DENVER — The broader story of the Democratic National Convention was about unifying a party, but for the financial services industry representatives who made the trip here, it was about representing the industry and building relationships with lawmakers.
That goal translated into frenetic schedules. A typical day for an industry lobbyist included breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with company executives and/or lawmakers, as well as a host of activities in between like rounds of golf, receptions, and late-night concerts.
The events featuring financial services companies ran the gamut — from cool, Hollywood-style parties complete with actual celebrities to more subdued affairs promoting ideas like financial literacy.
But at a time when bankers are being criticized for their role in the housing crisis, some executives said hosting events and promoting worthy causes were necessary steps in rehabilitating their image.
"We run the risk of being placed into a negative headline," Richard Davis, the chief executive of U.S. Bancorp, said at a brunch Tuesday hosted by the Financial Services Roundtable to encourage financial literacy. "So what's important to us is that there is a steady and measured view of what financial services means to this economy and to this country, and that we don't find ourselves couched as being one or two sound bites out of some of the negative events of the last year, and that we are recognized for all the good things that we do. That is why we are here today."
The brunch, held at Mile High Station, highlighted a commitment by the country's top 95 financial services companies to holding outreach efforts at 200 events between July and September.
Mr. Davis, who co-chaired the literacy project, said it was worth pointing that out to the lawmakers in attendance.
Bankers "have a chance to remind congressional leaders of how much good we do, and financial literacy is our focus this year," he said. "There is nothing wrong with having a congressman or a senator here to remind them of that."
Lawmakers who attended the event included Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania, the No. 2 Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, as well as Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Tom Harkin of Iowa.
Financial literacy was a popular theme with other industry players. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association held a panel on the topic Monday with former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. at Invesco Field. Later that day Visa Inc. put on a financial football party featuring former professional athletes with college and high school Democrats who earned yards by answering savings questions correctly.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. drew a large crowd of financial services representatives, along with some members of Congress, at a lunchtime reception Tuesday at the Denver Art Museum to salute women governors.
The reception, hosted by James Dimon, JPMorgan Chase's chairman and CEO, and Bill Daley, the New York company's vice chairman, honored Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, who made Sen. Barack Obama's short list for the vice presidential nomination.
In the museum's spacious Ponti Hall, the reception came to a hush for a moment of silence in honor of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones of Ohio, a Financial Services Committee member who died last week.
Near the entrance, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois said that he was attending the party "because both Jamie and Billy [Daley] have been friends of mine for a long, long time, and the bank itself is a big employer" in his hometown of Chicago. "They are a very important financial institution in troubled times for the financial industry in America."
Lawmakers at the party included two House Financial Services Committee members: Reps Gregory Meeks of New York and Brad Miller of North Carolina.
Rep. Miller acknowledged earlier in the week that he was wary of attending industry events, largely because bankers had vigorously opposed legislation he introduced that would allow judges to rework mortgages in bankruptcy proceedings.
"If I go to something industry sponsored, I might have to have somebody taste my food for me first," he said.
Much of the attention at the end of the week shifted to Sen. Barack Obama's expected address late Thursday. But several of the Illinois Democrat's top economic advisors attended a reception at the Pinnacle Club hosted by the Hamilton Group in the afternoon.
Among those in attendance were former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who is now a senior counselor for Citigroup Inc., former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, and Gary Gensler, a former top Treasury official in the Clinton administration. Also spotted was Gene Spurling, a former top economic advisor to President Clinton.
Some events were about bankers receiving honors, not giving them. Bank of America Corp. was honored at a fete by the Creative Coalition for its $20 billion investment in green technology.
It was by far the most unusual of the banking events. Members of Congress normally would be the VIP attendees at these events, but the big names Monday night were a whole different cast of characters, including Susan Sarandon, Anne Hathaway, Ellen Burstyn, and Matthew Modine.
The party at La Rumba, a sleek modern lounge, was understated enough to exude cool without trying too hard but exclusive enough to have a rope-line outside cordoning off the paparazzi.
Financial services lobbyists were on hand, including Ed Hill, a top lobbyist for B of A; Tucker Foote, a lobbyist with MasterCard Inc.; Andy Barbour with the Financial Services Roundtable; and Dan Berger, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions.
"It was one of the coolest events I've been to," said Mr. Berger, who was perched with his elbows on the bar near Ms. Sarandon.
Some of the celebrities were fulsome in their praise of B of A. Josh Lucas, an actor who starred in "Sweet Home Alabama" with Reese Witherspoon, said a B of A building in New York, which was entirely renewable, helped inspire him to follow suit.
"When I was doing my house, I talked about if a bank could build a green building of that level, I should be able to do my house easily," he said.
The party drew a few lawmakers, including Rep. Charlie Wilson of Ohio. Though some financial services representatives had predicted that new lobbying rules would discourage lawmakers from coming to events, Rep. Wilson said the rules were not to accept. "We know we can't have meals, and we don't have them."
But for some lawmakers, the new rules may have come as a relief. Four years ago at the Democratic Party's convention in Boston, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank was the top honoree at a breakfast hosted by the roundtable. This year any events honoring a single member of Congress were banned.
As a result, Rep. Frank was not seen much on the party circuit. Still, to Democrats attending the convention, the Massachusetts legislator was treated like a celebrity. At an Americans for Democratic Action event on Monday, Rep. Frank was mobbed by people seeking his autograph and wanting to take a photo with him. Though he generally keeps a deadpan demeanor while tossing off humorous one-liners, the onslaught of photo requests may have been the longest he has held a smile.
But Rep. Frank acknowledged that he was pleased not to have to attend industry parties. "Frankly, I don't like hanging out with the lobbyists. I don't like hanging out with reporters," he said.