First of Four Articles
Donald J. Winn isn't your typical lobbyist with a high profile and wads of campaign contributions to distribute.
But the Federal Reserve Board's congressional liaison is clearly one of the most effective influence peddlers on Capitol Hill. Under his tutelage, which has spanned two decades and four Fed chairmen, the central bank has consistently fought off efforts to crimp its power.
"You haven't seen many big ones that the Fed has lost, and I think that means a very effective congressional relations office," said Kenneth A. Guenther, Independent Bankers Association of America executive vice president and Mr. Winn's predecessor at the Fed.
Mr. Winn is from a prominent Rhode Island family. While earning a law degree from Georgetown University in the early 1970s, he worked for Fernand J. St Germain, then in his fifth term as a Democratic congressman from the Ocean State.
But before his interest in law and politics, Mr. Winn considered becoming a Roman Catholic priest. After earning his bachelor's and master's degrees from Boston College and teaching philosophy at Holy Cross College, he attended Jesuit school. Mr. Winn left in 1969, a year shy of graduation, to work for former Rep. St Germain. He married Barbara J. Hunter in 1977 and had three children, the oldest of whom is just entering college.
Mr. Winn, 59, also enjoys an unusual pastime: competing in triathlons.
Several Hill watchers said the combination of Mr. Winn's political instincts and the Fed's enormous prestige lie behind this public servant's pervasive influence.
Tony Cole, the Republican staff director at the House Banking Committee, said Mr. Winn always knows when to make his move in the legislative process. Beyond great timing, Mr. Cole said Mr. Winn is an invaluable resource for congressional staffers drafting banking bills.
"When someone up here needs information or has a question, he is always able to answer it immediately or get the answer quickly," said Mr. Cole, who worked with Mr. Winn at the Fed in the late 1970s.
While successful, Mr. Winn does not draw much attention to himself. He declined repeated requests for an interview or even a photograph. While eligible to earn $170,700, the Fed's highest staff salary, insiders said Mr. Winn only accepts $132,400 a year because he does not want to earn more than the lawmakers he lobbies.
No one interviewed for this article could recall a single instance where Mr. Winn tried to jawbone a lawmaker into adopting the Fed's view. Instead, he relies on the clout of his boss, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.
"Greenspan is very hands-on about making the Fed's position known," one Hill staffer said. "Don doesn't have to do that heavy lifting."
The staffer said Mr. Winn recently used letters and calls from Mr. Greenspan to lawmakers to squelch efforts to tap the Fed's reserve account to pay part of the thrift fund bailout.
But political observers said no banking bill makes it out of Congress without his fingerprints.
"He does a real good job for the Fed," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. "His style matches the Fed's precisely. He is very low-key, but he has a great amount of credibility on the Hill."
House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach is a frequent cheerleader for the Fed, often speaking in glowing terms of Mr. Greenspan. Support like that makes Mr. Winn's job of protecting the Fed's cherished independence a lot easier.
Still, there are limits to Mr. Winn's influence. Observers said lobbyists and their clients can raise money for banking committee members, an activity prohibited Mr. Greenspan or Mr. Winn.
"Alan Greenspan doesn't have fund-raisers at his house the way Fannie Mae Chairman Jim Johnson does," one observer said.
Next: John L. von Seggern at the Office of Thrift Supervision