Where Have All the Lobbyists Gone? | The Nation

28 Sep


The Obama administration’s greatest defeat, many argue, was the president’s failure to pass a comprehensive law addressing climate change during his first two years in office, when the Democrats had control of both houses of Congress. Coal and coal-powered utility companies, fearing a loss in profits resulting from the bill, financed a group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE, pronounced “Ace”) to influence the debate.

After a critical vote in the House of Representatives in 2009, in which the climate bill just barely passed, a Democratic lawmaker from Virginia discovered that many of the letters he had received from supposed constituents asking him to oppose the bill had been forged. The letters appeared to come from local chapters of the American Association of University Women, the NAACP and other organizations—but in fact they were written by Bonner & Associates, a political consulting firm and subcontractor for ACCCE. At least two other Democratic lawmakers, Kathy Dahlkemper and Chris Carney, both from Pennsylvania, received forged letters as well.

ACCCE did disclose $2.2 million in lobbying spending as the House took up President Obama’s climate bill in 2009. Tax forms filed with the IRS, however, show that the group in fact spent $28,353,630 in advocacy that year. The work with Bonner & Associates never had to be disclosed as lobbying.

Unlike Hugo Black with his multiyear investigation in the 1930s, which triggered the first federal lobbying reforms, Democratic legislators in recent years have done little to confront the problem. Black issued subpoenas and had his staff travel the country to interview those involved and to explore the depths of the industry’s deception. But in 2009, House Democrats held a single hearing and then largely dismissed the issue, with little consequence to those involved. One ACCCE representative claimed under oath that his group did not oppose the climate bill—a claim easily refutable through a simple Google search. The corporate executives who financed the group were not compelled to testify, and there were no legal penalties for those involved in the fake letter campaign. With industry organizations and their affiliates spreading confusion about the bill and even the science underpinning anthropogenic climate change, the legislation later collapsed and died in the Senate, dooming prospects for reform.


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