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Friday, July 31, 2009

Fraud? Identity Theft? Impersonation? All In A Day’s Work

How many lobbyists does it take to screw in a lightbulb up democracy?

Turns out, just one. This morning the Charlottesville Daily Progress reported that the lobbying group Bonner & Associates had sent deliberately forged letters to freshman U.S. Representative Tom Perriello from the local NAACP and Creciendo Juntos, stating opposition to the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). In June, two weeks before the House passed the bill, six letters (copies here and here) supposedly sent from these two organizations urged Rep. Perriello to "Please don't vote to force cost increases on us, especially in this volatile economy."

The author of the letters was identified as an employee with Bonner & Associates, a firm noted for dubious astroturf lobbying, and has lobbied on behalf of utility companies in the past. The firm did not register to lobby on behalf of any company or organization against the cap-and-trade bill.

“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... “It’s this type of activity that undermines Americans’ faith in democracy.”

Rick Turner, the President of the local NAACP branch responded, saying:

“I am very appalled as the president that our organization has been misrepresented in this way by this bogus … letter,” Turner said. “I hope that whoever’s behind this will be brought to justice.”

In fact, Turner said, the NAACP supports the American Clean Energy and Security Act, as he said it would create good-paying jobs for blacks and reduce harmful emissions, particularly in urban areas.

“Clean energy creates jobs in the urban setting,” he said.

Events like this make me wonder, what else has been done in the name of legitimate organizations? It turns out, this is not the first time Bonner & Associates has been confronted with dishonest lobbying tactics. In 2002, Bonner and Associates was hired by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America to kill drug reform and used a front group to manipulate local minority organizations to oppose drug reform. In response to the Maryland prescription drug event, Jack Bonner said "It's democracy."

How are lies and deception 'democracy?'

Rep. Ed Markey, co-sponsor of ACES announced this morning a congressional investigation of the incidents:

This fraud on Congress shows that some opponents of clean energy have resorted to forgery and theft to block progress.

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. I encourage all Members of Congress to be on the lookout for other suspicious and illegal materials.

Given that opponents are willing to resort to willful deception, lies and fraud, we must be all the more vocal in demonstrating public support a clean energy economy. We must strengthen our alliances to make sure this kind of organizational identity theft does not divide our movement. We must speak truth to power, like the Avaaz Action Factory is doing today, and make sure that this story is exposed for the scandal it is.

Cross-posted on It's Getting Hot In Here.

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