Bush picks cash in on contacts




He is not alone in that regard. Ridge and 16 other Cabinet officers in former President George W. Bush's administration hold positions with 65 companies that lobby the federal government, most of them with companies that lobby their former agencies, says a report by government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW.

It's a decades-old practice involving Republican and Democratic administrations, as well as Congress: Public officials cash in on their service, often for hefty salaries, by working for companies or lobbying firms with issues before the federal government.

Ridge and a spokeswoman for Ridge Global did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

But Al Neri, editor of The Insider, who considers Ridge a friend, said: "Tom Ridge is a very ethical person, and he would not cross the line to make some money."


The CREW report examining the "revolving door" practice lists Ridge's affiliation as a board member or adviser with 17 companies. Many secured or are seeking business with federal agencies, including Homeland Security. Many have registered lobbyists representing them before Congress and federal agencies.


Neri said Ridge devoted much of his life to public service, as a congressman, then governor and with the Bush administration from 2001 to 2005. A father of two college students, Ridge isn't wealthy, Neri said.

"If anyone is entitled to take advantage of his contacts in government it's Tom Ridge," said Neri, who covered Ridge in the governor's office for the Erie Times newspaper. It's no different than journalists or legislators relying upon their contacts when they take other jobs, he said.



Through the door


The practice is termed "revolving door" because some officials swing between government and business. Former President Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary, Robert E. Rubin, whose role at Citibank has been cited in the recent financial bailout, came from Goldman Sachs. Rubin left the Clinton administration for Citigroup. He recently resurfaced as an adviser to Barack Obama's nascent administration.


CREW's report on the departing Bush administration cabinet members is far from the first on the topic -- and won't be the last.


Public Citizen, another watchdog group, found in a 2005 study that more than one-third of retiring members of Congress joined lobbying firms. The Government Accountability Office last year reported that 52 defense contractors hired 2,435 Department of Defense officials between 2004 and 2006.


The "revolving door" results in "public policy being decided by those with the most money to buy inside connections," said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen. The practice creates doubt about the integrity of government actions, he said.

Under federal law, former members of Congress and senior-level staff in the executive and legislative branches are prohibited from contacting former colleagues for one year after leaving office. There's a two-year "cooling off period" for senators, cabinet members and supervisory staff in the executive branch.


Dave Wenhold, president of the Washington-based American League of Lobbyists, said reports such as those by CREW and Public Citizen are overstated in order to stir controversy. He said former Cabinet officials and members of Congress should not be criticized for abiding by the legal time limits to join lobbying firms.

"They know the ins and outs of Washington," he said.


Obama's rules

President Obama last week instituted lobbying rules with a twist: Departing cabinet members can't lobby former colleagues while Obama is president. The details of his proposal were not available. Reaction was varied.


Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, praised the more restrictive rules.

Wenhold said it would "keep the subject matter experts on the sidelines."


Though Obama's move is "a huge step forward," said Bill Allison, senior fellow at the Washington nonprofit Sunlight Foundation, "it's not as if the revolving door is suddenly going to be closed. I think we will see more of former Bush officials" moving into lobbying positions.

And, Obama's rules would not affect current or former members of Congress or congressional aides. "There will still be a turnstile," Allison said.



'A broken system'

Neither law nor rules stop former cabinet officials from joining corporate boards or taking executive positions with companies that get federal contracts or lobby the government, as long as that official is not personally lobbying, Holman said. They can do so the day after leaving office, he said.

Obama refers to it as "a broken system in Washington."


There are about 14,000 lobbyists in Washington, and corporations, labor unions, industries, governments and other interests spent about $2.8 billion in 2007 lobbying lawmakers and the federal government, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks lobbying and campaign spending.

Says the CREW report:

• Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft registered as a lobbyist less than a year after leaving the Bush administration. By summer 2006, the Ashcroft Group had signed 30 clients. In September 2007, the Justice Department gave it a $52 million, 18-month contract to monitor an orthopedic company that settled a case with the department stemming from a kickback scheme.

• Before becoming secretary of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi headed QTC Management, the largest provider of government-contracted health care. After resigning the VA post in 2005, Principi returned to QTC as board chairman. In March, the Los Angeles Times reported the VA paid QTC $267 million during Principi's tenure and that of his successor, who also worked for QTC before joining the VA. The Times reported QTC was overpaid $6 million and the company agreed to pay back $3 million. Since Principi rejoined QTC, the company has lobbied the VA on issues related to disability exam software, military medical and dental readiness, and occupational health services.

• Christine Todd Whitman, former secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency, left the agency in 2003 to lobby for Citgo Petroleum. In 2004, the former New Jersey governor founded Whitman Strategy Group. It has 11 clients, nine of them with EPA business.

• Shortly before Tommy Thompson left the helm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2005 to become president of Logistics Health Inc., the company began lobbying the agency. The company's federal contracts grew dramatically after Thompson took charge of Logistics, which provides health care solutions to government and industry, a report by a Washington watchdog group says. Logistics won a Department of Defense contract to examine reservists returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, records show, shortly after William Winkenwerder stepped down as assistant secretary of health at the DOD and joined Logistics as a board member and adviser.

Records show Logistics, a Wisconsin firm, got an $11 million HHS contract in June to evaluate people claiming injuries from the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Logistics is one of 42 companies Thompson has advised since leaving the Bush administration, CREW said.


Thompson, 67, a Republican, was governor of Wisconsin from 1987 to 2001, until Bush tapped him to become HHS secretary.


Ridge's interests


The CREW report is incomplete regarding the interests of Thompson's fellow former GOP governor, Tom Ridge.

Ridge, 63, became a director of Eid Passport, an Oregon firm specializing in security systems for the military and government agencies in 2007, according to an announcement on the company's Web site. Its Web page cites Homeland Security as a client. A contract with the Coast Guard, part of Homeland Security, was announced in October.


Another Ridge client was the government of Albania, but Ridge did not report the $480,000 contract as required under the Foreign Agents Registration Act until the engagement ended in June.

He began work under the contract, according to the belated filing, in October 2006. According to his report, among those Ridge contacted on behalf of the Albanian government were U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and U.S. Rep. James Costa, D-Calif. Ridge was hired to assist Albania with improving its homeland security and gaining NATO membership.

The engagement letter Ridge Global filed with the Justice Department stated: "We are able to provide a wide range of strategic advice that draws upon my experience as secretary of Homeland Security, as well as governor of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a United States congressman."


Albania signed a NATO membership accord about a month after Ridge's contract ended.


Ridge's other corporate clients and affiliations include Savi Technology, which won at least $13.7 million in Homeland Security contracts during Ridge's tenure, according to the CREW report, and continues to do business with the agency. Lockheed Martin bought Savi in 2006.


Ridge is on a Lucent Technologies' advisory board; is a director for Iridium Satellite, a major government contractor; and consults for IDO Security. He became a senior adviser a little over a year ago to TechRadium, a firm listed as one lobbying Homeland Security. Ridge advises Cernium, a technology firm that lobbied the agency while Ridge headed it and continues to do so. Another Ridge client, Abraxas Corp., won Homeland Security contracts while he was secretary and after his departure.


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