In the never-ending ethics scandal that is Bonner and Associates, today's news is that their independent ethics adviser, American University professor James Thurber, is severing his relationship with the group—and may never have been formally retained at all.
This comes less than a week after Thurber took out a full-page ad in Roll Call praising Jack Bonner and raising questions about the how ethical their new ethics adviser could really be.
Thurber now tells Roll Call it was a "mistake" and a "lapse in judgment" to run the ad, which was taken out at his behest on behalf of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. The ad praised Bonner for "over 15 years of teaching excellence" and ran soon after Bonner testified before Congress about the forged letters his group sent to Congress.
To make matters worse, many of the people name-dropped in Thurber's ad as "notable guest lecturers" in Bonner's grassroots lobbying workshop were not even notified about the ad before it ran. Many of them are, understandably, "outraged" to have their names appropriated to support someone whose firm is currently under investigation for lying to Congress. While Bonner was apparently given a sneak-peak of the ad before it ran, the folks listed were never asked about appearing in the ad.
Not only is Thurber ending his relationship with Bonner, he now says that there was never a contractual agreement for him to advise Bonner in the first place. "I mentioned to Mr. Bonner his need for ethics training for his staff.... There was no contractual arrangement for me to be involved with Bonner and Associates pro bono or otherwise," he said in a statement.
But in his testimony to Congress last month, Bonner said that the group had retained Thurber as an "independent Ethical Standards Advisor," part of the five-step plan for quality control they were supposedly instating. Thurber, Bonner said, is "well-regarded as maintaining the highest ethical standards and independence" and would be retained to "review our policies and work with us to continue to improve our internal quality control system to the highest standards."
Bonner's spokesperson tells TPMmuckraker that Thurber must either be speaking "in error" or "probably didn't remember" agreeing to be their adviser. "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."
It's hard to decide which looks worse for Bonner—that they would retain an adviser who so flagrantly violated a reasonable understanding of ethics and independence with the ad, or that the group apparently lied to Congress about retaining him in the first place.