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Fake Letter Scandal Keeps Getting Weirder and Weirder

Back in June, during the House debate over climate legislation, three Democratic swing votes—Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper, Chris Carney, and Tom Perriello—all received letters that appeared to be from local organizations opposing the bill. Perriello got multiple letters from the local NAACP in Virginia, urging him to vote no. Dahlkemper and Carney both got letters from local senior citizens’ centers in Pennsylvania, all of which professed deep concerns about the bill’s effect on their electricity bills. Perriello ended up supporting the bill, but Dahlkemper and Carney decided to vote no, slimming the bill’s already narrow margin of victory to just seven votes.

But it turned out that the letters were fakes, all forged by someone working for Bonner and Associates, a lobbying firm that had been hired by the Hawthorne Group, which in turn was working on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy. Bonner, for its part, denied any wrongdoing, blaming a temporary employee who had since been fired. But that wasn't enough for Ed Markey, chairman of the House global warming committee, whose investigation has since turned up five more fraudulent letters—raising the total to 13—with dozens more yet to be verified.

And now the news gets even weirder. Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that Bonner & Associates is now claiming that the lobbying firm was itself a victim in this mess, accusing that now-fired temporary employee of joining the firm "with the pre-determined intent of engaging in fraudulent activity." Oddly, though, Bonner has been unable to divine "the complete motivation" of the employee, nor has the firm offered up any more details or facts besides the bland remark that "it is difficult to defend against a person bent on committing fraud."

Another explanation, as Zachary Roth of TPMMuckraker points out, is that the real blame here lies with “Bonner's business methods -- in which it uses poorly-trained and low-paid temporary employees to generate ‘grassroots’ support for corporate clients' campaigns, and fires those who under-perform.”

(Flickr photo credit:gingerlillytea)