01 August, 2009

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

It's bad enough when Astroturfers fuck up the democratic process by pretending to represent the popular will. It's worse when they hire a company to perpetrate an all-out fraud:
Oh my.

As U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello was considering how to vote on an important piece of climate change legislation in June, the freshman congressman's office received at least six letters from two Charlottesville-based minority organizations voicing opposition to the measure.

The letters, as it turns out, were forgeries.

"They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization," said Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit network that tackles issues related to Charlottesville's Hispanic community. "It's this type of activity that undermines Americans' faith in democracy."

The faked letter from Creciendo Juntos was signed by "Marisse K. Acevado, Asst Member Coordinator," an identity and position at Creciendo Juntos that do not exist.

The mailing apparently came from a staffer at Bonner & Associates, a D.C. lobbying firm working in opposition to the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act.

But wait, there's more. After being notified of the scheme, Perriello staffers went through other correspondence the Virginia Democrat received on ACES. They found five more forged letters, purportedly from the local branch of the NAACP.

Needless to say, the NAACP's a mite peeved at their identity being hijacked.

Bonner & Ass. is doing what all companies do when faced with a scandal of such epic proportions: blaming it on the hired help:

In a statement emailed to TPMmuckraker, Bonner wrote:

We take our business very seriously. A temporary employee--lied to us--and contrary to our policies sent these letters. We--no one else--we on our own found this out. We immediately fired the person. We then, called those effected, explained what happened and apologized. In the case of the group in the story--we did it in person and by letter.

This should not have happened--we had a bad employee--but through our internal checks, we found the problem, and on our own initiative took the step to notify the affected group.

A poorly-written and somewhat hysterical denial that may have been a wee bit more believable were it not for their extensive prior record:

Bonner & Associates has a long history of shady tactics and big business corporate associations:

Show Me the Money: Founder Jack Bonner bragged in 1994 that the group has no “idealogical or political bent,” the Washington Post noting that “if you’ve got the money and need some ‘regular people’ to flog your issue, Bonner will find them for you.” [8/23/94]

Defrauding the U.S. Government: In 1986, the firm was caught defrauding the U.S. government in order to retain a contract. Bonner & Associates was fraudulently submitting names from phone books, yearbooks, agency employee books, and other sources. The firm claimed to fire the offending employee: “We fired the people we determined were involved in it…what they did was in direct violation of the written policy of the firm.” [New York Times, 12/18/86]

Fighting the Smoking Ban on Behalf of Philip Morris: Bonner & Associates was hired by Philip Morris during the early 90s to build opposition to the workplace smoking ban. A 1994 National Journal piece reports that the firm “was paid about $1.5 million to solicit 7,000 letters to OSHA from small businesses, criticizing the indoor air proposal.” [National Journal, 12/3/94]

Killing Health Care Reforms on Behalf of PhRMA: After the group was hired by PhRMA to kill Maryland legislation that would have affected prescription drug legislation, they faxed dozens of community leaders with a petition that was meant to appear grassroots, “including grammatical errors and a handwritten cover letter.” A community leader that received one of the faxes said, “I wish they would take off the masks. If the drug industry wants to organize people at the grass roots, they should be honest.” [Baltimore Sun, 3/9/02]


This isn't the first time that they've been caught out blurring the lines between "strategic grassroots" lobbying and outright deception. As the Daily Progress notes [edited to add link]:

The AARP Bulletin reported in 2006 that the "60 Plus Association" hired Bonner & Associates in 2003 to manage what it called an "Astroturf" campaign against prescription drug legislation in Minnesota and New Mexico, meaning that it was an artificial version of a grassroots campaign.

Bonner & Associates hired callers to identify themselves as members of the 60 Plus Association and urge residents to ask their governors to veto the legislation. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer later admitted that it had paid Bonner & Associates to undertake the campaign, AARP reported.

And it engineered a similar scheme in Maryland. When it was revealed that a letter opposing an effort to lower the cost of prescription drugs actually came from Bonner and Associates, rather than a group of African-American charities, Bonner told a reporter: "It's a great exercise in the First Amendment."

Bonner shall soon discover whether the First Amendment covers what amounts to identity theft and fraud. Congress is, to say the least, pissed:

Rep. Ed Markey, who chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, just sent out the following release:

Markey Announces Investigation into Forged Letters to Congressman

DC Lobbying Firm Sent Fake Letters Opposing Clean Energy Legislation

WASHINGTON (July 31, 2009) - Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, released the following statement in response to news reports of forged letters being sent to a Member of Congress by a Washington lobbying firm working against clean energy legislation:

"This fraud on Congress shows that some opponents of clean energy have resorted to forgery and theft to block progress.

"This is an appalling abuse, and Congressman Tom Perriello deserves great credit for seeing through it and casting a vote that will create clean energy jobs in Virginia and throughout the United States. I encourage all Members of Congress to be on the lookout for other suspicious and illegal materials.

"My Select Committee will immediately begin an investigation of the extent and scope of this activity."

Shouldn't take too long to get to the bottom of this.

I'm sure Congress will be talking to the former Bonner employee who explained to TPM just how many "bad employees" worked there, and why the concentration thereof was rather remarkably high. Hint - a corporation's employees are only as good as the corporation.

Lest you think Bonner & Ass. are today's only fraudsters, let us turn now to the health care battle and the NRCC's rather remarkable dishonest tactics:
The Wonk Room has learned that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is engaged in a misleading campaign to trick physicians into opposing health care reform. The NRCC has been placing calls and sending “hand-written” faxes to physicians across the country to ostensibly recognize physicians for their “invaluable experience” and ask recipients to call a toll-free number and approve a press release “to honor the achievements of you and other concerned physicians like you.” The missive invites doctors to “represent” their state “as a consultant on Rep. Tom Price’s (R-GA) ‘Physicians’ Council for Responsible Reform,’” but a call to the “Council” suggests that the NRCC’s real goal is to scare physicians and add legitimacy to Republican efforts to stall reform. (Download a copy of the letter HERE.) Listen to the call:

Rather than seeking “critical input” or “guidance” from doctors “who are respected by their peers”, the “Council” warns doctors about the “very real threat of Washington interfering even more with doctor’s efforts to provide the best possible care for their patients” and explains that the physicians on the Council have already agreed to “a free market type thing.”

Sticking at nothing, I see. And that's not all!
The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress...
The memo includes such democracy-stifling tactics such as "Artificially Inflate Your Numbers," "Be Disruptive Early And Often," and "Try To 'Rattle Him,' Not Have An Intelligent Debate." And guess who loves them some right-wing thuggery? The NRCC, baby, yeah!
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chairman of the NRCC, has endorsed the strategy, telling the Politico the days of civil town halls are now “over.”
So much for democracy. Apparently, the Cons prefer we become a thugocracy, because it's the only way they'll be able to wield power again. Shows you how terrified they are that they're going to lose the heath care reform debate - and they will. They've already showed they have a losing hand.

We also have a new weapon to whack them with, courtesy of Rep. Anthony Weiner:

For months, Republicans have been trying to scare Americans away from supporting a public option in health care reform, claiming that “government-run” medicine is akin to socialism and would be disastrous. But the government already runs several successful, well-loved health care programs — most notably, Medicare.

Yesterday, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) decided that it was “put-up or shut-up time for the phonies who deride the so-called ‘public option.’” He offered an amendment that would eliminate government-run Medicare:


Not a single member of Congress voted for the amendment, and Republicans were blasting it as a “political farce.” Last night, Weiner went on MSNBC and explained the GOP’s hypocrisy:

WEINER: Well, for some reason, I guess Republicans don’t like publicly funded, publicly administered health plans except for Medicare, and, I guess, except for the Veterans Administration and except for the health care that our military gets from the Department of Defense. The fact of the matter is, what we’ve learned is that government administered health care works pretty darn well. It’s got lower overhead and people like it.

So, when my Republican colleagues pound the drum and pound the podium about how they hate government-run health care, I guess they haven’t looked at what they get.

That... that is such a thing of beauty. And even more beautiful, it's only Weiner's opening salvo:
He then tells Rachel [Maddow] about a very bold move he's going to make on health care reform.

Weiner: But it does lead us to the next logical step where I need my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to start to come to, and that is not why have a public option, but why have a private option at all? If we know for example that the one experiment we have is very successful in publicly funded health care through Medicare, why do we even need the insurance companies? What constructive role are they playing?

We know they're taking tens of billions of dollars each year and putting it into profits that should be going into health care, so tomorrow I'm going to be taking the next step and offering a true single payer health care plan, and I wanted people today to start to think about, "hey maybe that's the way we do it". It's simpler, and we know that it works.

All I can say is amen brother.
Holy fuck, get that man into the Senate and give him Harry Reid's gavel, stat. On second thought, replace that gavel with a Smack-o-Matic - Ben Nelson's needing a spanking in the worst way. He's such a petulant little baby that he's threatening to kill health care reform because progressive groups have been running critical ads about him:

In response, Nelson's spokesman says he's "looking to support bipartisan legislation that reduces health care costs, boosts the quality of care and expands coverage to people who can't obtain it now." But: "If this is an indication of the politics going into August, then health care reform may be dead by the end of August."

Shorter version: Critics should shut up about me and my fellow centrists or we'll kill health care reform.
Look, Ben, your choices here are simple: start acting like a fucking Democrat rather than a King Con, in which case there won't be a need for attack ads - or get the fuck out of the Senate. If you play this "I'm killing health care reform because people were mean to me" card, you'll be losing your seat anyway.

Not that I'm worried about King Ben anyway. Not with Baucus taught his lesson, anyway. King Ben may take far more applications of the rolled-up newspaper, but he will shortly learn discipline or discover how painful a primary fueled by outraged activists can be.

And the House's Energy and Commerce Committee just passed health care legislation. With the deadline Baucus set for the recalcitrant Cons on the Senate Finance Committee, that means that the momentum's swung strongly in the reformers' direction.

So, Cons, send your fake little letters and play your cheap tricks at town halls. Lie, fear-monger, and lie some more. Knock yourselves out. And be prepared to go on wingnut welfare, because once this battle's over, you're going to need it.

No comments: