- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

A congressional chairman is demanding answers from a coal group about forged letters criticizing major climate legislation that were sent to three congressional offices ahead of the House vote on it.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity has acknowledged that the firm it hired through a subcontractor, Bonner & Associates, sent 12 forged letters purportedly from local nonprofit groups to the congressional offices.

In a letter Wednesday, Rep. Edward J. Markey, chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, demanded to know when the congressional offices were notified of the faked letters.

Mr. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and one of the climate bill’s primary sponsors, noted that a “background document” put out by the coal group said it was first informed about the situation June 24 - two days before the House narrowly approved the legislation. He said the group “chose to remain silent” until after the vote.

Last week, the office of Rep. Tom Perriello, Virginia Democrat, said it found six letters purported to be from a local NAACP chapter and a Hispanic advocacy group criticizing the bill, which turned out to be forgeries. Bonner & Associates, a Washington grass-roots lobbying firm, acknowledged that it had forged the letters, blaming the fakes on a temporary employee who has since been fired.

This week, the coal group said that its primary grass-roots contractor, the Hawthorn Group, had hired Bonner & Associates to do limited outreach on the climate bill before the vote. The coal group revealed that 12 forged letters had been sent to three House members: Mr. Perriello, as well as Pennsylvania Democrats Christopher Carney and Kathy Dahlkemper.

Lisa Camooso Miller, a spokeswoman for the coal group, declined to identify the groups whose names were used in the letters to the Pennsylvania lawmakers, other than to say they were local nonprofits. She said the coal group, which represents industries involved in producing electricity from coal, notified the offices about the faked letters Monday.

Mrs. Dahlkemper’s office also declined to identify the groups. Her spokesman, Zac Petkanas, called it “an unfortunate incident involving several out of thousands of letters that Rep. Dahlkemper received regarding this important issue.”

Mr. Carney’s office did not respond to messages Wednesday.

Mr. Perriello ended up voting for the bill; the other two lawmakers voted against it.

Mr. Markey asked the coal group to respond by Aug. 13.

“We just received the letter and will answer the questions fully,” Ms. Camooso Miller said.

In statements this week, the coal group and Hawthorn put the blame on Bonner & Associates. The coal group’s president and CEO, Stephen L. Miller, said: “We are outraged at the conduct of Bonner & Associates … because of Bonner & Associates’ misconduct, we apologize to the community groups and the members of Congress involved.”

Michael Coe, Hawthorn’s chief operating officer, said Bonner & Associates “failed to reach the congressional offices to properly advise them” of the forgeries.

“The Hawthorn Group deeply regrets that Bonner & Associates caused the fabricated letters to be sent to the congressional offices and its failure to follow up appropriately when they discovered the error.”

Bonner & Associates did not return messages seeking comment.

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