Lobbyist Fighting a Privacy War Nationwide

By Robitaille, Suzanne | American Banker, April 6, 2000 | Go to article overview

Lobbyist Fighting a Privacy War Nationwide


Robitaille, Suzanne, American Banker


WASHINGTON -

Longtime insurance lobbyist Allen R. Caskie cruises the suburbs here in a 1966 Shelby Mustang with a license plate that reads "OLD TECH."

This classic car and its tag suit the new executive director of the Financial Services Coordinating Council's privacy project.

Mr. Caskie must crisscross the country to lobby state officials on behalf of the banks, insurance companies, and securities firms that are the council's constituency. And he will need some old-fashioned muscle to stop them from adopting more restrictions on how financial institutions use customer information.

"There is nothing subtle about them," he says of the powerful Shelbys, but he could easily be referring to industry efforts to combat privacy legislation.

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 requires financial institutions to disclose their privacy policies annually and to let customers block data transfers to unaffiliated third parties. It also bars sharing account numbers with third-party marketers. The industry grudgingly accepted those curbs, but the law also gives states the authority to enact tougher privacy protections.

Mr. Caskie is coordinating an alliance of financial services lobbyists in state capitals nationwide to try to avoid a patchwork of such state laws. Forty-six privacy bills are pending in 25 states, including major bills in California, Washington, Minnesota, and Massachusetts.

After years of lobbying for financial reform on Capitol Hill, he is adjusting to a new pace. Mr. Caskie today is winding up a three-day California trip to pitch the industry's view on privacy issues to news media editorial boards. He departed on this trip just days after returning from a trip to Austin, Tex. to meet with members of the Republican Attorneys General Association. And two weeks ago he testified at hearings held by New York lawmakers who are considering whether to introduce legislation.

"Frankly, after 20 years plugging away at the financial modernization bill, I'm looking forward to a new challenge in a different role," he said. "It's going to be a wild ride ... . Many state legislatures have relatively short sessions, and they move much more quickly. The fact that action can be ongoing in a number of states at the same time is energizing and frustrating."

His oft-repeated message to state officials and reporters, though, is simple: Gramm-Leach-Bliley's provisions -- which do not take effect until November at the earliest -- are comprehensive and should be given time to work. He will also try to drive home the point that responsible information sharing can bring people substantial benefits.

A native of the Washington, D.C., area, the 52-year-old Mr. Caskie has lobbying in his blood.

His grandfather, a Virginian named Marion, came to Washington to be chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission under President Franklin D. …

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