For this town's community of financial industry lobbyists, January was one long meet and greet.

It's not just that the freshman class is so big - though the task of getting to know 86 new legislators would tax anybody's stamina. It's also a question of coming to grips with the changing of the guard.

Chairmen who have ruled committees for years are suddenly powerless, and in their places are men and women whom almost nobody had bothered with before.

Everyone has a different way of coping.

The Mortgage Bankers Association has been taking the "one-a-day" approach, targeting specific members and trying to visit one every morning.

At the other extreme, the American Bankers Association tried to kill 15 birds with one stone. For the latest meeting of the ABA's legislative liaison advisory committee (LLAC, pronounced "lilac"), the ABA invited all of the fledgling banking committee members for a breakfast at the Capitol Hill Club.

"It was a herd meet-and-greet," said one lobbyist who attended the breakfast. "We shook hands, exchanged cards, all that. It helped to put the names with the faces."

Taking a different approach, Lamar Smith, vice president of government relations in Visa USA's Washington shop, managed to change the classic lobbyist's lunch into something more akin to a family outing. Mr. Smith has been ferrying crucial congressional staff members out to Visa's "Supercenter."

Mr. Smith said that he is not allowed to reveal the center's exact location for the record, but that it is "in the Washington metropolitan area."

He described it as the nerve center of the corporation's telecommunications and automated clearinghouse network, with oodles of computers and satellite link-ups - the kind of place, in short, that Visa would just as soon terrorists not find out about.

But the trip from the Hill to Visa's tech mecca satisfies more than staffers' appetites for modern gadgetry, which Mr. Smith says keep them "absolutely fascinated."

"I bring Cokes in a cooler, and sometimes even sandwiches, for the car ride out there, so I guess it qualifies as a field trip," Mr. Smith said.


Legislation aimed at limiting class actions against securities firms has been very, very good to members of the Senate Banking Committee.

According tothe Center for Responsive Politics, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., received more than $80,000 during the last Congress from securities groups and accounting firms interested in the bill.

His receipts are second only to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., who received over $106,000.

All told, the securities and accounting groups contributed $478,780 to the Senate Banking Committee, spreading the cash pretty evenly between Republicans and Democrats. The trial lawyers gave $195,700, most of it to Democrats - many of whom went on to lose their seats.

Bank lobbyists view this issue as one certain to raise hackles this year.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich "cares a lot about litigation reform," said one bank lobbyist. "But trial lawyers are a ferocious group of people, and they are not going to give up easily on this."

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