Attempting to quiet congressional criticism, Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig on Thursday defended his regular contact with bankers.
"Frequent discussions with bankers, bank customer groups, and others affected by bank regulation and supervision are critical to carrying out the OCC's responsibilities as effectively and efficiently as possible," Mr. Ludwig said in a Feb. 6 letter to Rep. Spencer Bachus, chairman of the House Banking Committee's investigations subcommittee.
The letter to the Alabama Republican accompanied a two-inch stack of documents laying out Mr. Ludwig's contact with bankers since May 13.
That's the date of a controversial meeting Mr. Ludwig attended at the White House Democratic party fund-raisers organized for 17 bankers.
Upset by the fact a regulator participated in a political meeting with the people he oversees, Rep. Bachus on Jan. 27 asked Mr. Ludwig for an explanation. Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, followed suit a couple days later.
Lawmakers received the documents late Thursday and had no comment on them at deadline. "Until we review the documents, we don't know what the next step will be," said David Runkel, a spokesman for House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach.
While he has refused to comment on the meeting, in his letter Mr. Ludwig reiterated that he was not aware party fund-raisers were at the meeting and would not have attended had he known they were there.
Mr. Ludwig said he did not know, and therefore could not recognize, Democratic National Committee chairman Donald L. Fowler or finance chairman Marvin S. Rosen.
"It is very important to me that there is no misunderstanding about my presence at the May 13 meeting," Mr. Ludwig wrote. "Even the appearance of political influence in the supervision of national banks should be scrupulously avoided."
The majority of the documents submitted Thursday are copies of letters and faxes sent by bankers, lawmakers, and banking trade group leaders.
For example, on May 13 Charles E. Rice, chairman and chief executive of Barnett Banks Inc., faxed Mr. Ludwig copies of letters he sent to a Roger L. Fitzsimonds, chairman of the Bankers Roundtable. In the letter Mr. Rice complained about Rep. Leach's pledge on May 8 to address concerns the insurance lobby had about financial modernization legislation.
But one document, a May 21 fax from Mr. Ludwig to Mr. Rice, shows an unidentified agency staffer suggested changes to a letter the Roundtable intended to send to Rep. Leach. In the margins, next to one Roundtable suggestion, the staffer scrawled, "Harmful! Too narrow."
The package also included Mr. Ludwig's recollection of the topics discussed at the one-hour meeting: Technology, the economy, legislation to rescue the thrift insurance fund, the Community Reinvestment Act, and education. Fund-raising was never mentioned, he said.
The documents also included 47 pages of hand-written logs kept by Mr. Ludwig's secretary of phone conversations between the comptroller and the bankers who attended the meeting.
In his letter to Rep. Bachus, Mr. Ludwig said these phone conversations "related to a variety of supervisory matters for individual banks, as well as a broad range of safety and soundness and banking policy issues."
The White House on Thursday blocked access to four memos Mr. Ludwig wrote for President Clinton and Treasury Department officials in preparation for the May 13 meeting.
While Reps. Bachus and Burton and their staffs may view the documents, the White House prevented the OCC from making copies of the four memos.
An OCC spokesman said the memos do not contain any controversial information.