WASHINGTON — The American Bankers Association is set to imminently announce that it has chosen former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating to succeed Edward Yingling as president and chief executive officer next year.
The choice may turn out to be controversial.
While the ABA's chief task is rebuilding its battered image following its fierce opposition to, and failure to stop, regulatory reform legislation, Keating is a well-known Republican who has questioned President Obama's honesty in the past.
Perhaps more problematically for the trade group, Keating was the subject of a political scandal while governor of Oklahoma, accused of accepting $250,000 in financial gifts from retired mutual fund mogul Jack Dreyfus in return for lobbying on behalf a drug designed to reduce violent behavior among prison inmates.
Still, Keating is also well connected politically, and has significant management experience, both as a former governor and as president and chief executive of the American Council of Life Insurers from 2003 until earlier this month.
In making its announcement Tuesday, the ABA said Keating was selected unanimously for his experience running a large trade group, leadership skills as governor, and for his previous experience in government at the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Treasury and Justice.
"Frank was the unanimous choice of the search committee. He brings to this position tremendous energy, a strong history of involvement in financial issues, the respect of policymakers on both sides of the aisle and extensive management experience, including eight years as CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers," said Stephen P. Wilson, the ABA's chairman and the chairman and chief executive of LCNB National Bank, Lebanon, Ohio. "He is well known in Washington and around the country and is highly regarded for his public service in senior positions in the Justice Department, Treasury and HUD, in addition to his eight years as governor of Oklahoma."
But Washington insiders are likely to focus more on his political baggage. Keating served as governor of Oklahoma from 1995 to 2003, including during the Oklahoma City bombing. In 2000, he was considered as a running mate for George W. Bush, but was later disqualified by Dick Cheney after revelations about his connections to Dreyfus came to light.
Keating had accepted roughly $250,000 from Dreyfus between 1990 and 1997 and had lobbied vigorously to President Bill Clinton and every other governor in the country on Dreyfus' behalf to use an experimental drug called Dilatin on violent inmates.
Keating also arranged meetings between Dreyfus and state and federal prison officials to discuss the drug but ran into controversy for accepting the financial gifts since the Oklahoma Constitution bars public officials from accepting anything of value for performance of official duties.
After the gifts from Dreyfus became an issue, he returned the money, according to a July 2001 story by the Associated Press.
In September 2008, a Tulsa World news story quoted Keating in a book about Cheney, accusing the vice president of bringing the scandal to light. He also blamed the incident for tarring his political career, including failing to be named attorney general in 2001.
"It obviously came from Dick Cheney or one of his people," Keating says in "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency" by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman. "To say that it was chickenshit, excuse the expression, is an understatement. It was gratuitous, and it was petty, and it appeared vindictive to me, and it was utterly beneath the dignity of a person of Cheney's achievement. I mean, Dick Cheney coming into my life has been like a black cloud."
Aside from his criticism of Cheney, however, Keating is seen as a staunch Republican and his selection as CEO may indicate the ABA does not intend to try and patch up its rocky relationship with the Obama administration.
Keating himself was open in questioning the honesty of President Obama in October 2008, while he was serving as a campaign co-chairman for the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain. The Huffington Post, citing an interview on Dennis Miller's radio show, quoted Keating as saying Obama's record was "very extreme" and implying the Democratic candidate was not honest about his political views.
Obama "ought to admit, 'You know, I've got to be honest with you. I was a guy of the street. I was way to the left. I used cocaine. I voted liberally, but I'm back at the center,'" Keating was quoted as saying.
Keating also has donated campaign contributions exclusively to Republicans. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan organization that tracks money in politics, he has given more than $22,000 to GOP candidates since 1992, including individual contributions of as much as $2,400. In the most recent election, he contributed to the campaigns of several Republican senatorial candidates, including: John McCain, Carly Fiorina, Tom Coburn, Roy Blunt, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey and Marco Rubio.
The ABA, meanwhile, is focused on other parts of Keating's background, including noting his family history as a banker.
"Frank comes from a family of bankers and served on the board of a savings bank," said Wilson in the press release. "His experience as assistant secretary of the Treasury and general counsel and acting deputy secretary of HUD will be helpful as Congress considers reform of GSEs and housing finance. He also brings to ABA strong management skills honed as governor and in his leadership of a large and complex trade association."
Wilson said that Keating would be a strong leader for the ABA at a time when it needs such representation.
"Coming out of the financial crisis, we are entering a period of great change for our industry," Wilson said. "We wanted a strong, proven leader and consensus builder who will listen to the concerns of bankers and be a dynamic champion for our industry during this critical time. That is what we have in Frank Keating."