Gov. Bill Clinton's relatively optimistic view of the banking industry in Monday's debate reassured bank lobbyists who feared he might heed the advice of a campaign insider and call for a new round of regulations.
Mr. Clinton's response to a question about the banks' health - he called it "fundamentally sound" and not likely to go the route of the savings and loans - was far more measured than the position recommended to him in a paper prepared over the summer by Michael Waldman, a consumer activist and deputy communications director of the Clinton campaign.
Mr. Waldman, a former head of Ralph Nader's Congress Watch, submitted the paper before joining the campaign. He wrote that the banking industry was in worse shape than the government had been letting on, and could require a taxpayer bailout, according to Phil Corwin, American Bankers Association consumer-issues lobbyist.
Mr. Corwin said he "went ballistic" when he read it. "It was basically a crackdown on banks. It heavily pushed the idea of a |December surprise' [of massive bank failures]. It said it was a huge issue that Bush was hiding and that it was all because of the deregulation of the 1980s."
Low-cost Accounts Urged
According to Mr. Corwin and others who read the paper, Mr. Waldman also said Gov. Clinton should press for legislation requiring banks to increase services to lower-income consumers through low-cost basic banking accounts, cashing of government checks, and tougher Community Reinvestment Act standards.
"The idea was that you would be able to do what you want to banks, since banks would essentially be wards of the state," said Mr. Corwin, a Clinton supporter who has worked on task forces that prepared policy options for the Democratic nominee.
The ABA official said he was "very happy" with Mr. Clinton's debate performance, which "showed he has taken a responsible position."
Concern over Industry's Image
Washington-based banking consultant Karen Shaw said she had been disturbed by Mr. Waldman's paper because it encouraged the belief that the banking industry is in worse shape than it is.
Mr. Waldman declined to discuss his paper except to note that he prepared it before joining the campaign staff. He said it was one of many and should not be singled out for attention. He declined to say if he is still advocating the views in his paper.
Although Gov. Clinton's comments on Monday suggested that he rejected Mr. Waldman's advice, the consumerist's high rank on the campaign staff indicates the breadth of opinions the Democratic nominee is likely to weigh as he considers banking issues.
At least two other option papers on banking were written by people with close ties to the industry: by Ms. Shaw, president of the Institute for Strategy Development, and by Cantwell E. Muckenfuss, a bank lawyer who held regulatory posts in the Carter administration.
Two prominent Arkansas bankers - the new president of the American Bankers Association and Gov. Clinton's chief of staff in Little Rock - are close to the Democratic nominee. Charles Manatt, a former banker with a bank law practice in Washington, is national co-chairman of the Clinton campaign.
Still, bankers are concerned about who would wield major influence on banking issues under a President Clinton.
William H. Brandon, the Arkansan who assumed the ABA presidency this week and has known Mr. Clinton for years, said the governor's views on bank issues will become clear when his appointments are known.
"It really depends on who he surrounds himself with," said Mr. Brandon, chairman of First National Bank of Phillips County, Helena, Ark.
During the debate, Gov. Clinton said that while there are "some weak banks," regulators could make the situation worse by overreacting. A crackdown on weak institutions, he said, could create a new credit crunch and worsen the recession.
"We also want to say that insofar as is humanly possible, the banking industry should itself pay for the cost of any bank failures," Gov. Clinton added. The ABA and other bank groups have taken the same position.
Ms. Shaw said the governor's comments showed that "the one person who can speak for Bill Clinton is Bill Clinton." She added that she was "not worried" about whom he might look to for advice.