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Firm forged letters to lawmaker on climate bill

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Washington grassroots lobbying firm has acknowledged forging anti-climate bill letters purporting to be from a local NAACP chapter and a Latino advocacy group to a Virginia lawmaker, and a congressional committee said it was launching an investigation.

The office of freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello discovered that a half-dozen letters it received had nearly identical language signed by a made-up person at Creciendo Juntos, the Latino group, and five fake members of the Albemarle-Charlottesville branch of the NAACP. The lobbying firm, Bonner & Associates, apologized to the groups.

The firm blamed the faked letters on a temporary employee who, it says, has been fired.

But one of the climate bill's primary sponsors, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said Friday that his Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming would investigate the matter.

"This fraud on Congress shows that some opponents of clean energy have resorted to forgery and theft to block progress," Markey said in a statement, calling it "an appalling abuse."

The letters, which were sent before the House narrowly passed the legislation last month, say, "please don't vote to force cost increases on us, especially in this volatile economy," and urge Perriello to make pro-consumer changes to the bill "to protect minorities" from energy cost increases. Perriello voted for the bill, and Republicans have been hammering him for it ever since.

In an e-mail to The Associated Press Friday, Bonner & Associates' president, Jack Bonner, said the firm discovered the fake letters and contacted both groups to apologize.

"This should not have happened — we had a bad employee — but through our internal checks, we found the problem," Bonner said.

Creciendo Juntos board member Tim Freilich said he received an apology from the firm last week. Creciendo Juntos is a network of service providers to the Latino community in the area.

"This was clearly no mistake — it was a deliberately forged letter," Freilich said. "This type of activity undermines people's faith in our democratic process, and it clearly needs to be stopped." Freilich said his group is neutral on the legislation.

When Creciendo Juntos informed Perriello about it, his staff recognized the language, went back to the files, and found the five nearly identical letters sent on behalf of the fake NAACP members, said Perriello spokeswoman Jessica Barba. The NAACP told Perriello's office that none of the "signers" of those letters was affiliated with its chapter.

Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau and senior vice president for advocacy, said the group was "appalled" by the forged e-mails.

"These tactics illustrate that discriminatory tactics normally used to deceive voters are now being used to deceive the Congress," he said in a statement Friday, adding that the letters "are completely false and the NAACP is diametrically opposed to the claims made in the correspondence."

Barba said: "We see this and other shady tactics from the far right starting to backfire with fair-minded folks. The reason why the NAACP and so many other organizations supported energy independence legislation was because of its potential to create new jobs."

In a news release following the vote on the climate bill, the National Republican Congressional Committee said that Perriello had demonstrated an "utter lack of concern" for middle-class families in his district.

The (Charlottesville, Va.) Daily Progress first reported the forged letters.