WASHINGTON Kent Brunette doesn't mind telling you that his name fills some bankers' hearts with contempt.
"I would suspect that some people in the banking industry absolutely loathe and despise me," says Mr. Brunette, banking lobbyist for the American Association of Retired Persons.
He has played an instrumental role in lobbying for numerous bank consumer. protection bills during his 12 years with the powerful lobby, which caters to 34 million Americans 50 and older.
Truth in savings, credit card solicitation disclosures, expedited funds availability schedules Mr. Brunette, 41, has had a hand in all of these, so he's a natural adversary of the banking industry. And one of his latest projects drafting a legislative proposal that aims to improve banks' disclosure of the uninsured products they sell isn't exactly a first step toward making amends.
"I think banks' sales of uninsured products is as important if not more important than any of the other issues I've worked on that Congress has chosen to legislate on," Mr. Brunette says.
"I don't really support the notion that just because there is some perceived bank regulatory burden, we ought not to respond in the same fashion as we have in the past."
Despite the fact that a recent Prophet Market Research audit of the nation's 50 top banks showed that older customers are getting tidier disclosure than before, Mr. Brunette sees a legislative remedy as the only way to protect consumers from what he calls the "new con game of the '90s."
"I definitely think that we need legislation," he says. "What we've seen so far is a Band-Aid approach to a far more painful wound, particularly as we consider fundamental restructurings as we allow banks to get new activities.
"I may have wanted to give banks the benefit of the doubt, but then I go down to some of these people who are in the trenches, or I get a call from an AARP member who says, 'I didn't realize that mutual funds were not FDIC insured,' and I feel vindicated."
Mr. Brunette's arrival at AARP in 1982 followed some time spent working in Texas governor Bill Clements' office here.
He has a bachelor's and a master's degree in political science from the University of Texas at Austin, and a law degree from Baylor Law School in Waco, Tex.
His role as a champion for the consumer cause hasn't burned every bridge between Mr. Brunette and the banking industry. His efforts to stop a provision in the massive Federal Deposit Insurance Improvement Act of 1991 that would have cut back existing levels of deposit insurance were parallel those of the Independent Bankers Association of America.
It was an alliance that got the job done, according to Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the community bank trade group.
"We thought cutting back deposit insurance was very dangerous for community banks and AARP thought it was dangerous for their constituency," says Mr. Guenther, who refers to Mr. Brunette as "one of the world's leading experts on consumer credit."
"Without that alignment, we would have had a vote in the House Banking Committee that would cut the level of deposit insurance," he adds.
The praise that Mr. Brunette gets from others in the industry is a bit more grudging.
"He's a smart, decent guy," says one high-ranking industry source, who asked not to be named. "But we've had some dreadful arguments about his favorite issue -- I really wish he'd take off his blinders."
That "favorite issue" for quite some time has been governmentcheck-cashing and low-cost accounts.
Year after year, Mr. Brunette has doggedly attempted to include provisions encompassing these issues in banking bills.
In 1991, During FDICIA's progress towards enactment, he even threw them into the legislative arena as what he calls a diversionary tactic -- to distract the industry's attention from truth in savings, another issue close to AARP's heart, Mr. Brunette says.
Lifeline accounts and government-check-cashing were added into FDICIA during negotiations in the Senate Banking Committee.
"Once it went to the floor, basic banking was something that the trade groups were hell-bent on getting out," Mr. Brunette says.
"Well, they did get it removed, but truth in savings something I had worked on for 10 years -- slipped through. It was that diversion that got truth in savings through."
Although basic banking and check-cashing may ,well pop up again, Mr. Brunette thinks disclosure may become the new torch he'll carry for the consumer.
"Mutual funds will become my new focus. AARP is generally getting much more interested in investor-protection issues."
To bolster this position, Mr. Brunette sees another ally in Comptroller of the Currency Eugene Ludwig.
"Generally, I think the comptroller has done a good job with trying to raise the visibility of the issue of uninsured products in banks, but I think he runs into obstacles at the Federal Reserve," Mr. Brunette says.
Fed Governor John P. LaWare' s attitude towards the issue stands out in stark contrast to Mr. Ludwig's, according to Mr. Brunette.
"Governor LaWare thinks the whole approach is a witch-hunt, while Ludwig is far more interested in finding out what is happening in the marketplace," Mr. Brunette says.
"Governor LaWare is a little more interested in burying his head in the sand and pretending that problems don't exist."
During his tenure at AARP, Mr. Brunette has used some rather unusual methods to get his organization's point across to lawmakers.
He has handed out piggy banks along with an appeal to protect basic deposit insurance levels and get basic check cashing; purple Hula Hoops ("Consumers shouldn't have to jump through hoops to get basic banking services"); and baseballs, which were given to senators on the opening day of baseball season to symbolize some of the problems AARP had with home equity rules.
"The slogan for that one was, 'Ever wish you could change the rules after the game had started?'" says Mr. Brunette. "The basic idea was that lenders could change the rules at any lime after the contract was signed.
"Sometimes we have to resort to extraordinary measures to make sure that members of Congress hear our perspective. They help point out that there is another perspective to this other than what the banking industry may want members of Congress to believe," he adds.