Blame game continues as more details on forged letters to Congress come to light
Officials at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) are claiming to be victims of the forged anti-climate bill letters sent to three members of Congress earlier this summer, but a background document released by the organization reveals that its leaders knew about the fake letters before the House voted on climate legislation.
In the document [PDF], ACCCE says it was made aware of the forged letters on June 24, 2009 — two days before lawmakers narrowly approved the climate bill, better known as Waxman-Markey. The document shows that the coal group made no effort to inform lawmakers about the forged letter before the vote.
ACCCE is pointing fingers at two consulting firms that were doing grassroots organizing work in the coal industry’s behalf. One of those firms, Bonner & Associates, admitted this week that one of its employees was the source of forged letters sent to Rep. Tom Perriello, a first-term Democrat whose district is located in central Virginia. The letters purported to be from people associated with the Hispanic community group Creciendo Juntos and urged Perriello to vote no on Waxman-Markey. Perriello ultimately voted for the bill.
According to the ACCCE document, the coalition contracted the grassroots organizing to Hawthorn Group, which in turn hired Bonner & Associates “to do limited outreach earlier this year” on the climate and energy bill. In a public statement issued Monday, ACCCE put the blame on Bonner & Associates, stating “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 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,” the group’s leader, Stephen L. Miller, said in a statement.
ACCCE pins the blame for failing to notify Perriello on Hawthorn and/or Bonner & Associates:
[W]e were assured by Hawthorn that senior management with Bonner and Associates had committed to making personal contacts with the affected organizations and the congressional offices who received falsified letters. Throughout this process, ACCCE has been told that Bonner and Associates had made contacts with the affected organizations and was continuing to make contacts with congressional offices. It was only by reading last Friday’s media accounts that we learned that these matters had not been satisfactorily resolved.
Grist talked with ACCCE Vice President of Media Relations Lisa Camooso Miller on Tuesday, seeking clarification as to whether ACCCE had ever attempted to let the representatives know about the fake letters sent by a group that had been subcontracted to work on the group’s behalf. Miller deferred to the question to Hawthorn. “I’m afraid that’s a question you’re going to have to ask the Hawthorn Group, because they are the consultant that was dealing with those things at the time,” she told Grist.
“The document describes that we had every confidence at that time from Hawthorn Group that Bonner & Associates had reached out to the Congressional members,” Miller said in a follow-up email. “It wasn’t until last Friday that a Charlottesville paper disclosed that that had not happened. That is why we personally reached out to each one of those members yesterday.”
Calls to Hawthorn Group were not returned before this story was posted online. In an interview today with The Washington Post, a Hawthorn spokesman blamed Bonner & Associates for the forged letters.
A spokesperson for Perriello said the congressman’s office did not receive any notice of the forgeries from Bonner & Associates, Hawthorn Group, or ACCCE. Perriello learned of the forgeries last week, when Creciendo Juntos contacted his office, though the spokesperson said the office earlier suspected the letter might be a forgery. ACCCE contacted Perriello’s office on Monday, expressing interest in meeting with the representative, but that was the first time his office had heard directly from ACCCE directly regarding the letters.
ACCCE’s background document confirms that Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper and Chris Carney, both Democrats from Pennsylvania, also received fake letters opposing the climate bill. Both lawmakers opposed the legislation; calls requesting comment and additional information from their offices were not returned.
UPDATE: Hawthorn posted a statement on its website Tuesday night from the group’s chief operating officer, Michael Coe, placing the blame on Bonner:
After completion of the project, Mr. Bonner informed Hawthorn that in addition to the legitimate letters resulting from their work, some falsified letters had been delivered to a few legislators. This violated Bonner’s own quality control and verification process that we understood was in place before we hired him. Hawthorn immediately terminated our work with Bonner and promptly advised ACCCE of the identified falsified letters and informed ACCCE that Mr. Bonner had agreed to follow up with the congressional offices and organizations to inform them and to apologize on behalf of Bonner & Associates. Only subsequently did Hawthorn learn that Bonner had failed to reach the congressional offices to properly advise them.
The Hawthorn Group deeply regrets that Bonner & Associates caused the fabricated letters to be sent to the congressional offices and its failure to follow up appropriately when they discovered the error. We maintain the highest ethical and quality control standards for our work, and nothing like this has happened in our 17 years in business. We are taking steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.