Freshman congressman Tom Perriello, a Democrat representing the 5th district of Virginia, had a hard decision to make in voting for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). His hard fought seat and freshman status left him vulnerable to Republican attacks vehemently opposed to the bill, yet he voted for the legislation nonetheless, believing it the right thing to do.
The decision to do so was made even harder after he received five letters from local constituency groups, including a Hispanic advocacy group and a local chapter of the NAACP, opposing the legislation. Or so he at first thought. According to an investigation by DailyProgress, it turns out those letters weren’t what they appeared to be and were in fact forged by Washington DC-area lobbyists.
“Oops” – Not
Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee for Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit dealing with concerns of the Charlottesville, Virginia Hispanic community, explained the extent of a forged letter purportedly coming from his group:
“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”
The letter actually came from an unnamed (and since fired) employee of the DC lobbying firm Bonner & Associates. Gwynn Geiger Hegyi, a partner with the firm, personally traveled to Charlottesville to apologize for the “mistake,” writing in a July 22 letter to Freilich, “As I shared with Dilcia when I travelled to Charlottesville last month to personally apologize for the mistake which we discovered and contacted you about, we immediately fired the person on our staff responsible for the error.”
Freilich bristled at the notion such a methodically planned and executed forgery could be characterized simply as a “mistake,” writing in a letter to Representative Perriello’s office:
“This was not a ‘mistake.’ This was a deliberately and carefully forged letter that used the logo, address and name of Creciendo Juntos without authorization. Additionally, I understand from Ms. Hegyi that our organization was not the only Charlottesville-area organization whose reputations were used in an unauthorized manner to try to influence Congressman Perriello on this particular vote.”
Once notified of the forged Creciendo Juntos letter, Perriello staffers got the notion that the wording of that letter sounded familiar, and began pouring through thousands of letters, emails, and faxes Perriello had received about the bill. They found five more bogus letters, this time supposedly from the local branch of the NAACP.
NAACP’s position misrepresented
Branch president M. Rick Turner said none of the signees of the five letters are on the organization’s roster and emphasized the NAACP’s complete support of the climate and energy bill. “Clean energy creates jobs in the urban setting,” Turner said.
Of the forged letters sent in NAACP’s name, Turner made his feelings clear:
“I am very appalled as the president that our organization has been misrepresented in this way by this bogus … letter. I hope that whoever’s behind this will be brought to justice.”
The fraudulent letters in this case where sent from a fax machine at the Arlington headquarters Professional Risk Management Services Inc. An unnamed representative of the firm said that at least 60 people have access to the fax machine, and that she didn’t know why such a fax would have been sent from her office.
“There could be more”
Jessica Barba, Perriello’s press secretary, said the five forged letters are all they know of at the moment, but “there could be more.”
Summing up his disappointment over the forged letters and misrepresentation of his organization, Freilich said “It’s this type of activity that undermines Americans’ faith in democracy.”
It is unclear who may have hired Bonner & Associates to lobby against the Waxman-Markey bill, if indeed anyone did. The fired staffer may not have been acting in an official capacity when forging the Creciendo Juntos letter to Perriello’s office. Phone calls to Hegyi and others at Bonner & Associates from DailyProgress seeking comment have not been returned.
Beware the lobbyists – part 2
Back in May I wrote an article here on Red, Green, and Blue reflecting on a recent trip to Germany intedend on providing first-hand look at the country’s efforts in climate and energy policy and technology. As we wrapped up a visit to the German Emissions Trading Authority one morning, Dr. Enno Harders advised us to “beware the lobbyists.”
“Early cap and trade (proposals) receive enormous lobby,” Enno said, cautioning that legislators will need to exercise leadership and political will in order to “resist the excessive lobby pressure…” At the time I didn’t have the impression Dr. Enno was considering forged letters misrepresenting the positions of constituents.
Contentious issues result in hard-fought political battles. That’s the American way. But to forge letters and misrepresent others in an effort to deceive is simply petty and dishonest – and violates the core values of American democracy. You might when the battle (which these forgers didn’t in any case), but you’ll eventually lose the war.
Mr. Perriello heeded Dr. Enno’s advice, resisted the lobbyists, and did what he felt was right.