July 23, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
Roll Call

Pro-Bonner Ad Causes a Backlash

American University professor James Thurber ate crow Friday, calling the decision to run an ad in Roll Call supporting Jack Bonner, who has been mired in a Congressional investigation into forged constituent letters, an error.

“It was a mistake to run an ad in Roll Call this week to thank an adjunct professor and long-time colleague who is involved in a political controversy, and to name individuals in the ad without their approval,” Thurber said in a written statement late last week. “This was a lapse in judgment on my part and I certainly would not do this again.”

American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies placed an ad at Thurber’s direction in Wednesday’s Roll Call thanking Bonner for “over 15 years of teaching excellence.” It also listed the names of many prominent lobbyists and lawmakers who have been guest lecturers for Bonner’s class.

The ad ran a week after Bonner testified before a House committee about the letter-writing scandal.

Thurber also said he regretted “the impact my actions have had on the American University community.”

Thurber said he has severed his relationship as an ethics adviser to Bonner & Associates, the lobbying firm that has admitted an employee forged letters to Members of Congress.

“I mentioned to Mr. Bonner his need for ethics training for his staff,” Thurber said in the statement. “There was no contractual arrangement for me to be involved with Bonner and Associates pro bono or otherwise.”

Jack Bonner testified recently before the House Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee that his firm had retained Thurber as an “independent Ethical Standards Advisor who is well-regarded as maintaining the highest ethical standards and independence.” Thurber’s one-page bio was distributed as a part of the firm’s five-step plan to help ensure a similar scandal does not recur.

“Professor Thurber told us that he would provide ethics training without fee, and he has now told us that he has decided he will not do that,” a spokesman for Bonner said.

AU spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an e-mail, “Once Thurber realized that placing the ad compromised his independence, he decided it would be better for someone else to provide the training.”

Bonner’s spokesman said the firm has not decided how it will proceed following Thurber’s decision.

Thurber’s about-face comes after several people who were among the more than 50 lobbyists, staffers, public relations specialists and lawmakers listed in the ad as “notable guest lecturers” for Bonner’s grass-roots lobbying workshop came forward outraged that they weren’t notified their names would be used in the ad.

Several lobbyists, including Bonner’s former colleague John Rother of AARP, said they were upset with the university.

“I’m shocked,” said Rother, who worked with Bonner as a staffer to the late Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.). “It’s highly unprofessional in the least. ... I would have insisted that they not use” my name.

Rother’s sentiments were echoed by several K Streeters whose names showed up in print.

“I respect both Jim Thurber and Jack Bonner, but someone should have let us know that our names were going to appear in the ad,” one lobbyist said.

Several K Streeters said it had been years since they had spoken to Bonner’s class. Some lobbyists complained that they were listed as being affiliated with Members of Congress they no longer work for. For example, Mildred Webber was listed as working for Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and David Thomas was listed as a staffer to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). Neither has worked on the Hill for several years. Webber is a lobbyist at the National Association of Broadcasters, and Thomas is now at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti.

Bonner’s spokesman said that although Bonner did see the ad before it ran, he did not ask for it to be placed and had given his teaching stipend to charity.

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