Longtime insurance lobbyist Allen R. Caskie cruises the suburbs here in a 1966 Shelby Mustang with a license plate that reads "OLD TECH."
This classic car and its tag suit the new executive director of the Financial Services Coordinating Council's privacy project.
Mr. Caskie must crisscross the country to lobby state officials on behalf of the banks, insurance companies, and securities firms that are the council's constituency. And he will need some old-fashioned muscle to stop them from adopting more restrictions on how financial institutions use customer information.
"There is nothing subtle about them," he says of the powerful Shelbys, but he could easily be referring to industry efforts to combat privacy legislation.
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 requires financial institutions to disclose their privacy policies annually and to let customers block data transfers to unaffiliated third parties. It also bars sharing account numbers with third-party marketers. The industry grudgingly accepted those curbs, but the law also gives states the authority to enact tougher privacy protections.
Mr. Caskie is coordinating an alliance of financial services lobbyists in state capitals nationwide to try to avoid a patchwork of such state laws. Forty-six privacy bills are pending in 25 states, including major bills in California, Washington, Minnesota, and Massachusetts.
After years of lobbying for financial reform on Capitol Hill, he is adjusting to a new pace. Mr. Caskie today is winding up a three-day California trip to pitch the industry's view on privacy issues to news media editorial boards. He departed on this trip just days after returning from a trip to Austin, Tex. to meet with members of the Republican Attorneys General Association. And two weeks ago he testified at hearings held by New York lawmakers who are considering whether to introduce legislation.
"Frankly, after 20 years plugging away at the financial modernization bill, I'm looking forward to a new challenge in a different role," he said. "It's going to be a wild ride . Many state legislatures have relatively short sessions, and they move much more quickly. The fact that action can be ongoing in a number of states at the same time is energizing and frustrating."
His oft-repeated message to state officials and reporters, though, is simple: Gramm-Leach-Bliley's provisions - which do not take effect until November at the earliest - are comprehensive and should be given time to work. He will also try to drive home the point that responsible information sharing can bring people substantial benefits.
A native of the Washington, D.C., area, the 52-year-old Mr. Caskie has lobbying in his blood.
His grandfather, a Virginian named Marion, came to Washington to be chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In anticipation of a high demand for aluminum at the start of World War II, the government invited the formation of Reynolds Metals Co. with the promise of lucrative government contracts, and FDR loaned Marion Caskie to run its Washington office. Mr. Caskie's late father, Maxwell, later inherited the job.
Though Mr. Caskie loves old cars - in his office he regularly reads HotRod and KitRider magazines - he says, "Reynolds Metals didn't have the same attraction for me as it did for my grandfather."
He instead chose regulatory law. He attended Washington and Lee University, graduated from Emory Law School in 1972, and began his career as a trial lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission. He also worked for Sens. John Sparkman, D-Ala., Lister Hill, D-Ala., and John McClellan, D-Ark.
Mr. Caskie joined the American Council of Life Insurers in 1977. His experience with financial deregulation, antitrust, and federal and state regulatory issues served him well in what would be his central focus for two decades: an overhaul of the financial services industry that finally became law as Gramm-Leach-Bliley last year.
With privacy and other similar fights ahead, the factions within the financial services industry have banded together. The coordinating council was formed last summer by the American Bankers Association, the American Insurance Association, the Investment Company Institute, the Securities Industry Association, and the ACLI. Mr. Caskie in January took a leave of absence as the ACLI's chief counsel for federal relations in order to lead the council's first major initiative, the privacy project.
Mr. Caskie was the perfect choice, said Edward L. Yingling, the ABA's chief lobbyist. "Allen is very knowledgeable about the issues. He knows all the players who are involved in the private sector, and that is important because this is an unprecedented, inter-industry effort."
Mr. Yingling and Mr. Caskie have teamed up before. They attended the same high school and even played on the same football squad. Later, as a banking lobbyist, Mr. Yingling battled to expand insurance powers for banks and bumped heads with the insurance industry, but the rival groups eventually cooperated to get Gramm-Leach-Bliley enacted and used this alliance as the basis for the coordinating council.
"While he is well-spoken and articulate," said Indiana University law professor Fred Cate, "he is also even-tempered and a good consensus builder, which is essential in any group that is a consortium of industries." Mr. Cate recently presented a paper with Mr. Caskie on the benefits of information sharing.
Ms. Robitaille is a freelance writer in Boston.