WASHINGTON - Vice President Al Gore criticized last year's financial reform law for weakening the Community Reinvestment Act and vowed to review certain provisions if he is elected President in November, according to a survey of presidential candidates conducted by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.
Mr. Gore said he is "very concerned about the potential 'chilling effect' of the so-called sunshine provisions" in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. He pledged to "carefully review the impact and work to eliminate any possible negative effects."
The sunshine provision requires community groups receiving bank loans of $50,000 or grants of $10,000 to report annually how the money was spent.
When the new law was signed in the fall, the Clinton administration defended the deal it had to cut on the CRA provisions to get the legislation enacted.
But now Mr. Gore is questioning both the disclosure requirement and the decision to let small banks go five years between CRA exams.
"As President, I would want to carefully review the new small-bank exam-cycle provision to ensure the level of lending, investment, and basic banking services are not impacted by the change in the frequency of the CRA exams," Mr. Gore wrote to the reinvestment coalition.
He also said he favors increasing the Justice Department's budget to beef up enforcement of fair-lending laws. He endorsed the Federal Reserve Board's outstanding proposal to require lenders to record the race and gender of all borrowers.
"This is an important step toward increasing our understanding of lending patterns," Mr. Gore said.
Mr. Gore's rival in the race for the Democratic nomination, former Sen. Bill Bradley, answered the coalition's questions about CRA more broadly.
"He will work to protect CRA, so that examination provisions are not weakened and citizens maintain the right to comment on the performance of financial institutions," the campaign's issues director, Mark C. Alexander, wrote.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush said he supports the sunshine provisions, which were championed by a fellow Texas Republican, Sen. Phil Gramm.
"A transparent process is crucial in maintaining the public trust," Gov. Bush said. He vowed to work to make CRA, equal credit, and fair lending laws "more efficient, effective, and less burdensome."
Sen. John McCain did not respond to the coalition's 10-question survey.
The coalition, a not-for-profit umbrella organization for more than 700 groups, said it is barred by law from commenting on the candidates' responses. But its president and chief executive, John Taylor, said the group wanted to educate voters about the candidates' positions. The coalition opposed the financial reform law's changes to the CRA. Mr. Taylor called it a "battle lost" in a "war that is far from over."
"The next battlegrounds include expanding CRA, improving data disclosure, combating CRA grade inflation, and fighting predatory lending," he said.
Mr. Winig is a freelance writer based in Gaithersburg, Md.