Banking Lobbyists Rally to Battle Clinton, Congress

Article excerpt

N.Y. Times News Service

WASHINGTON _ In a striking example of how an interest group can lay the groundwork to influence the government, the banking industry has assembled a powerhouse team to take on the Clinton administration and the new Congress.

The bankers are keenly interested in seeing banking regulations relaxed and in being allowed to branch out across state lines and to compete more directly against securities firms. They are also watching carefully to see if new consumer protections will be enacted.

The industry's biggest lobbying organization, the American Bankers Association, has lined up bankers and lobbyists who have been closely associated with President-elect Bill Clinton and who wield great influence in the Democratic Party.

At the same time, people who worked for Clinton in Arkansas, advised his campaign and the transition team or have close ties to the banking industry are also under consideration by the new administration for crucial regulatory posts.

Clinton has repeatedly promised to challenge the special-interest groups that seek to turn campaign contributions and political connections into influence over public policy.

"I think there is going to be a great reluctance by the administration to let the banking lobbyists be effective," said one banking lawyer who has advised the Clinton organization.

But since the election, Clinton has been criticized for accommodating lobbyists and power brokers as he assembles his economic team and designs his economic policies.

The lobbying team also faces an uphill fight in Congress: lawmakers have little appetite for rolling back provisions of the 1991 banking bill, which the industry has complained bitterly about. That legislation makes many new demands on bankers, setting standards for how much capital they must have on hand and what kind of risks they can incur.

The ABA recently named to its board Curt Bradbury, head of Worthen National Bank, an Arkansas institution that has long provided financial support for Clinton's political aspirations and lent the Clinton campaign millions of dollars at critical junctures during the campaign.

Even before the election, the ABA named as its new president William Brandon, an Arkansas banker who, like Bradbury, has known Clinton for many years.

Shortly after the election, the ABA hired two prominent lawyers with close ties to Clinton.

One was Charles Manatt, a former banker and Democratic Party chairman who was co-chairman of the Clinton campaign and whose law partner is the campaign's director, Mickey Kantor, whom Clinton has selected as the U.S. trade representative.

The other was Thomas Boggs, an influential lobbyist whose law partners include Democratic Party chairman Ronald H. Brown, who has been chosen to be commerce secretary.

"The ABA rightly thinks that it is time for an enlightened rethinking of several banking issues, including the regulatory burden and structural issues," Bradbury said in an interview. "There are many fundamental issues that remain to be addressed, and it is time to get active and aggressive. You see here the precursors of a pretty good lobbying campaign."

Manatt said that like Boggs he had been retained by the ABA to lobby Congress for legislation that would ease regulations that the bankers consider burdensome, a role he called "perfectly appropriate."

He said he would not in any way lobby the Clinton administration or its regulatory agencies, which will be left primarily to Edward Yingling, the ABA's full-time lobbyist.

(Yingling has a background in Arkansas politics as a former staff aide to former Sen. J.W. Fulbright.)

And a leading candidate to become Clinton's point man on banking, either as comptroller of the currency or as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. …