Bonner's "Legal" Astroturfing Activities Also Extremely Dubious
The congressional investigation into the forged Bonner letters has exposed a number of clearly or potentially illegal activities conducted by or on behalf of the coal industry in its fight against the Waxman-Markey climate bill. But the documents released by the investigation also made plain that even the ostensibly legal astroturfing activities of the industry and its contractors are at best really, really questionable.
The documents show that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) hired contractors who reached out to community groups representing vulnerable constituencies and blatantly mislead those groups about their motivations. ACCCE paid a PR company, the Hawthorn Group, nearly $3 million in 2009 for "outreach to individuals and groups representing the interests of minorities, seniors, business, and veterans." Hawthorn in turn hired Bonner and Associates to drum up letters from those groups. The plan, as an email between Hawthorn and Bonner confirms, was to send the letters to politically weak Democrats who were still on the fence about their vote on the climate bill.
The investigation shows that even the 45 supposedly "legit" letters that Bonner managed to generate from these groups were elicited under false pretenses. Bonner employees were provided with a script that directed them to identify themselves as "working with seniors" or "working with vets"—without ever mentioning that they were actually calling on behalf of the coal industry. Callers were then instructed to play on the economic anxieties of the constituency in question:
"Hi xyz, I am working with seniors/retirees to help stop their utility bills from doubling," reads one script offered to Bonner employees.