Probe of Forged Letters Expands

Posted October 30, 2009 at 5:56pm

With the battle over climate change legislation raging in the Senate, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is examining new information related to his investigation into forged letters sent this summer opposing the House cap-and-trade bill.

Markey, chairman of the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee and co-author of his chamber’s climate change bill, is now focusing on the lobbying reports of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which has been tied to the forgeries.

ACCCE sent a letter to Markey on Wednesday defending its lobbying disclosure reports, according to a copy of the group’s response obtained by Roll Call. The next day, Markey held a hearing about more than a dozen fabricated letters sent by a temporary employee of

Bonner & Associates as part of the ACCCE’s lobbying campaign.

The unnamed employee sent the letters to Democratic Reps. Tom Perriello (Va.), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.) and Christopher Carney (Pa.) before the vote on the bill in late June. The letters were sent as if they were from local chapters of groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Association of University Women.

Markey and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) grilled Bonner & Associates founder Jack Bonner and ACCCE President Steve Miller about why they did not notify the Members of Congress who received fake letters until after the House vote on the global warming bill.

Bonner discovered the forgeries on June 22 and notified another ACCCE contractor, the Hawthorn Group, which then told ACCCE, according to documents Bonner provided to the committee.

Bonner did not try to contact Perriello and Dahlkemper until July 1 and did not actually get ahold of those offices until July 13. Carney’s office was never contacted, according to documents provided to the committee.

At the hearing last week, Jack Bonner took “full responsibility— for the letters and said he should have done more to contact lawmakers.

“I am personally very sorry that I did not immediately go up to the three Members involved, sit in their office and talk to somebody and tell them directly what happened,— Bonner testified.

Both ACCCE and Bonner distanced themselves from the forgeries, focusing on how each is moving forward to ensure a similar problem does not occur again.

ACCCE’s Miller said the coal coalition has undergone a thorough review of its internal policy. In addition to not paying Bonner for the work it did, Miller said, “Bonner & Associates will never perform work for ACCCE again.—

Also, on the recommendation of its counsel Venable, three senior ACCCE executives — Miller, Senior Vice President of Communications Joe Lucas and Senior Vice President for Federal Government Affairs Paul Bailey — have been reprimanded and were given “substantial— financial penalties. ACCCE is also putting in place a public policy outreach code that all internal employees, contractors and subcontractors will have to sign.

In order to repair Bonner’s reputation, the grass-roots company has hired James Thurber, a professor at American University, as its ethics adviser. Also, Bonner said he has implemented a five-point action plan that requires verifying the authenticity of all signed letters, ensuring that temporary workers’ résumés are legitimate before they are hired and requiring new employees to complete mandatory ethics training and a test.

Markey’s follow-up questions focused largely on whether ACCCE had accurately accounted for its lobbying expenditures, which varied considerably between 2008 and 2009.

ACCCE defended its lobbying activity in its response letter last week.

“ACCCE fully and accurately reports its lobbying activities to the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate under the Lobbying Disclosure Act and to the Internal Revenue Service on its form 990,— ACCCE’s Miller wrote.

The coal coalition attributed the wide disparity in the amount of lobbying it reported from 2008 and 2009 to using a different reporting method on its lobbying reports.

In 2008, ACCCE included a portion of Hawthorn’s consulting fees in its lobbying reports because it was using the Internal Revenue Code reporting method, which combines federal lobbying, grass-roots advocacy, paid media and state lobbying. ACCCE reported spending about $9.9 million on lobbying last year.

The coalition paid Hawthorn more than $7 million, according to documents ACCCE provided to the committee. The majority of that payment went toward recruiting its grass-roots operation “America’s Power Army— and for field outreach.

In 2009, ACCCE started using the Lobbying Disclosure Act reporting method, which excludes grass-roots lobbying from its definition. ACCCE has reported spending about $1.2 million on lobbying this year. It paid Hawthorn about $2.9 million for the first six months of 2009, according to documents ACCCE provided to the committee.

ACCCE filed a second-quarter amendment lowering its lobbying for that quarter from $11.3 million to $544,853. ACCCE reported to Markey that it was an administrative error. The coalition also filed two third-quarter reports after realizing that it had not accurately accounted for its lobbying of that quarter, according to the coalition’s response. ACCCE originally filed that it had spent about $246,000 on lobbying and filed an additional third-quarter report increasing its lobbying to about $302,000.

ACCCE also responded to questions regarding 4,082 calls its grass-roots operation made to Congress June 24-26. Executive Communications, which has worked as a Hawthorn subcontractor to generate calls for its grass-roots campaign for the past 10 years, was in charge of the effort, according to documents provided to the committee.

Markey spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder said Markey would decide how to move forward after a full review of the testimony and the recently received answers are fully reviewed.

“We have a dedication to stay vigilant on this and make sure it does not happen again, especially in the context of clean-energy legislation,— Burnham-Snyder said.

ACCCE is trying to move beyond the forgery scandal.

The industry group, which has an annual budget of about $45 million, has already had nearly 40 meetings with Senate offices on climate legislation, according to ACCCE spokeswoman Lisa Miller. The group is also pushing ahead with its grass-roots initiatives and multimillion-dollar advertising campaign.