In the annals of damage control strategies, this one from Bonner & Associates may go down as one of the least effective ever: We may have forged 13 letters to lawmakers about climate change, on behalf of our coal industry client. But definitely not 14!
Yesterday we reported that congressional investigators had found a fourteenth forged letter to a lawmaker criticizing the recent climate change bill, purporting to come from a Virginia American Legion post, but actually sent by Bonner, the Washington-based astroturf lobbying firm, on behalf of a coal-industry client.
But soon after we posted that story, a Bonner spokesman contacted us. Bonner, he said via email, “is being unjustly blamed” for the latest letter, which went to Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA). To support that claim, the spokesman attached a FedEx receipt, which indeed appears to show that on June 11th a package was sent from Bonner’s office to Charles Santrock, an official with the American Legion post. The package was signed for by “Anne Lester” at the Legion post, then returned to Bonner a few days later. Bonner also sent us a copy of the letter, which had been signed with the name “Charles Santrock.”
Santrock confirmed to TPMmuckraker last night that Anne Lester is an employee of the Legion post. But he said he never spoke to anyone by phone about the climate-change campaign or about energy costs, that the Legion post doesn’t get involved in political issues of that nature, and that the signature on the letter — which was shown to him recently by congressional investigators — doesn’t even match his own.
And Jeff Sharp, a spokesman with the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which released the letter yesterday declaring it forged, told us this morning that the coal-industry group on whose behalf Bonner was working, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, had themselves identified the letter as irregular, when contacted by the committee. Sharp said that when the committee then followed up by contacting Santrock, he told them the same thing he told us: that he never signed it.
It’s unclear exactly what happened here. But our guess is that a Bonner phone-banker got someone at the Legion post to nominally agree to sign the letter. When Bonner FedExed it over, someone at the post signed Santrock’s name and returned it.
If things did go down that way, it would be hard to hold Bonner responsible in the same way that they’re responsible for the undisputed forgeries. But in a sense, the episode points up the problems in Bonner’s nominally legitimate letters — indeed, in its entire modus operandi.
An under-paid Bonner phone banker, incentivized to get as many signatures as possible, has his call answered by whoever happens to pick up the phone at a local organization that has no direct interest in climate change legislation. The Bonner employee then prevails on his interlocutor to agree that Bonner can send them a letter about higher energy costs. The letter gets sent, signed by someone likely with little knowledge of the issue or the political use to which the letter is being put, and returned. Bonner then sends the letter to the appropriate lawmaker, as an expression of genuine grassroots support for their client’s position. And those are the “legitimate” letters.
The letter itself contains an additional suggestion that Bonner’s operating style might be described as fast and loose in the extreme. It states: “You are an important member of the Energy and Commerce committee…” But Perriello, to whom the letter was sent, doesn’t sit on that committee.
And of course, here’s the even larger point: Bonner has been reduced to a defense in which it pleads for sympathy because it forged 13 letters, but is being blamed for 14.
Good luck with that.