The chief lobbyist of the National Association of Home Builders has been dismissed, reportedly over turf battles arising from his role in a campaign to save the mortgage interest deduction.

Robert Bannister, senior vice president for governmental affairs and an 18-year veteran of the trade group, confirmed Friday that the home builders had exercised an option to terminate his contract without cause. He declined to discuss the matter further, saying he had agreed with the trade group to make no comment.

However, Capitol Hill and trade association sources said Mr. Bannister, 50, was pushed out by the home builders' executive vice president, Kent Colton, after a dispute erupted between Mr. Bannister and his onetime deputy, Jerry Howard.

These sources said Mr. Bannister's role in running the governmental affairs division had been scaled back dramatically in the past six months, as Mr. Colton shifted budget and management authority to Mr. Howard.

Things apparently came to a head over Mr. Bannister's role in shepherding a motion at the home builders' recent convention to spend up to $170,000 defending the mortgage interest deduction in this year's flat tax debate. The funds would have come from a budget controlled by Mr. Howard.

Mr. Colton told the association's lobbyists Thursday that he had decided he could no longer have two executives in charge of governmental affairs, according to the sources.

Bill Ellingsworth, the trade group's senior vice president for public affairs, acknowledged Mr. Bannister's departure but declined to state the reasons. He insisted, however, that there was no turf battle and no disagreement on the handling of the mortgage interest deduction campaign.

The home builders, along with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the National Association of Realtors, are part of a coalition that has sponsored political ads in Iowa and New Hampshire attacking the flat tax plan of Republican presidential candidate, Steve Forbes. His plan would eliminate the mortgage interest deduction.

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