POLITICS:

Sierra Club asks DOJ to investigate forged climate letters

The Sierra Club today urged Attorney General Eric Holder to launch an investigation into the activities of a lobbying firm that has been linked to fake letters urging Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) to vote against the climate bill.

In a letter sent to Holder, Sierra Club Legal Director Patrick Gallagher argues that at a minimum, the firm Bonner & Associates appears to have committed fraud, and that a thorough investigation may reveal that the firm "devised a scheme to defraud constituents of Rep. Perriello ... by depriving them of the intangible right to the honest services of their representatives."

The request stems from a newspaper report last week that Bonner & Associates sent letters to Perriello's office that were made to look as if they came from Creciendo Juntos, a Charlottesville-based Hispanic advocacy group. Perriello staffers also received similarly worded letters that were designed to look as if they came from the Albemarle-Charlottesville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The letters, which urged Perriello to oppose the House climate bill (H.R. 2454), used the letterhead of the two groups but were signed by individuals who are not affiliated with the organizations (E&ENews PM, July 31).

The group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity acknowledged this afternoon that its contractor the Hawthorn Group had subcontracted with Bonner & Associates earlier to perform "limited outreach," but the advocacy group denounced the firm's actions.

The Sierra Club wants the Justice Department to determine whether similar forged letters were sent to other members of Congress and if other organizations were similarly misrepresented. If necessary, DOJ should pursue criminal charges against Bonner & Associates, the letter says.

"The ability of constituents to communicate their opinions to their government representatives stands as the cornerstone of our democracy," wrote the Sierra Club. "This process fails, however, when representatives cannot trust that community organizations truly speak for their members, or cannot trust that communications purported to be sent by community organizations actually come from those organizations."

Perriello ultimately voted in favor of the climate bill and in the aftermath has vigorously defended his vote, even in the face of sharp criticism from some constituents and Republicans in Washington.

But the Sierra Club also argued that DOJ should pursue the investigation regardless of Perriello's vote, stating that even fraudulent schemes that do not actually cause harm are still grounds for legal action.

Disclosure of the letters has already prompted sharp criticism from several advocacy groups that support the legislation and from Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who announced last week that his Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming would investigate the matter.

And the Sierra Club this week will run print ads in Washington, D.C.-based political publications that depict Bigfoot, aliens, Pinocchio and other fictional characters under the banner "The Coalition to Kill Clean Energy Jobs."

States the ad: "When Dirty-Energy Washington Lobbyists couldn't get any real-life supporters to defeat comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation, they made them up instead."

Click here to read the Sierra Club letter.

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