Count the American Bankers Association among Washington's "Power 25."

That's what Fortune magazine dubbed the most influential lobbying organizations in its first ranking of special interest groups.

Listed 12th, the ABA was the only financial services group to break into the top 25. That may come as a surprise to many bankers, who often complain that the ABA is outgunned in Washington by insurance and securities industry adversaries.

By a wide margin, the ABA bested its archrivals in the debate over financial reform legislation: The Independent Insurance Agents of America placed 27th and the Securities Industry Association was ranked 47th.

Former ABA president Walter A. Dods Jr. said the high ranking is no shock. "Talk to anybody on Capitol Hill, and they'll tell you the ABA has done a very good job," he said.

He credited strong state-level associations and grassroots lobbying for the group's influence. "There's been a fairly dramatic change," he said.

Fortune's Washington bureau chief Jeffrey H. Birnbaum described the ABA and other members of the Power 25 as a "highly eclectic" collection with one thing in common: large numbers of geographically dispersed and politically active members. "They know their convictions and vote them," he wrote.

The Independent Bankers Association of America placed 56th among 120 organizations ranked by the magazine.

The American Association of Retired Persons topped the list, published in the Dec. 8 issue. Rounding out the top five were the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the AFL-CIO, the National Federal of Independent Business, and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

IIAA lobbyist Robert A. Rusbuldt said his group was happy to be within two notches of the Power 25, but argued that insurance agents have more clout than the survey reflects. "It's not very scientific, but it's great entertainment for inside-the-beltway types," he said.

Also among Fortune's ranking of 120 groups: American Insurance Association, 42; American Council of Life Insurance, 44, Mortgage Bankers Association of America, 60; and Credit Union National Association, 70.

The rankings were based on surveys answered by roughly 330 members of Congress, their staffers, senior White House aides, and top lobbyists. Fortune mailed out 2,200 questionnaires.

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