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Ridge Files Very Late for Albania

For almost two years former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge failed to register a nearly half-million-dollar lobbying contract that he had with the government of Albania.

Ridge filed a registration statement on behalf of the country earlier this month after being contacted by the Department of Justice.

“It was brought to my attention after the contract expired and my lawyer said under the circumstances I probably should have filed,” said Ridge, who is a national co-chairman of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign and has been mentioned as a potential vice presidential running mate. “I didn’t think it was [necessary] to register.”

The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires agents to register with the DOJ within 10 days of signing a contract with a foreign government and before performing any duties for the client.

Additionally, “foreign agents” must file biannual reports detailing any agreements, income received and expenditures on behalf of foreign countries or corporations owned by countries.

Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor, represented Albania from October 2006 through the end of August 2007 on issues ranging from homeland security to NATO membership.

On May 7, 2007, Ridge and Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha met with Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to discuss “various reforms undertaken by the government of Albania to comply with NATO and EU requirements,” according to the FARA supplemental statement. Ridge and Berisha met with Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) to discuss the same issues on May 8.

The time stamp on Ridge’s registration statement with the Justice Department is dated June 12, 2008.

Ridge, who is not a registered lobbyist, said he is no longer working on behalf of any foreign governments, including Albania.

He opened Ridge Global — a strategic consulting firm “led by one of today’s most forward-thinking international leaders,” according to its Web site — after leaving the Bush administration in late 2004.

Several senior members of McCain’s presidential election team are former lobbyists and have represented foreign countries, some of which, like Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Zaire, have proved controversial.

McCain’s former national finance chairman, former Texas Rep. Tom Loeffler (R) of the Loeffler Group, left the campaign in May, apparently because of work he did on behalf of foreign governments. Since then, the campaign has implemented stringent rules of disclosure of foreign country representation.

“Sen. McCain is not aware of the exact circumstances of Gov. Ridge’s work as a lobbyist for Albania, an important European ally to this country, in 2006 and 2007,” McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement.

“However, the governor is in full compliance with the McCain campaign’s lobbying policy, which requires that part-time volunteers disclose current lobbying work and agree not to lobby John McCain or his staff on those issues or participate in campaign policy making on that subject,” Bounds said.

Ridge’s registration was spurred by a DOJ inquiry after press accounts surfaced noting Ridge’s connection to the country.

Ridge’s work on behalf of Albania was well-documented, starting on Dec. 31, 2006, when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Ridge “landed an unusual first client in the prime minister of Albania” for his new consulting firm.

The New York Times reported on June 9, 2007, when President Bush visited Albania that Ridge worked “on a range of issues, including the implementation of a national identity card” for the country.

After a meeting with Justice and his counsel at Blank Rome, Ridge decided to file his FARA registration.

“Once we were made aware of certain contacts by Gov. Ridge, we advised him to register, which he did,” said Topper Ray, a spokesman for Blank Rome.

FARA prosecutions, or even, as in Ridge’s case, contact by the Justice Department to encourage registration, are unusual, ethics lawyers said.

“The enforcement of FARA is uneven,” said Kenneth Gross, an ethics expert at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “I think only in high-profile situations where there are press accounts would something like this happen. My impression is this is few and far between.”

Ridge first made contact with Berisha and his cabinet members in March 2006. After that meeting, Ridge came up with a strategic plan for the country, according to the registration.

His “Proposed Scope of Work for Albania” included creating a “comprehensive homeland security strategy” that would focus on terrorism and defense while also encouraging the country to become “an economic force” in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

Additionally, Ridge wanted to help Albania obtain NATO membership, implement “good governance” practices and hold two one-day “expert advice seminars” in Washington, D.C.

Ridge declined to discuss the details of his work on behalf of Albany, although he noted that the seminar sessions never occurred.

The contract, signed by Ridge on Sept. 4, 2006, paid Ridge’s firm $40,000 a month for one year, amounting to $480,000.

In addition, the contract specified that Blank Rome be paid a $10,000 monthly retainer for its role in supporting Ridge Global. The contract further specified that Blank Rome would make “any direct contact with the United States government” on behalf of Albania.

The firm did not register with the Department of Justice for its work.

“All the work that we did for Albania was actually in Albania and not representing Albania before the U.S. government,” Blank Rome’s spokesman said in a statement.

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