As Fall Elections Approach, Voting Records Eyed Closely by Political Action Committees: A Lot of Reassessment about Whom One's Friends Are, Says a PAC Treasurer
Miller, Lee J., American Banker
WASHINGTON -- In the midst of this election year, members of Congress are faced with having to make legislative choices on banking deregulation. And the way they vote will have an impact on how generous the financial industry is to their reelection campaigns.
Recent votes in the House and Senate banking committees permitted observers to take a close look at the positions of individual lawmakers with regard to the financial industry. Robert B. Evans, president of the American Financial Services Association and treasurer of its political action committee, said, "Markups [the committees' step-by-step revisions of bills] allowed us to measure for the first time where members of the [banking] committees really stand ... and there's a lot of reassessing going on about who your friends are and are not." In political terms, that means the reallocation of campaign contributions.
While the political action committee idea has been around for about 50 years, this contribution system has really been used only since the 1971 passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act. The law allows corporations, which had been prohibited since the turn of the century from giving money to the campaigns of candidates for federal office, to use PACs as a way of channeling funds into political war chests.
A survey of contributions to members of the House Banking Committee from 23 major financial PACs, based on the most recent data available from the Federal Election Commission, shows that members of the financial services industry have similar tastes when it comes to whom they want and don't want in Washington.
And chief among those House Banking Committee members whom the industry seeks to influence are Doug Barnard, D-Ga., and committee Chairman Fernand St Germain, D-R.I.
Overall, the ABA contributed $44,450 to 30 committee members through March 31. The Federal Election Commission has not compiled figures for the second quarter of this year.
Mr. Barnard, a former banker, received a total of $12,250 in contributions from 20 of the surveyed PACs. "Barnard is very important to the banking industry," said Brian Meyer, treasurer of the American Bankers Association PAC. "He is very much in support of bankers' needs."
Mr. St Germain received contributions from 15 PACs totaling $16,000. Although he was instrumental in the House committee's deregulation bill, which is less favorable to banks than the Senate version, and he often seems to be a thorn in the side of the industry, he is both respected and feared.
"He's the chairman of the committee," said Karl Hoyle, the chief lobbyist for the Credit Union National Association. "You can't overlook him, no matter what." CUNA has contributed $24,780 to 28 banking committee members.
Even Mr. Barnard agrees that contributions to Mr. St Germain are almost mandatory for financial industry PACs. "St Germain is very powerful and commands a lot of votes," Mr. Barnard said. "PACs are not stupid, and [they] recognize his power."
Interestingly, the Banking Committee's ranking Republican, Chalmers Wylie of Ohio, has received virtually the same amount of contributions as his Democratic counterpart, Mr. St Germain. Mr. Wylie's campaign has also collected money from 15 of the PACs, for a total of $17,496 -- $1,496 more than the chairman. Some Receive Nothing
Of the 23 PACs surveyed, 13 are affiliated with trade groups representing thrift, real estate, securities, insurance, and commercial banking interests. The remaining 10 are the individual PACs of the nation's largest banks or their holding companies.
At the other extreme of the House Banking Committee scale are Douglas Bereuter, R-Neb.; William Coyne, D-Pa.; Jim Leach, R-Iowa; Parren Mitchell, D-Md.; Charles E. Roemer III, D-La.; and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. None of these representatives received any funds from the surveyed PACs. Ed Bethune, R-Ark. …