The Case Of The Forged Letters – a cap-and-trade mystery
A half-dozen fake letters, signed by people who don’t seem to exist and who work at made-up jobs, are causing a bit of buzz in the environmental world — mostly because the letters urged a Virginia congressman to vote against a cap-and-trade system to curb climate change.
The Sierra Club calls it “dirty tricks.” The Union of Concerned Scientists points out that the PR firm said to be behind the fake-letter lobbying effort has a history of working against climate legislation. Rep. Ed Markey, who chairs a House committee on energy independence and global warming, said the committee will investigate. The Daily Progress newspaper in Charlottesville published a detailed story.
The congressman, Tom Perriello, voted for the cap-and-trade bill anyway. It passed by a slim margin and the Senate is expected to take up this matter in September.
The alleged forgeries came in letters made to look as if they were sent from two civil rights organizations: the local branch of the NAACP and Creciendo Juntos, a network for Charlottesville’s Hispanic community — neither of which oppose cap-and-trade. The Daily Progress tracked the letters to a Washington lobbying firm, Bonner & Associates. A partner at the Bonner firm apologized to Creciendo Juntos, but that probably won’t be the end of the matter.
Jack Bonner, the president of Bonner & Associates, responded to a call for comment by e-mail: “We take our business very seriously. A temporary employee—lied to us—and contrary to our policies sent these letters. We—no one else—we on our own found this out. We immediately fired the person. We then, called those effected, explained what happened and apologized. In the case of the group in the story—we did it in person and by letter. This should not have happened—we had a bad employee—but through our internal checks, we found the problem, and on our own initiative took the step to notify the affected group.”
Interesting thing about the Bonner firm: its acknowledged specialty is “grassroots” lobbying — even though grassroots politics used to mean efforts that come from the ground up, from the rank-and-file members of a group. The Union of Concerned Scientists, which strongly favors the legislation that Bonner’s clients presumably oppose, pointed reporters to a now-defunct Web site Bonner put up for the Western Fuels Association to oppose the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol back in the 1990s.
The association said the site generated 20,000 e-mails in opposition, including one from a mythical “George Jetson.” The cartoon character complained that he would have to pay an extra $24,239,987.52 a year if Congress ratified the Kyoto pact. They didn’t, and the United States is now the only industrialized country that hasn’t joined the protocol.
Carl Pope, Sierra Club’s executive director, praised Perriello for voting for the bill and for looking into the efforts of “the dirty, old business-as-usual players who tried to sway his vote.” Pope also noted that other members of Congress may have received the same kind of forged letters, urging them to vote against the bill: “It is disturbing, to say the least, to think that some congresspeople may have, in good faith, voted thinkingthey were representing their communities when in fact they were not.”
So the question is: did this lobbying effort, and others, sway the vote on the climate bill in the House? Will the same efforts come into play in September in the Senate? And is this an outrage, or just the way Washington works?
Photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (U.S. Capitol dome, February 24, 2009)