Updated: 2:54 p.m.
In the wake of a forged letter-writing scandal, the National Wildlife Federation, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are ramping up their counteroffensive against the coal and oil industry, calling for a Congressional hearing on the 13 falsified letters sent on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity opposing the House climate change bill.
The groups, along with the American Association of University Women and the Sierra Club, said in a conference call Thursday that they believe the oil and coal industry are using unethical means to try to sway lawmakers to vote against a cap-and-trade bill.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee and a co-author of the cap-and-trade bill, has opened an investigation into the letters.
Markey spokesman Jeff Sharp said the committee’s investigation is ongoing.
“It is imperative for the American people to understand the scope of this effort to mislead Congress on the critical issue of clean energy and jobs legislation,— Sharp said.
As for hearings, Sharp said that “all options remain on the table moving forward.—
The interest groups have also set up a whistle-blower tip line and e-mail address and said they would support passing legislation that would legally prohibit similar fraudulent activity.
“We’re absolutely appalled that someone would circumvent the Democratic process of citizens participating in what happens in our government by actually falsifying, manufacturing disingenuous, misleading information of these Americans,— the NAACP’s Hilary Shelton said.
A temporary employee of Bonner & Associates allegedly falsified the letters on behalf of ACCCE.
The correspondence was sent to Democratic Reps. Tom Perriello (Va.), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.) and Christopher Carney (Pa.) before the House’s June 25 vote on the bill.
The forged letters were made to look as if they had come from a Charlottesville NAACP chapter, the Hispanic advocacy organization Creciendo Juntos, the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, the nonprofit Erie Center on Health & Aging and the AAUW.
AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman said the forged letters were of particular concern because they could hurt the AAUW’s credibility on other issues.
The letter purportedly sent from the AAUW was signed with the name of a woman who was deceased, according to Hallman before the cap-and-trade bill had been debated.
“This was a carefully constructed and premeditated fraud,— Hallman said. “AAUW is outraged … that we have to spend our valuable time on setting the record straight.—
ACCCE maintains that it did not know anything about the falsified letters until after ACCCE’s subcontractor, the Hawthorn Group, notified the coal lobbying group about them.
“ACCCE is conducting a comprehensive review of these circumstances,— the group said in a statement.
The examination, which is being led by its outside counsel Venable, has found that ACCCE had no knowledge of the letters.
It has also found that “ACCCE’s reliance on Bonner and Associates to make notification to the affected parties was misplaced, and that we should have done more to make sure that these community groups and Members of Congress were notified right away,— the group said in a statement.
Venable’s Benjamin Civiletti, a former attorney general, is expected to make a recommendation to ACCCE’s board of directors on any administrative actions and safeguards that they believe should be implemented.
The coal lobby group has also had two coalition member defectors, Duke Energy and Alcoa, recently. Duke has said that it rescinded its membership because of a disagreement on the climate change bill, not because of the letter-writing scandal.
Correction: Sept. 4, 2009
The article misstated the former title of Benjamin Civiletti. Civiletti was attorney general.