Groups set up forged climate letter hotline

Environmental-, civil- and women’s-rights groups have set up a new hotline for tips on faked letters or other suspect lobbying efforts to undermine cap-and-trade legislation.

The hotline follows the discovery more than two months ago of forged letters a grassroots group working on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) sent to three House Democrats.

The letters purported to be from non-profit groups and urged the members to vote against a cap-and-trade bill, which eventually passed the House in a close vote in late June.

The grassroots firm, Bonner & Associates, has blamed the forgeries on a temporary employee who was subsequently fired. But new questions have emerged over the firm’s contention that it discovered the forgeries itself and then quickly notified the members who received the fakes.

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming is investigating the forgeries. The committee has released a dozen forged letters. There is no word on when the investigation may be completed.

Adam Kolton, a lobbyist for the National Wildlife Federation, said the hotline would “fight back against big polluters and their lobbyists.”

The groups behind the hotline also criticized a campaign funded by the American Petroleum Institute to rally oil industry employees against the climate legislation as an “Astroturf” lobbying effort designed to give the false impression of citizen outrage over the bill.

Kolton said it had become “increasingly clear that additional steps need to be taken to ensure a fair, open and honest debate” on climate and energy legislation.

NWF, the Sierra Club, American Progress Action Fund, the NAACP and AAUW, a women’s rights group, are sponsoring the new hotline, which is 1-866-363-4648. Some of the faked letters purported to be sent from local NAACP and AAUW chapters.

Representatives of the groups said they would lobby Congress to toughen grassroots lobbying laws to discourage groups from faking letters to Congress, although they provided few specifics about a possible fix.

Hilary Shelton, vice president for advocacy and director of NAACP’s Washington bureau, also urged Congress to hold public hearings that examine the forgeries.

Bonner & Associates has retained Akin Gump to represent it before the House select committee. ACCCE, which represents coal producers and users, meanwhile tried again to separate itself from the controversy.

ACCCE released a statement following the news conference announcing the new hotline. “The falsification of letters to Congress is inexcusable. This type of misrepresentation has no place in any public policy debate.”

The coal group said an internal investigation done by the law firm Venable “clearly” indicates that it had no knowledge of or participation in the submission of falsified letters.

But the investigation also found that “ACCCE’s reliance on Bonner and Associates to make notification to the affected parties was misplaced, and that we should have done more to make sure that these community groups and Members of Congress were notified right away.”

The group said it hired former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti to review its internal examination and recommend any necessary administrative fixes.

A spokesman for Bonner & Associates said the firm tried to notify all members who received faked letters and the groups they were supposed to be from but was not successful in all instances.