greater energy security, and economic prosperity in the United States.
Because of Bonner and Associates’ misconduct, we apologize to the community groups and the Members of Congress involved. There is no place for this type of deception. We applaud efforts to ensure that everyone involved in the public policy dialogue lives up to the highest ethical standards.”
,At NRDC’s Switchboard, Pete Altman wonders about $10.5 million that ACCCE initially reported as lobbying expenditures in the second quarter of this year.
,At the Institute for Southern Studies’ Facing South, Sue Sturgis reminds us that ACCCE was caught last year engaging in deceptive tactics, claiming in an Astroturf campaign against climate legislation that it was an environmental organization not associated with utilities.