In the latest sign that it is deadly serious about getting an interstate bankin bill this year, NationsBank Corp. withdrew its promise of a contribution to an Alabama congressman who is not toeing the company's line.
NationsBank's campagn-finance arm took the action against Rep. Ben Erdreich after he signed a letter urging colleagues to delay consideration of interstate branching until next year.
Aides to the Alabama Democrat, a House banking Committee member who has generally supported the industry, declined to discuss the flap. NationsBank officers with responsibility for government relations and campaign finance could not be reached for comment.
$2,000 Contribution Withheld
But a number of Capitol Hill and industry sources familiar with the situation confirmed that NationsBank had withdrawn a promised $2,000 contribution before the June 2 Alabama primary.
The incidents shows how fervently the Charlotte-based company is pursuing an interstate branching law. It is priority of NationsBank Chairman Hugh L. McColl, who has sent letters threatening to withdraw from trade associations that do not support an interstate law.
Sources say NationsBank's, political action committee is making decisions on compaign contributions almost exclusively on the basis of a lawmaker's position on interstate branching.
While it is not unusual for industry-sponsored political action committees, or PACs, to use key votes in evaluating which candidates to support, the NationBank decision was unexpected because Rep. Erdreich has supported interstate brancing in principle. A "Dear Colleague" letter he had signed with six other members of the banking committee did not oppose interstate legislation.
Timing Called Wrong
The letter crossed Nations-Bank because it said that the timing was wrong for the "deal" being engineered by a coalition of insurance and bank interests, including NationsBank.
The letter expressed in view held by many in the banking industry that efforts to force a vote on an interstate bill this year could poison the atmosphere for consideration of comprehensive bank reform for years to come.
Observers also noted that Rep. Erdneich is part of a rapidly disappearing coalition of moderate banking committee Democrats who often vote with the panel's Republican minority in support of positions the industry favors. If reelected, Rep. Erdreich will likely be a key industry ally next year.
He faces a tough reelection campaign in November because of redistricting. His new District is considered Republican-leaning.
Turnover in Memebership
Rep. Doug Barnard, D-Ga., Rep. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., and Rep. Carroll Hubbard - all senior members of the moderate Democratic bloc - either have decided to leave the House or suffered primary defeats.
The litmust-test treatment of Rep. Erdreich could color the way lawmakers view NationsBank.
"If it's true, it's going to hurt their cause a lot more than it's going to help," said Courtney Ward, a banking aide to Rep. Charles E. Echemer, D-N.Y., the principal sponsor of the "Dear Colleague" letter Rep. Erdreich signed.
"It looks petty, and people up here just don't like pettiness," said another senior congressional aide familiar with the incident.
The letter was date June 2, although it began circulating in draft form at least a week before that. With the Alabama primary being held on June 2, donations before that date would clearly count against the primary limit.
Political action committees, which are the principal vehicle for corporate campaign donations can give up to $5,000 in the primary season and another $5,000 for the general election.
NationasBank's PAC grew substantially this year following the consolidation of the campaign funds of acquisitions, including C&S/Sovran Corp, NationalBank pool of $949,527, NationsBank is second-largest on the corporate PAC list, according to the Federal Election Commissioin.
As of the end of April, the NationsBank PAC had given money to 33 of the 52 House Banking Committee members.
Although NationsBank's strategy is more extreme than that of other banking groups, it is conceptually similar.
Most bank groups try to direct their contributions to lawmakers who are generally supportive of industry positoins. Exceptions are frequently made for key players, including committee chairma, and members of the House leadership or key panels, to whom lobbyist want to ensure continued access.
At one extreme, the American Bankers Association tends to spread contributions around widely among incumbents, on the theory that it is forced to deal with a wide number of issues each year.
Exceptions Are Noted
But lobbyist Stephen Verdier said his Independent Bankers Association of America bases contributions on two main positions: opposition to interstate branching, and maintenance of existing levels of deposit insurance.
Still, Mr. Verdier said, there are exceptions.
"Interstate is very important to us," he said. "But it's not a big issue in California and we have to take that into account. We can't ask [a member of Congress] to take a vote that is not in a constitutent's interest. You just alienate members that way."
Rep. Stephen L. Neal, a Democraft from NationsBank's home state of ardent supported of interstate branching as well as industry restructuring, which the IBAA also opposes.
"But he's been with us on deposit insurance and generally understands community banks," Mr. Verdier added. "So it's just not practical for us to oppose Neal."