Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are under attack by big financial companies that see them as powerful potential competitors, have lined up support from a trade group of small lenders that depend on the government-sponsored enterprises for liquidity.
The Independent Community Bankers of America has joined the Homeownership Alliance, a pro-Fannie and Freddie coalition being organized by Richard H. Davis, the former national campaign manager for Sen. John McCain.
"We are very happy to lend our name," said Kenneth Guenther, executive vice president of ICBA. The ability to sell mortgages to Fannie and Freddie in the secondary market is "a very important function" for his organization's members, he said.
"What Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do for us ties in directly and immediately into meeting our liquidity needs," Mr. Guenther said.
Though the Homeownership Alliance bills itself as an organization focused on educating the public about general housing finance issues, it appears to be a response to FM Watch, a lobbying group formed last year to contain Fannie and Freddie in the secondary market.
FM Watch's board includes the chief executives of such financial-services powerhouses as Chase Manhattan Corp., PNC Financial Services Group Inc., GE Capital Corp., American International Group, and Wells Fargo & Co. Its members include the Consumer Bankers Association, a retail banking trade group, and the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents banks, securities firms, and insurance companies.
Fannie and Freddie are chartered by Congress to buy conventional mortgages from banks and other lenders. Because of the widespread perception that they would never be allowed to fail, these enterprises have been able to borrow at lower costs than most financial institutions.
FM Watch's main fear is that Fannie and Freddie will use the benefits of their implied government guarantee to compete unfairly in other financial services. The group points to the enterprises' recent forays into the home equity and subprime markets as instances of "charter creep."
Some fear that Fannie and Freddie one day will lend to consumers directly or through brokers, cutting out banks. But Mr. Guenther said he does not think his organization's members should feel threatened.
"Even if they had this intent -- and I don't think they do -- I don't think the political climate would support it," he said. "They're not a competitor. The members of FM Watch are direct competitors."
Washington sources said other Homeownership Alliance members include the American League of Financial Institutions, a trade group for minority-owned thrifts; the Enterprise Foundation, a housing and community development nonprofit group; the Local Initiatives Support Coalition, a neighborhood redevelopment organization; the National Association for Home Builders; the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, which represents minority real estate professionals; the National Bankers Association, composed of minority- and women-owned commercial banks; and the National Urban League.
Attempts to reach these organizations for comment were unsuccessful. A Fannie spokeswoman referred a reporter's call to Mr. Davis, who declined to comment. A Freddie Mac spokeswoman said the coalition is "something we're supportive of and would want to be a part of."