At long, long last, the state is accepting lobbyist registrations and disclosures electronically. I gather that lobbyists must use this—they can’t keep filing on paper. Pssst, Virginia! Don’t make me FOIA these records, just let me download them! →
There have been a bunch of developments regarding the Bonner & Associates astroturfing of Rep. Tom Perriello’s office that are worth calling up.
- Bonner & Associates still says that a temp is at fault, and they fired him. They also say that they discovered the fraud, not Perriello.
- Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) is launching a congressional probe of these forgeries, wanting many of the same questions I asked.
- The Sierra Club is already running ads accusing “Dirty-Energy Washington Lobbyists” of being behind this.
- The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity says that they hired Bonner & Associates to astroturf for them, though they describe it as “outreach.” Grist Kate’s Sheppard also points out that article that Bonner & Associates was caught doing the same thing in 2002, forging a letter from a black charity on behalf of PhRMA.
- Think Progress has put together a timeline of Bonner’s 23-year history of astroturfing.
- A former employee of Bonner tells Talking Points Memo’s Zachary Roth that this is just how Bonner & Associates works. They put a huge amount of pressure on badly-paid temps to get signatures from community groups and turn a blind eye when they forge names to meet their quota.
- Paul Blumenthal at the Sunlight Foundation points out that Bonner hasn’t filed a lobbying disclosure form since 2001.
A lobbying firm has admitted to forging letters to Rep. Tom Perriello in the names of a two Charlottesville groups, all asking him to vote against the energy bill. Professional astroturfers Bonner & Associates variously claimed to be “Marisse K. Acevado, Asst Member Coordinator” of Creciendo Juntos and various nonexistent members of the Albemarle-Charlottesville branch of the NAACP. Mysteriously, Bonner & Associates hasn’t registered as lobbying on behalf of anybody for this bill. (Which is doubly mysterious. Not only is it strange that they wouldn’t get a piece of this pie—I’m sure every lobbying firm in DC had a contract related to that bill—but why would they lobby against a bit just for the heck of it?) Perriello’s office points out that these are just the letters that they know have been faked—there could be many others.
This is just an evil thing to do. Such missives from constituents are important to legislators. They shouldn’t have to question whether those letter-writers actually represent the organizations that they claim to represent (or even exist). The amount of work that would necessary to verify such communications would be enormous, a huge waste of government resources. Can you imagine if Perriello had been moved to vote against this bill because of one of these letters—and if his vote was the deciding vote—only to later find out that this group that he knows and trusts felt completely the opposite about the issue? I have to wonder if laws aren’t being broken here. If this isn’t illegal, it should be.
Bonner & Associates describes this as a “mistake,” but that doesn’t begin to explain this or express how problematic that it is. I hope that Perriello’s office is able to pursue this, to find out who paid for these mailings to be sent, how many other such forged letters that they received from the group, what other congressman Bonner sent forged letters to, and how many other times that they have done this. Sunlight is the disinfectant called for here.