Jack Bonner (pictured) of Bonner & Associates, is one of the leading specialists providing grassroots support for his clients who have included the Association of International Auto Manufacturers, Chrysler, Dow Chemical, Edison Electric Inst, Ford, General Motors, Exxon, McDonnell Douglas, Monsanto, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Assn, Philip Morris, US Tobacco Co. and Westinghouse.
Bonner & Associates targets members of Congress who are unsure of how to vote or who need a justification for voting, for example, with the automobile industry against measures that will clean up the air. It claims "expertise and success with
The types of groups it claims to be able to mobilise include rural, religious, minority senior, labor, patient advocacy, civic, veteran and educational groups and organisations.
When the amendments to the Clean Air Act were being debated in 1990, Bonner managed to get some large citizen’s groups, who had no financial interest in the matter, to lobby against amendments which would have required car manufacturers to make their cars more fuel efficient. Bonner’s firm, working on behalf of the automobile industry, persuaded these citizen groups that the legislation would have meant that large vehicles would not be manufactured. “Bonner’s fee, which he coyly described as somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million, was for scouring six states for potential grassroots voices, coaching them on the ‘facts’ of the issue, paying for the phone calls and plane fares to Washington and hiring the hall for a joint press conference.”
The Society for the Plastics Industry hired Bonner after a law was passed in Suffolk County, New York in 1987 to ban some plastic products which were filling up landfills. The law was expected to be the first of many such laws in other parts of the US. The Society also challenged the law in the courts. Subsequently the law which had been approved with a 12 to 6 vote was suspended with a 12 to 6 vote by the same body.
In the early 1990s Bonner’s Washington DC office had 300 phone lines and a sophisticated computer system. His staff phoned people all over the country looking for citizens who would support corporate agendas.
Imagine Bonner’s technique multiplied and elaborated in different ways across hundreds of public issues and you may begin to envision the girth of this industry. Some firms produce artfully designed opinion polls, more or less guaranteed to yield results that suggest public support for the industry’s position. Some firms specialise in coalition building—assembling dozens of hundreds of civic organisations and interest groups in behalf of lobbying goals...
This is democracy and it costs a fortune.
In 2009 Bonner & Associates were caught out sending fake letters to members of congress, purporting to be from various citizen groups, including a local Hispanic advocacy organization (Creciendo Juntos), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the American Association of University Women, opposing the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). Tim Freilich, who is on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos, claimed “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”. Bonner blamed the letters on a temporary employee who had no authority to send the letters and was consequently fired.
Bonner & Associates had been hired as a subcontractor to another PR firm, the Hawthorn Group, which had in turn been hired by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). Bonner & Associates was paid $43,000 to identify minority and senior citizen groups who would write to their local representatives opposing the bill.