When Lobbying is Fraud


Sunlight has no stated position on grassroots lobbying disclosure, but I thought that this story was worth flagging as I’d imagine it is the clearest cut argument for such disclosure:

As U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello was considering how to vote on an important piece of climate change legislation in June, the freshman congressman’s office received at least six letters from two Charlottesville-based minority organizations voicing opposition to the measure.

The letters, as it turns out, were forgeries.

“They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization,” said Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit network that tackles issues related to Charlottesville’s Hispanic community. “It’s this type of activity that undermines Americans’ faith in democracy.”

The faked letter from Creciendo Juntos was signed by “Marisse K. Acevado, Asst Member Coordinator,” an identity and position at Creciendo Juntos that do not exist.

The person who sent the letter has not been identified, but he or she was employed by a Washington lobbying firm called Bonner & Associates.

It turns out that this isn’t the first time that Bonner & Associates has forged letters on an issue. In terms of disclosure, Bonner & Associates has not filed a lobbying disclosure report since 2001, so we have no clue which client is paying the firm to forge letters and lie to lawmakers.

This reminds me of a story that got the whole lobbying disclosure train rolling back in the 1930s (lobbying disclosure as an issue had been around since the late 19th century, but only limited action was taken until the 1930s). During debate over the Public Utility Holding Company Act, a bill to regulate utility companies, there was serious concern over the lobbying efforts of the industry. Sen. Hugo Black, a long time critic of industry lobbying efforts and a future Supreme Court justice, set up an investigatory committee to examine efforts by the utility companies to block the bill’s passage. Black’s investigation was aided by a tip from Congressman Dennis Driscoll of upstate New York. Driscoll became suspicious when he received 800 telegrams in opposition to the bill, in alphabetical order, as if read from the phone book, from the residents of one town in his district. As it turned out, Associated Gas & Electric of Ithaca, New York paid an employee to “develop” one thousand telegrams to send to the congressman. This revelation of outright forgery helped push the bill to victory and necessitated a new provision in the bill: the disclosure of paid lobbying for all utility holding companies.

Perhaps someone might want to look into the despicable efforts of Bonner & Associates to trick lawmakers. Who knows what else is out there?