In a preemptive lobbying strike, a coalition of banking and retail trade groups plans next week to run print advertisements here urging Congress not to ban automated teller machine surcharges.
Their principal target is Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato's proposal to ban the extra fees that banks charge cardholders from other institutions for using their ATMs. Running for reelection this year, the New York Republican is expected to try to attach his populist plan to bankruptcy reform or other legislation.
The ads cost nearly $100,000 and are being paid for by the American Bankers Association. A customer is shown standing before an ATM. Slashed across the picture is a line with the words "closed by Congress." The text underneath the picture equates any surcharge ban with price controls and argues that a ban would hurt consumers, who used the machines 11 billion times last year.
"Owners cannot keep all these ATMs open-and will not install ATMs in new, convenient locations-if they cannot charge for the service," according to the ad, which will appear in Washington newspapers Tuesday.
Besides the ABA, the 15 trade groups listed on the ad include: the Bankers Roundtable, the Independent Bankers Association of America, the National Retail Federation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Convenience Stores, and the National Grocers Association.
Banking industry officials want to show lawmakers that they have allies in the business community, many of whom share the fee income from machines in their stores.
"If customers are willing to pay the fee for the convenience, then let it stand," said Arleen Alexander, legislative affairs director for the convenience store group.
Most observers give Sen. D'Amato's plan virtually no chance of passing because most Republicans and some Democrats will oppose it as anti- competitive. The Senate Banking Committee rejected, on an 11-to-7 vote, Sen. D'Amato's attempt to attach the ban to regulatory relief legislation last month.
Critics said banking groups, after stinging legislative defeats this year, are exaggerating the threat as a way to score an easy triumph.
"If you don't gin up the membership before the nonevent, then you can't claim victory," a banking lobbyist said. "I think it is a P.R. thing."
ABA officials warned that lawmakers might seize on a surcharge prohibition to get votes this fall. Longtime observers recalled how Sen. D'Amato surprised the industry in late 1991 by winning a cap on credit card interest rates. (It was defeated in the House later.)
"It is not as unlikely as one might expect," said Beth L. Climo, an ABA lobbyist. "You've got to take every step possible to make sure it doesn't happen."