Bankers lobby against financial regulatory overhaul

By Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 2010

If not for the sea of navy business suits and the hotel ballroom's chandeliers, the gathering Wednesday morning might have seemed more like a pep rally than a meeting of the American Bankers Association. But the 900 bankers were preparing to storm Capitol Hill, and they were getting revved up.

"We have a lot of work cut out for us," David Bochnowski, an Indiana bank executive, said to the troops, who had assembled just after 8 a.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel downtown. "Our job is to have an impact on the Hill. Are we going to have that impact?"

"Yeah!" the bankers shouted, as applause broke out.

"We need to shape what's in and what's out of any reform legislation," Michigan banker Art Johnson told his peers from every corner of the country. "All of us know what's at stake. It's really about our industry's future . . . We're not going to sit silently while we are blamed for problems that were caused by others."

And then came the blessing of a leading lawmaker. "You're all going to be lobbyists today," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), told the crowd. "I know that's a dirty word, but that's what you're doing." He told the bankers not to be afraid to stand up to members of Congress or "these little punk staffers," as he called them.

"Don't be bashful about who you are," he said. "Stand up for yourselves, for goodness sakes."

The bankers soon headed to Capitol Hill, talking points in hand -- white folder for House visits, blue folder for Senate visits. They were to protest the creation of a new consumer financial protection regulator, to argue that national banks should remain exempt from state consumer laws and to advocate that the Federal Reserve keep oversight for some state-chartered banks, among other issues.

While the bankers showed up in force this week, they are not the only ones with a hefty stake in the financial regulatory overhaul under consideration in Congress. Investment banks, hedge funds, student loan firms, coal companies, automakers and credit card companies are among those seeking to influence the reforms.

"The thing about this bill is that it's so broad," said one leading lobbyist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his clients don't want him to publicly discuss issues they hope to quietly fix. "The bill impacts not just the Goldman Sachses and Morgan Stanleys, but a huge swath of companies."

Lawrence Summers, a top economic adviser to President Obama, said Thursday in response to Boehner, that at "a time when industry has spent $1 million on lobbyists per member of Congress, at a moment when there are four lobbyists per member of the House and Senate working this issue, we at the administration do not believe that the prominent issue is allowing bankers to stand up for themselves."

Many of the people trying to reshape the financial reform bill introduced Monday by the Senate banking committee's chairman, Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), are veterans of legislative battles.

Citigroup's head of government relations, Nicholas E. Calio, was the top legislative affairs aide to Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. John F.W. Rogers, a former aide to James Baker, is now a top executive at Goldman Sachs, where he is "the maestro," said one lobbyist. Thomas R. Nides, a former top staffer for then-House Speaker Thomas Foley and later U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, holds a similar job as Rogers at Morgan Stanley.

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