Here is a 26-year-old story with a moral for community bankers.

It was June 19, 1968. I was at Glacier Park for the Montana Bankers Association annual convention, where I was to speak the next morning.

Our afternoon speaker that day was to be Wilbur Mills, then the powerful head of the House Ways and Means Committee.

But the chance of Mr. Mills being there that afternoon was remote indeed.

For about midnight the evening before, the House had finished work on the important Revenue Act of 1968, which markedly changed the tax consequences of bank operations.

It was a major legislative achievement. But it meant that Mills was detained in Washington until the very morning he was due at Glacier.

Glacier National Park, as anyone who has ever tried to go there knows, is a pretty remote location. I describe it as "two hours west of Minneapolis by phone."

Nevertheless, Mills made it. An Air Force jet flew him from Andrews Air Force base to Great Falls, Mont., where a helicopter was waiting to drop him in the mountains at Glacier Park. He made his talk and thrilled all the attendees.

Bankers Have Clout

Why did he make so Herculean an effort?

Mike Mansfield, Senate majority leader, a Montana Democrat, had said, "Wilbur, I really want you to address my banker constituents." And there he was.

What is the moral in this?

First, bankers have clout. Undoubtedly, many of the attendees were big personal contributors to Mansfield's campaigns who also supported him in their local communities.

Second, legislators like to be at bankers' conventions to be heard and seen. It is good for their image and reelectability.

But from the bankers' viewpoint, there is an even more important issue here.

When bankers invite lawmakers to their conventions, it is an opportunity for the bankers to get to know their legislators better.

And in the conversations at the convention social functions, the bankers can explain their views and achieve a better understanding of their goals and the public interest in them.

Sure, a few lawmakers have taken advantage of the bankers.

They demand honorariums (some of which were huge before a limitation was placed on this practice by Congress due to unfavorable publicity).

And we had the notorious cases of a few bad apples in Congress and the state legislatures who used the opportunity for such abuses as refitting their golf attire from the pro shop at the convention and charging this to their rooms, the tabs for which were, naturally, picked up by the association.

But basically the convention is a natural place for banker-legislator communication.

A Place for Communication

I have always been amazed in past years that the thrift conventions usually featured members of the banking committees of the state and federal legislatures, while commercial bankers frequently did not invite any lawmakers.

Maybe this is one reason why bankers have had a harder time than their thrift competitors in getting their ideas and wishes carved into legislation.

Banking industry leaders probably felt it was poor practice to get too friendly with lawmakers, even though there could be benefits from gaining a better understanding of the bankers' needs and what they mean for the public.

So the story of how Wilbur Mills made the effort to be at Glacier that day in 1968 serves as a reminder that the desire of bankers to have lawmakers at their meetings is not always onesided: The lawmakers like being with the bankers as much as the bankers like having them there.

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