Former budget director Bert Lance apologized after a fashion to his fellow bankers today for any "problems" he may have caused them as the result of wide public criticism of the banking practices he engaged in while heading two Georgia banks.
Lance - who resigned his post as head of the Office of Management and Budget last month because of the controversy - was politely, but not warmly, receive by the 4,000 bankers who nearly filled the Astroworld Arena here for the speech.
Lance was accused, among other things, of abusing his position as head of Calhoun First National Bank to obtain large, interest-free overdrafts on his checking accounts. He also obtained large personal loans from big banks in which the National Bank of Georgia, which he later headed, maintained interest-free correspondent bank accounts.
Lance is heavily in debt and his problems are complicated because the value of his National Bank of Georgia stock, which he has used as collateral on many of his loans, has skidded sharply.
Lance, a close personal friend of President Carter, told his fellow to accomplish many goals such as curtailing federal spending, reorganizing the executive branch and eliminating excess federal paperwork.
"There are also same things I didn't go there to do," Lance acknowledged.
"I didn't go to create problems for me and for the business I have been so much a part of for the past 27 years.
I didn't go to become a cause celebre, especially as it relates to banking practices and the image created of me as a wheeler-dealer banker-type," he told the annual convention of the American Bankers Association.
Many bankers said they were upset at the banking practices Lance engaged in, and some said they are angry with Lace for trying to pass of his actions as being typical of banking in general.
Lance tried to smooth over those criticisms.
"I didn't go there to have any reflection made on the banks of the country as it might relate to what might not be typical banking practices and I want you to know that I have not described any banking practices as being typical in this country."
(During the Senate hearings last month, Lance did say that overdraft practices, like those at Calhoum First National Bank, were common among small southern banks and country banks in Georgia).
The Lance affair has spawned several congressional attempts to write new legislation that would put restrictions on dealings with a bank by its officers and directors, and loans to purchase bank stock. The bills also would provide for fuller public disclosure of all insider relationships with a bank.
"I didn't go," Lance explained, "to cause any casting of blame on the part of anybody else or any group, most assuredly not the banking business of this nation."
Lance told reporters later that he did not fell he owned bankers an apology for tarnishing their image, because he thinks the image Americans have of bankers is still a good one.
But many bankers seen to interpret Lance's litany of "I didn'ts" as something of an apology. "You've got to remember, he's a proud man," said H. W. Dozier, president of the $37 million Herring National Bank in Vernon, Tex.
Dozier said that any officer in his bank found doing the things Lance had done would be fired. "They (those practices) wouldn't be tolerated in 98 per cent of the banks in this country," he said.
There had been some opposition to the Lance appearance by a delegation of New Jersey bankers. A spokesman for the group said that it was inappropriate for the Bankers Association to provide a forum for someone who "destroyed the image of banking."
The New Jersey bankers said they would boycott the Lance address - the last event on the agenda at this morning's session. But the introduction of Lance by Bankers Association president W. Liddon McPeters brought about 15 seconds of subdued applause and no walkout.
In introducing Lance, McPeters, who also is president of the Security Bank of Corinth, Miss., noted the unprecedented public attention that has been focused on insider dealings in banks as a result of the Lance resignation, practices which McPeters said are neither "common nor condoned".
Lance's voice thickened when he recited his list of regrets, but for the most part he maintained his folksy, humorous style throughout the 20 minute address. He exhorted his fellow bankers to get involved in political life and praised the banking industry as one that served the nation and its customers well not only during good times but during trying periods such as the recession of 1974 and 1975.
"To perhaps paraphrase something you have heard before," namely President Carter's press conference embrace of Lance a month before his resignation, "I'm proud of you and I'm proud of the business of banking," Lance said.
Lance told reporters after the speech that he felt he had gotten his side of the story across to the American people during the three days of nationally televised testimony last month before the Senate Government Operations Committee. He said he though the public received his side well.
Asked whether he would be able to get his tangled finances back in shape and meet regular payments on the $3.4 million he has outstanding from the First National Bank of Chicago, Lance said, "I hope to take care of that." But, he noted, as a private citizen, "that's one of the questions I don't have to go into anymore."
Lance said he has "talked to the President from time to time" and that he has given President Carter his views on a number of topics but declined to be specific.
He said it was of "no importance" what his advice to the President would have been concerning Carter's attack of the nation's oil companies last week for "war profiteering" in the energy crisis, since the attack had already been made.
He said he has not yet decided what to do but that he would make a decision by the end of the year.