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Were anti-climate bill letters penciled in coal?

A coal industry advocacy group has acknowledged that a contractor it hired later subcontracted a D.C.-based lobbying firm that then fired off a dozen falsified letters to congressional offices, pressuring a "nay" vote on a climate bill, The New York Times reported this week. The forged notes—designed to appear as if written by members of nonprofit groups—arrived before votes were cast on major clean energy legislation; the House narrowly approved the bill on June 26.

Bonner & Associates
, hired by a contractor for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), fabricated names of supposed members of the NAACP and Cresciendo Juntos, a Hispanic community group, and made them the "authors" of the would-be grassroots letters, according to the newspaper.

"They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it," Tim Freilich, an executive committee member for Cresciendo Juntos, told Climate Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF).

ACCCE President and CEO Stephen L. Miller said in a prepared statement Monday that the organization apologized for the "deception" and was "outraged" at the conduct of the lobbying firm. 

"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," Miller said.

One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Ed Markey (D–Mass.), is demanding more answers from the ACCCE, which was informed about the fake letters two days before the vote, according to the Associated Press.

Miller noted in his statement that the ACCCE is "evaluating all possible measures—including potential legal action." Meanwhile, Bonner & Associates has fired a temporary employee who is being held responsible for the letters.

This wouldn't be the first time the lobbying firm used what are now called "astroturf tactics." A 2002 Baltimore Sun article reported that "after the group was hired by PhRMA to kill Maryland legislation that would have affected prescription drug legislation, they faxed dozens of community leaders with a petition that was meant to appear grassroots, 'including grammatical errors and a handwritten cover letter.'" The Sun article is noted at the Web site of Think Progress, also a project of the CAPAF.

The latest anti–climate bill letters, including one written by a fictional T. J. Hudson of the NAACP, are at least a grammatical improvement, if not a moral one—just a few missing commas here and there.

Picture by DNY59 via iStockphoto

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