Congress Wants to Know More About Ridge’s Conflicts of Interest

Two congressmen on Thursday asked Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to provide Congress written communications between his department and a lobbying firm run by a longtime friend.

The request stems from an Associated Press story that the day after President Bush named him secretary, Ridge flew to Arizona and spent several days with a prominent Bush-Cheney fund-raiser, David Girard-diCarlo. It was the first of two trips Ridge made to Scottsdale, Ariz., in late 2002 and early 2003 to stay at Girard-diCarlo’s home.

Two of Ridge’s homeland security aides left the White House after the first trip and went to work for Girard-diCarlo lobbying Ridge’s newly created department. Several of the lobbying firm’s clients have been awarded contracts by the department.

“These relationships raise questions about potential conflicts of interest and preferential treatment,” Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi wrote Ridge. Waxman is the ranking Democrat on the Government Reform Committee and Thompson the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.

Homeland security officials say they believe Ridge acted ethically because he paid his own way on the trips and never discussed business with Girard-diCarlo.

Waxman and Thompson say they want the documents before Feb. 1 to clarify the relationships between Girard-diCarlo’s lobbying firm, Blank Rome, and top political appointees at Ridge’s department.

The congressmen are asking for all communications between the lobbying firm and Ridge, other officials in Ridge’s office and other political appointees and their immediate staffs at the department.

At the time of Ridge’s trips, Girard-diCarlo’s firm represented Raytheon, one of a team of companies that Homeland Security recently awarded border protection work worth up to $10 billion over the next decade.

Girard-diCarlo’s friendship with Ridge dates back more than a decade when his fund-raising was instrumental in Ridge’s two successful campaigns for the Pennsylvania governorship.