09/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Firm that Sent Fraudulent Climate Letters Accuses Temp Employee of Setting Them Up

Update: Bonner Talking Points Instructed Employees to Lie to Generate Letters to Congress.

Remember the lobbying firm that got busted forging anti climate bill letters to Congress on behalf of a coal industry front group a few weeks ago?

In response to a harshly worded query from Representative Ed Markey, Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Bonner and Associates has lawyered-up in a major way and taken a highly defensive posture.

This WSJ story, published late Thursday, contains a series of revelations:

The Washington lobbying firm that sent fake letters to lawmakers purporting to be from nonprofit groups opposed to climate-change legislation was "the victim of a fraud" perpetrated by a temporary employee who joined the firm "with the pre-determined intent of engaging in fraudulent activity," a lawyer for the firm has told congressional investigators.

Unbelievable. This is the same firm that stayed silent about the fraudulent letters prior to the House vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, despite knowing they were fraudulent several days in advance. Now we are supposed to believe that this whole thing is some sort of nefarious plot by a temp employee to sully their (already completely sullied) reputation?

Go on:

The lawyer, Steven R. Ross, also suggested in a letter that a federal investigation into the matter may be under way.

Good to know. Steven Ross is with Akin Gump, a massive law firm that has represented hundreds of notable clients, such as Mobil, Pacific Gas and Electric, Lukoil, Natural Gas Clearinghouse, Union Carbide and the governments of Columbia and China.

The story that keeps giving:

In the letter to Rep. Edward Markey (D., Mass.), dated Aug. 12 and viewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Ross, an attorney with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, said his client, Bonner & Associates, does not know "the complete motivation" of the employee but has referred the matter "to law enforcement authorities for proper investigation," due to "the serious implications of his actions."

This part about the "complete motivation" is tricky. On the one hand, it can be read -- in the context of the "pre-determined intent" line above -- as an insinuation that the temporary employee responsible for the letters was planted by political adversaries. On the other hand, the fact that a former employee described this type of deception as the norm rather than the exception points to a scenario in which the temp forged the letters because he or she knew that is what the bosses expected.

The story continues:

In his letter to Rep. Markey, Mr. Ross, Bonner's attorney, doesn't identify the Bonner employee who sent the fake letters but offers new details on how they were concocted, saying the employee in question "had the assistance of an individual located at the offices of a professional liability insurance provider who would sign the letters and fax them back" to the Bonner employee.

Odd to start pointing fingers two months after the fact, no?

The excuses keep coming:

The employee came to work for Bonner after answering an ad in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, and worked for the firm for seven days before he was terminated.

Void of context, this seems like at least a halfway respectable excuse. But the fact is, Bonner and Associates always takes this fly-by-night approach to their work. Even in the midst of all this controversy they are hiring temps who can work well under pressure. It is far easier to deflect responsibility for mistakes and shady business practices when you can blame everything on a temp, right?

Finally, the 'nobody could have predicted' defense:

"While B&A takes full responsibility for what happened and recognizes that there are quality control and human resources improvements that can and will be made, it is difficult to defend against a person bent on committing fraud," Mr. Ross's letter states. "Due to being short-staffed and given the incredibly short time frame of this project" - less than two weeks - Mr. Ross says that "some letters were transmitted to Capitol Hill before they could be thoroughly reviewed."

Who could have predicted that hiring basically anyone off the street, training them for two hours in a "white-collar sweatshop" and compensating them based on the quantity of letters they faxed to congress would lead to something like this?

Update: Bonner and Associates has now implemented a 'No-Forgery" policy.

Update 2: Are you the temporary employee in question? DeSmogBlog wants to talk to you:

So who is that masked man? Where is the rogue temporary employee to defend himself and shed light on the way Bonner's shop operates?

You need to get your side of the story out, if in fact you do exist. If you are this elusive John Doe, or know of him, please drop us an email at and we will help tell the other side of this saga.