Lobby Firm Behind Campaign to Smear Albanian Socialist

Fecha de publicación: 
24 Ene 2014

Sali Berisha’s government spent taxpayers’ money on a smear campaign in the US and in Albania directed against his political opponent, Edi Rama, which played well in the hands of the US Republicans and led to calls for an FBI investigation against US President Barack Obama.

Documents obtained by Balkan Insight under the US Justice Department Foreign Agents Registration Act, FARA, show that the Podesta Group, which the Berisha government engaged for over two years, appears to have been behind three negative articles against Rama.

The Podesta Group, which the Berisha government engaged for $60,000 per month, is considered one of the most powerful lobbying firms in Washington. 

The stories were published on a conservative US website, the Daily Caller, between May 29 and June 18, in the run-up to the June 23, 2013 parliamentary election in Albania, which Rama’s centre-left coalition won handsomely.

The Socialist-led Alliance for a European Albania won 84 of 140 seats in parliament, on 57.7 per cent of the national vote.

The Daily Caller accused Rama of having illegally funded Obama’s Democratic Party through an American-Albanian businessman in order to secure a photo opportunity with Obama on October 8, 2012.

The US Federal Election Campaign Act, FECA, prohibits foreign nationals from contributing to, or spending money on, federal, state, or local elections in the United States, directly or indirectly. 

Albania’s pro-government media and Berisha’s Democratic Party reproduced the allegations printed in the Daily Caller during the election, claiming that the FBI was investigating Rama.

Although the campaign did end with a letter from a Republican Congressman, demanding an investigation by the FBI and the Federal Election Commission, FEC, none of the claims has since been proven, nor has any investigation taken place.

Circumventing US law:

The Daily Caller alleged that Rama circumvented restrictions on foreigners funding US election candidates by making donations through a New Jersey businessman, Bilal Shehu.

He then made sizable contributions to the Democratic National Committee, DNC, and the Obama campaign fund just before Rama met the US President in 2012.

FEC records show that Shehu and his wife, Aida, contributed nearly $80,000 to the US Democratic Party between August 28 and October 26, 2012.

They show that $38,300 went directly to the DNC Services Corporation, the fundraising power behind the Democratic Party, with the rest distributed between the Obama campaign fund and various state chapters.

A photograph that Shehu posted on Facebook with Obama shows him attending a scheduled fundraiser for the Obama campaign in San Francisco on October 8, 2012.

Another photograph posted on the net shows Shehu meeting Rama on the same day.

Shehu, the owner of Eliot and Kleri LLC, a limousine service in New Jersey, did not return a request from Balkan Insight to comment.

Although his contributions to the Obama campaign were significant for a single donor, they appear well within Shehu’s financial reach.   

Property records from Bergen County show that he resides in a house that he bought in 2010 for $922,000.

Though Rama met with President Obama he has denied that he ever paid to secure the photo opportunity, calling the allegations “insulting”.

“Although the photo [of Rama] was taken during a meeting in San Francisco, Edi Rama did not attend any fundraiser,” Endri Fuga, Rama’s spokesperson, said in a statement.