As Albania’s government signs a new contract with the Washington-based law and lobbyist firm Patton Boggs, to improve its image in the US ahead of the June elections, questions remain about the sources of funding for parties’ PR agencies.The consulting firm has represented Albania’s government several times and also served as an adviser in the privatization of the state-owned oil refinery, ARMO.
It is also supporting the ongoing privatization process of Albania’s state-owned oil company, Albpetrol.
Data compiled by the US-based Sunlight foundation show that all Albania’s main political parties, from Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s Democrats to Edi Rama’s opposition Socialists, have sizable contracts with influential lobby firms.
They include Podesta Group, Blue Star Strategies, Dutko International, BKSH & Associates and Rasky Baerlain Strategic Communications.
Even the relatively small Justice and Integrity Party, which represents Albania’s Cham minority, has its own agent in Washington.
While the lobbying firms charge hundreds of thousands for their services, it is unclear where this money has come from. In 2009 and 2010 alone, Albania’s government and its main parties spent $1.38 million in lobbying in the US.
Watchdog organizations say it will be hard to source this money as the financing of Albanian political parties in general is far from transparent.
Lufti Dervishi, head of Transparency International Albania, says that the fact that lobbying contracts are not made public by the government, or by the political parties, is highly problematic.
“It’s unclear where this money comes from because the political parties don’t declare it to the Central Electoral Commission, or during audits,” Dervishi told Balkan Insight.
The parties are using lobbyists “to compensate for the lack of legitimacy at home by buying it abroad,” he concluded.