Street Talk: Unlobbyist Ridge Opens Firm With Former Aides

Posted March 19, 2010 at 5:33pm

It seems fitting that former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) and a duo of longtime associates are opening a lobbying shop on April 1.

[IMGCAP(1)]That’s because Ridge, who will headline the firm, absolutely will not lobby.

April Fool’s joke perhaps? It’s not.

“Gov. Ridge won’t lobby,” explains Mark Holman, who will be a lobbyist at Ridge Policy Group. “I recommend that he not. He may be back in government and in politics at some time. We did think about that. We want to use him for the bigger things.”

Ridge, who was the first secretary of Homeland Security, is part of a long list of former Members and senior government officials who enter K Street for the private-sector salary but don’t want the, um, prestige that comes with being a registered lobbyist. Ridge, though, was briefly registered to lobby for the government of Albania after he was contacted — as in, nudged — in 2008 by the Justice Department to disclose the client.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who is an adviser at DLA Piper, advises clients but doesn’t register to lobby. So did Republican Bob Dole, the former Kansas Senator who eventually succumbed to the life of a pound-the-pavement certified lobbyist.

But even though Ridge won’t register, he and the new firm aren’t likely to encounter any trouble finding business.

“It hasn’t hurt Bob Dole or Tom Daschle. They can provide just as much value without registering,” says Ivan Adler, a lobbying headhunter at the McCormick Group. “Gov. Ridge is a guy who is very well-respected not only at the federal level but at the state level.”

That’s exactly what Ridge, who declined an interview request, Holman and the third partner, Mark Campbell, are banking on.

Not only do they have Ridge’s name, if not his shoe leather, to rely on, but the three men also have a long history of working together and getting the result they want.

“Mark and I have literally been friends and partners since 1982,” explained Holman, who is leaving his position at the firm Blank Rome to start Ridge Policy Group. Campbell “was my first hire in the 1982 Ridge campaign.”

That job, in which he helped Ridge win a seat in Congress, paid Campbell $75 a week, plus room and board in Ridge’s parents’ Erie, Pa., pillbox-style home.

Campbell recalls that he wasn’t campaign manager Holman’s first choice.

“It was down to me and another friend of mine,” Campbell remembers. “Mark went one way and Tom went the other way, and Tom won.”

The two followed Ridge to Washington, D.C., and back to Harrisburg, Pa., where they served the then-governor. Holman, who had left government service to begin his lobbying career, returned to Ridge’s side when the former governor went to the George W. Bush White House to run the Department of Homeland Security.

“I’ve done House, Senate, state, federal and campaigns,” Holman says. “We like to think we have enough experience for folks to hire us.”

The firm, which will mark the first time the three have gone into business together, will ultimately be bipartisan both in Harrisburg and Washington.

“Tom has always been very bipartisan in his approach to government and policy,” Holman explains. “I really enjoy working with my Democratic colleagues here. I think it’s better to be able to work an issue from both sides of the aisle.”

Campbell, who plans to run the Ridge Policy Group’s Harrisburg outpost, says the 1982 race is not unlike the current situation of starting the firm.

“We got into that experience facing significant odds — a Republican running in a Democratic district. The deck was kind of stacked against us then,” Campbell says. “It’s not dissimilar from what we’re about to embark on. I wholeheartedly believe, similar to that 1982 experience … we’re going to enjoy similar success. We work well together. We respect each other.”

So much so that the two say they find it odd that they weren’t already in business together. “Tom and Mark and I had worked together for so long and been part of each other’s personal and professional lives, it kind of almost didn’t make sense that we weren’t working together,” says Holman, who first bounced the idea off Ridge and Campbell last fall.

“In October, we quietly started working on the details,” Holman explains.

The goal is for Ridge Policy to have about 10 people in D.C. and another 10 in Harrisburg within the next few years. But as with any business, growth is uncertain.

“Mark and I both would like this company to survive us and have a good long-term brand,” Holman says. “In 30 years from now, I’d like the Ridge Policy Group to still be a company and people to look back and remember Tom’s commitment to Pennsylvania and the nation.”