When it comes to lobbying, Fannie Mae leaves little to chance.
The home loan titan has assembled an unusually large team of prominent lobbyists to defend its interests on Capitol Hill, newly released documents show.
With a Republican-controlled Congress eyeing moves that could impair Fannie Mae, the agency has been turning to such heavy-hitting Republicans as Kenneth Duberstein, former chief of staff to President Reagan; Nicholas Calio, once President Bush's chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill; and Vin Weber, a former congressman who is currently national co-chairman of the Dole for President campaign.
Fannie Mae's retention of these lobbyists, disclosed in newly required federal filings, underscores how seriously the agency tends to it relations on Capitol Hill. Though owned by private stockholders, Fannie Mae is chartered by the federal government.
"This is saturation coverage," one Washington lobbyist said of Fannie Mae's efforts. Mr. Calio, Mr. Duberstein, and Mr. Weber each "can talk to Gingrich, or for that matter Dole or anybody else," the lobbyist said. The team also includes some influential Democrats.
The heavy artillery could come in handy as Fannie Mae, formally the Federal National Mortgage Association, battles such Republican initiatives as user fees on its securities and the removal of the mortgage interest deduction, and a local drive to impose District of Columbia taxes on the agency.
Though many of the Republican lobbyists on the team have been with Fannie Mae for some years, they have taken on a significant new role since Republicans took over Congress, observers say.
Thomas O'Donnell, who follows Fannie Mae's stock for Smith Barney, applauded the size and stature of the lobbying team.
"I think it's wise for Fannie to focus on political risk because over the long term, I believe that's the largest risk that they face," he said.
Fannie Mae, for its part, played down the prominence of the lobbyists.
"Our story is a simple one and it doesn't matter who tells it," said David Jeffers, a Fannie Mae spokesman. "It's a story about housing and homeownership. Once people understand the role we play in the lives of families and their desire to own their own home, they understand Fannie Mae."
All the same, Fannie Mae has faced an array of nettlesome issues in the past year. The chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Kasich, R- Ohio, has tried to tax Fannie Mae's debt and mortgage-backed securities to help balance the budget with new revenues. Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, chairman of the House Banking Committee, has proposed similar fees to help pay off the government bonds floated to bail out savings and loans.
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-Tex., has asked the General Accounting Office whether Fannie Mae's lobbying activities are governed by the same rules covering executive branch agencies. Those rules forbid lobbying.
The thinking at Fannie Mae is that these pressures will mount in the next few years as Congress gets closer to balancing the budget, according to one Republican lobbyist hired by Fannie Mae. He added that, in that environment, Fannie Mae fears some lawmakers will target the mortgage agency for privatization.
"They (Fannie Mae) are a raft in very fast-moving water," the lobbyist said.
Though Fannie has not yet disclosed what it is paying its lobbyists, the going rates for such a team would be high. Mr. Duberstein is said to limit his clients to a small group, charging each a retainer of $40,000 a month. On that select list are General Motors, Time Warner, Goldman Sachs & Co., and Dow Corning Corp. Fannie's payments to lobbyists for the first six months of the year must be divulged this summer under a new law.
In addition to Mr. Duberstein, Mr. Calio, and Mr. Weber, several other high-ranking veterans of the Reagan and Bush administrations are members of Fannie's lobbying team. Many have worked closely with Robert B. Zoellick, Fannie's general counsel and a former top aide to President Reagan's Treasury secretary, James Baker. Many are close friends who often collaborate informally on strategy, one lobbyist said.