Bob Park’s weekly newsletter gives the story sharply and succinctly (August 6 edition):
WHAT’S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 6 Aug 09 Washington, DC
CLIMATE: LETTERS TO CONGRESS ARE EXPOSED AS “ASTROTURF”.
They look like a grass-roots campaign, but they’re fakes. The letters purported to be from registered nonprofit groups. (D-MA), a sponsor of the climate bill, has begun an inquiry into whether the fake letters amount to fraud. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity disavowed the scurrilous tactic and said it was considering legal action against the Hawthorne Group, a firm it paid to make the climate bill disappear. Hawthorne, however, is only a contractor. It hired Bonner and Associates to make the hit. The founder of the firm, Jack Bonner, laid the blame squarely on a wayward employee who has since been fired. Thus was the purity of the legislative process restored. But why had this employee taken it upon himself to do such a thing? A lowly temp, he was paid according to the number of fraudulent letters he sent to congressional offices. And nobody supervised his work?
Dr. Park offered facts only, no links.
Let me help you out. But a word of warning: This campaign against Al Gore and serious science is really, really sleazy.
- Daily Progress (in Charlottesville, Virginia) reported on letters forged by opponents of the Markey-Waxman bill; climate change “skeptics” had hired a public relations firm that used the names of real minority advocacy organizations in Charlottesville, Virginia — including the NAACP. In one case the forged letters invented people and positions at the organization that do not exist (vapor turf).
- A blog of The Wall Street Journal reported the fraud
- The Washington Post confirmed the reports, and discovered at least six more forged letters, and maybe as many as 47, written on behest of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), an anti-climate change prevention group representing coal mining companies — ACCCE disavowed the letters. ACCCE had hired a lobbying firm, the Hawthorn Group, which had hired Jack Bonner. You can view the forged letter from the NAACP in a .pdf, here; and the forged letter from the Charlottesville Hispanic advocacy group here.
- The New York Times carried an Associated Press story on the affair
- A blog at Congressional Quarterly (CQ) makes a defense of Bonner’s reputation as the “discoverer” of the fraud (I’m not sure that’s an accurate description)
- Mother Jones detailed the history of Jack Bonner’s other Astroturf campaigns, suggesting Bonner may not be the innocent bystander he claims to be; also see this 1997 story that reports in more detail on Bonner’s tactics
- A report at American Prospect suggests that the campaign may have been much more widespread, and that it involved probably-illegal forging of fax identities, too
- Think Progress wonders if Bonner was really the victim — see also the note from the NAACP in this piece
Who can you trust? It’s clear that we can’t trust claims from climate change sceptics and denialists, especially when they claim “thousands” of scientists and “thousands” of citizens oppose laws to mitigate the damage from climate change.