Bonner & Associates
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."
Bonner & Associates is a lobbying / public relations firm that specializes in "grassroots" and third party campaigns. Its website says it "locate[s], educate[s], and mobilize[s] ... [o]rganizations and constituencies that matter politically ... to support our clients' positions credibly and effectively." 
The company was formed in 1984. On its website it states that it has "expertise and success with: Internal grassroots (employees, shareholders, vendors, retires)" and "External grasstops (third party, business owners, heads of groups, political influential)." 
It also states that "organizations and constituencies that matter politically from the home states and districts of elected officials can be located, educated, and mobilized to support our clients' positions credibly and effectively. Bonner & Associates will alter the mix of organizations mobilized depending on the issue. These organizations may include: Rural groups; Business groups; Religious organizations; Civic organizations; Minority organizations; Veterans groups; Senior groups; Educational organizations; Labor unions; Patient advocacy groups"
Coal industry Astroturf
In July 2009, the company was caught forging letters to Representative Tom Perriello. The letters were supposedly from Virginia-based minority groups, like the Charlottesville NAACP or Creciendo Juntas -- complete with their stationery -- and urged him to oppose the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill. Bonner & Associates apologized, saying the letters were sent by "mistake." Perriello is one of the co-sponsors of the Clean Water Protection Act, which would slow the practice of Mountaintop removal.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal industry front group, later admitted that Bonner was working on its behalf, as a subcontractor for the Hawthorn Group. ACCCE said it didn't know about the fake letters beforehand, or condone them. In total, the House of Representatives has identified 14 fake letters sent by Bonner to three Democratic Representatives -- Tom Perriello, Kathy Dahlkemper (Dem-PA) and Chris Carney (Dem-PA). Carney and Dahlkemper voted against the Waxman-Markey bill.
Congressman Ed Markey, the co-author of the climate bill and the Chair of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, opened an investigation into the faked letters. He wrote the firm's founder, Jack Bonner, "asking a dozen lengthy questions about the letters," reported the New York Times, including "who hired it to lobby on their behalf, how much it was paid, in which congressional districts it operates in, the extent of its activities in those districts as well as information about the employee that was responsible for the mailing of the letters." Markey gave Bonner August 12, 2009 as the deadline to respond. The Sierra Club asked Attorney General Eric Holder to open a separate Justice Department investigation into the matter.
Head of ACCCE testifies before Congress
On October 29, 2009, ACCCE president and CEO Joe Miller testified before the House Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee about the forged letters sent by subcontractor Bonner & Associates. In his testimony, Miller claimed that his organization had never opposed the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill. However, an official June 2009 press release specifically stated, "ACCCE cannot support this bill, as it is written, because the legislation still does not adequately protect consumers and the domestic economy or ensure that the American people can continue to enjoy the benefits of affordable, reliable electricity, which has been so important to our nation." Miller also said that ACCCE has only lobbied Congress since April 2008, despite extensive records of the group's lobbying efforts for many years prior. The comments sparked accusations that Miller lied under oath and suggestions that the Justice Department may open a criminal perjury probe.
Opposing the Kyoto agreement
In 1999 the President of Bonner & Associates, Jack Bonner, told PR Week that "not all grassroots actions are equal in effectiveness. You must choose those actions that move the issue your way." Bonner explained that when working to oppose the Kyoto Treaty he zeroed in on fuel costs. "Rather than have people e-mail their congressional representatives about the treaty, his company designed a web calculator that determined how much a person’s fuel costs would rise under the measure. Users sent the calculations in an e-mail to Capitol Hill," PR Week reported.
In their book, Trust Us, We're Experts, John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton wrote that
- "The 'Global Warming Cost' website focuses on generating e-mail to elected officials. Between September 1997 and July 1998, WFA claims the site generated 20,000 e-mail messages to Congress opposing the Kyoto treaty. The way it works is simple. Visitors to the home page of the website are invited to click on an icon indicating whether they represent “business,” “seniors,” “farmers,” “families,” or “workers.” This takes them to another Web page that requests their address and asks a handful of questions about the amount they spend on home heating, transportation, and other fuel costs. Based on this information, the website automatically generates a “customized” e-mail, directed to each senator and member of Congress in the visitor’s voting area, asking them to “reject any effort to stiffen the United Nations Global Climate Change Treaty.” It’s all computerized, and the website makes no effort to verify that the resulting letter is accurate or even plausible.
- "Using the assumed name “George Jetson,” for example, we plugged in an estimate that he currently spends $24,166,666 per year on gasoline, electricity, heating oil, and natural gas. (After all, it takes a lot of energy to propel those flying cars.) The computer promptly generated messages to our elected officials. "I am proud to be a worker which you represent," Mr. Jetson stated. "Estimates suggest I will personally see my cost for electricity, for natural gas, and for gasoline go up by $24,239,987.52 a year!"
- "It’s nice to know that the democratic system works. Thanks to the miracles of modern computer technology and sophisticated PR, even cartoon characters can do their part to save America from the eco-wackos and their newfangled scientific theories."
Drug industry Astroturf
In 2003, Pfizer hired the company to pose as the "60 Plus Association" and call seniors urging them to oppose prescription drug legislation. "The firm's paid callers, reading from scripts that identified them as representatives of 60 Plus, urged residents to ask their governors to veto the legislation," reported the AARP bulletin. "Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. later said it had paid Bonner & Associates to make the calls." 
Promoting a Nuclear India
In mid-2006 Bonner & Associates worked for the Indian American Security Leadership Council (IASLC), a newly founded group which PR Week reported was "founded and paid for by a group of Indian-American businesspeople" which was "backing the campaign to push US lawmakers to approve legislation that would permit the sale to India of nuclear fuel and technology." As part of the campaign Jack Bonner said "his agency contacted and persuaded a total of eight veterans' groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, to use their individual chapters to foster public and Congressional support for new US-India nuclear trade legislation, as well as other ties between India and the US."
History: A "boiler room" manufacturing "democracy"
In the book Who Will Tell the People, William Greider described Bonner & Associates as a "boiler room" which featured "300 phone lines and a sophisticated computer system, resembling the phone banks employed in election campaigns. Articulate young people sit in little booths every day, dialing around America on a variety of public issues, searching for 'white hat' citizens who can be persuaded to endorse the political objectives of Mobil Oil, Dow Chemical, Citicorp, Ohio Bell, Miller Brewing, US Tobacco, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association and dozens of other clients. This kind of political recruiting is expensive but not difficult. . . . Imagine Bonner's technique multiplied and elaborated in different ways across hundreds of public and you may begin to envision the girth of this industry. ... This is democracy and it costs a fortune."
In 1993, New York Times reporter observed that Bonner's services "do not come cheap. A campaign aimed at a handful of lawmakers on a subcommittee could cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, but one trade association in an uphill fight on the Senate floor paid $3 million for a single month's work."
Bonner though defends his firm's work."I see it as the triumph of democracy," Bonner told a writer for the Washington Post. "In a democracy, the more groups taking their message to the people outside the Beltway, and the more people taking their message to Congress, the better off the system is."
John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton noted in their book Toxic Sludge is Good for You that "what puts the lie to Bonner's claim is that his clients are not 'people,' but corporations and business trade associations buying the appearance of public support and citizen advocacy. Democracy is based on the principle of 'one person, one vote.' Bonner relies instead on the principle of 'one dollar, one vote,' mobilizing resources that would break the budget of even the best-funded environmental or consumer organization."
Bonner & Associates
1101 17th St NW
Washington DC 20036
Email: info AT bonnerandassociates.com
Articles and resources
Related SourceWatch articles
- 60 Plus Association
- American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity
- Front groups
- Hawthorn Group
- Third party technique
- Waxman-Markey Climate Bill
- ↑ "Third parties," Bonner & Associates website, accessed August 2009.
- ↑ "About us," Bonner & Associates website, accessed August 2009.
- ↑ Bonner & Associates, "Third Parties", Bonner & Associates website, accessed August 2009.
- ↑ Brian McNeill, "Forged letters to congressman anger local groups," Daily Progress (Charlottesville, Virginia), July 31, 2009.
- ↑ "Tom Perriello Cosponsors Clean Water Protection Act (HR 1310)", ArticleXI.com!, April 30, 2009.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Alex Kaplun, "Coal Industry Group Linked to a Dozen Forged Cap-And-Trade Letters," New York Times, August 4, 2009.
- ↑ David A. Fahrenthold, "House Unearths a 14th Forged Letter from a Lobbyist," Washington Post, September 10, 2009.
- ↑ Alex Kaplun, "Sierra Club asks DOJ to investigate forged climate letters," E&ENews PM, August 3, 2009.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 Arthur Delaney, [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/29/pro-coal-lobby-boss-claim_n_338794.html "Pro-Coal Lobby Boss Claims Never To Have Opposed Climate Bill," Huffington Post, October 29, 2009.
- ↑ Zachary Roth, "Could Coal Lobby Chief Be Probed For Perjury?," TPMMuckraker, October 29, 2009.
- ↑ Steve Lilienthal, "PR Technique: Public Affairs: New generation of grassroots campaigns", PR Week, October 4, 1999.
- ↑ John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, Trust Us, We're Experts, Tarcher/Putnam, 1995, page 296.
- ↑ Bill Hogan, "Pulling Strings from Afar," AARP Bulletin, July 3, 2006.
- ↑ Ted McKenna, "Indian-American group promotes nuclear trade", PR Week (sub req'd), July 27, 2006.
- ↑ William Greider, Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy, Simon & Schuster, NY, 1992, page 35-39.
- ↑ Stephen Engelberg, "A New Breed of Hired Hands Cultivates Grass-roots Anger,", New York Times, March 17, 1993, pp. 1, 11.
- ↑ Guy Gugliotta, "A Man Who Fertilizes the Grass Roots", Washington Post, August 23, 1994, A17.
- ↑ John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, Toxic Sludge is Good for You, Common Courage Press, 1995, page 82.
- ↑ "B&A cleared in ethics probe", O'Dwyers PR Daily, December 20, 2002.
- Steve Lilienthal, "PR Technique: Public Affairs: New generation of grassroots campaigns", PR Week, October 4, 1999.
- Phil Rabin, "Veterans enlist Bonner to heighten political profile", PR Week, September 27, 1999.
- Ted McKenna, "Indian-American group promotes nuclear trade", PR Week (sub req'd), July 27, 2006.
- Jessica Holzer, "Grassroots campaigns poised to gain by ethics rule changes," The Hill, February 6, 2007.
- Brian McNeill, "Forged letters to congressman anger local groups," Charlottesville Daily Progress (Virginia), July 31, 2009.
- "Markey Probes Forgery" O'Dwyers PR Daily, August 3, 2009. (Sub req'd).