Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Weak" in Review: Letter Fraud, Astroturf, And Funny Nicknames

This has been a banner week for exposing as a fraud the so-called “grassroots” movement to stop clean energy reform. In fact, so many dirty tricks have surfaced that we thought it might be helpful to offer a brief review:

First, Politico reported that investigators with the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming turned up six more fraudulent letters sent by the now-famous Bonner & Associates to House Democrats pretending to represent senior citizens, Hispanic groups and the NAACP. While that makes a total of 13 different letters sent to Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper (PA), Christopher Carney (PA) and Tom Perriello (VA) now proven to be fakes, Bonner & Buddies – working for the front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity – sent a whopping 45 more letters that have yet to be confirmed as false. Although the company has blamed a temporary employee who has since been fired, a former Bonner staffer who now works on Capitol Hill described forged letters as standard practice, observing that the company “just got caught this time.”

Of course, this week has also seen the beginning of oil industry "Astroturf" events. Calling themselves “Energy Citizens,” some great on-the-ground reporting by Sarah McDonald at Texas Public Citizen revealed that the crew that showed up to the rally looked more like ExxonMobil’s softball team than a broad coalition of concerned citizens (via Grist):
About 2,500 energy employees were brought by charter bus to the Verizon Wireless Theater, a private location that could be easily secured to keep undesirables out. David, Ryan, and Andy were all denied access, but stealthily dressed in Banana Republic and spectator pumps, I was able to blend in with the crowd and slip into the hot dog line.

Inside the theater it became evident quickly what a polished, professional event this was. Right at the door you could pick up a bright yellow t-shirt with a clever slogan on it like "I'll pass on $4 gas", "I'm an Energy Citizen!", and "Congress, Don't Take Away My Job!" The same lines could also be found on bumper stickers and the same kinds of cardboard signs you would wave at a football game.

My favorite aspect of the rally by far, however, was the high school marching band and star spangled dance team. When I asked one of the teenage dancers what she thought the rally was about, she told me she thought that it was about conserving energy.

Finally, it seems bad things come in twos. Yesterday, another industry front group posing as grassroots popped up under the banner Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security. Seems like a mouthful, but it’s so cute when you abbreviate it: “FACES of Coal.” As the Charleston Gazette reports, this newest PR campaign from the coal industry bills itself as “an alliance of people from all walks of life who have joined forces to educate the general public and lawmakers about the importance of coal and coal mining to our local and national economies.” The whole article is worth a read if you’d like a closer look at which local officials in West Virginia totally heart the coal industry.

There are, of course, no real faces behind "FACES of Coal" (also thanks to our friends at Grist):

FACES is allied with Friends of Coal, Coal Mining Our Future and the Coalition for Mountaintop Mining .

Grist tried to find out more about FACES, as the website does not list members or funders. The only contact information listed is an email address, and our email inquiry bounced back.

Weak indeed.

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