The insurance industry picked up a powerful ally last week for its battle to rein in the comptroller of the currency: the American Association of Retired Persons.
AARP lobbyist Kent Brunette said that revoking the comptroller's power to expand national bank insurance powers is a natural outgrowth of his group's push for functional regulation.
"Right now, state insurance commissioners - not bank regulators - have the expertise and knowledge to determine which insurance activities should be permitted in their states," Mr. Brunette said.
In a letter to House Banking Committee members, the AARP's director of federal affairs, Martin Corry, added that customers get confused when banks offer products not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
"Consumers are often unaware that a product purchased in a bank lobby is not FDIC insured," Mr. Corry said.
Mr. Corry also criticized provisions in the regulatory relief legislation currently before the House Banking Committee that would pare the Truth-in-Lending Act.
"This bill effectively declares open season for home equity scam artists who prey on older homeowners," Mr. Corry said.
Mr. Brunette added that his organization also supports legislation introduced by House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas J. Bliley, R-Va., that would allow state insurance regulators to restrict national bank insurance powers.
The National Association of Professional Insurance Agents lost one lobbyist but gained two others.
Kyra Lee Detmer, a former lobbyist with the agents, recently joined the ITT Hartford Insurance Group as its new federal affairs representative. Ms. Detmer will be focusing on banking legislation and the Superfund.
At about the same time Ms. Detmer left for ITT, Gretchen S. Purser and Jeffrey R. Keeler joined the Professional Insurance Agents as government affairs specialists. Both will work on banking legislation, and Ms. Purser will also run the association's political action committee.
"The PIA's view is primarily that we welcome banks into insurance," Ms. Purser said. "We just think that banks should have to follow the same rules as insurance agents."
Formerly, Ms. Purser worked at the National Republican Senatorial Committee as finance director and director of the political action committee for challengers.
Mr. Keeler was a lobbyist for the National Newspaper Association.
Mr. Keeler and Ms. Purser will work under the group's head lobbyist, Dean Sackett.
Clinton administration officials visited the American Bankers Association on Monday, and warned that any restriction on federally chartered bank insurance powers would cause "permanent damage to the national bank charter," according to one lobbyist who was there.
Treasury under secretary John D. Hawke, Senior Deputy Comptroller Konrad Alt, and assistant Treasury secretary Richard S. Carnell also showed up to lobby for a little industry support in its effort to defeat the regulatory relief bill pending before the House Banking Committee.
They also warned bank lobbyists that Banking Committee Democrats would be split on an amendment to be offered by Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., that would strike the moratorium on the comptroller contained in the legislation.
"Some of the Democrats would like to see the comptroller's moratorium remain in the bill to keep the banks turned against it," said a bank lobbyist.