03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

AstroTurf Lobbying Is Moving To The Mainstream

The National Journal examines the growing but controversial practice of so-called grassroots lobbying -- a segment of the industry that remains unregulated and without disclosure.

Lobbying firm Bonner & Associates has come under fire recently for sending fraudulent letters to lawmakers as a part of a supposed grassroots campaign against the House's Markey-Waxman climate change bill while contracted by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy. More than a dozen letters, purported to be written by senior citizens and civil rights leaders, were delivered to three members of Congress and have spurred a Congressional investigation into the firm and its practices.

Bonner & Associates markets itself as specializing in grassroots lobbying. On its website the company describes its services:

Bonner & Associates helps our clients with their legislative and regulatory fights by educating and mobilizing a broad cross-section of organizations and constituencies to become involved in an issue.

The firm's CEO Jack Bonner has blamed the fiasco on a "rogue temporary employee" who has since been fired. But reform advocates say the incident won't be an isolated one as AstroTurf lobbying tactics move to the forefront of the industry.

Such campaigns are "waging full force" this Congress, said Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen. "We're hearing about it with the health care debate. We're going to see it with the climate warming debate. We're going to see it with the financial services reform debate. The problem is we don't know what's going on because there is no mandatory disclosure."

The New York Times reported in August that an anti-climate change bill event held in Texas featured off-duty employees of local oil companies who were bused in by their companies from their workplaces. The protest was organized by the group Energy Citizens, which is backed by the American Petroleum Institute.

From The National Journal:

"I think what we've seen, especially this summer with the energy and health care debates, is that AstroTurf has become much more widespread than I think we've ever seen it before," said Eben Burnham-Snyder, Rep. Ed Markey's spokesman at the House Select Committee.