Visa U.S.A. and MasterCard International have hired the Smith-Free Group to lobby for new bankruptcy laws to prevent consumers from shirking their debts.

The lobbying firm, whose chairman is former Comptroller of the Currency James E. Smith, will press Congress to expedite court appeals and to limit the ability of debtors to shelter expensive homes and luxury assets from bankruptcy proceedings.

With consumer bankruptcy filings rising at alarming rates, the two credit card associations are pushing the judiciary committees to hold hearings soon.

Lawmakers had been expected to wait until at least October, when the National Bankruptcy Review Commission is due to release recommendations on revamping rules governing consumer and business debt. But Lamar Smith, Visa's director of government relations, said delay will hurt the industry.

"This is far too important for Congress to wait until next October," Mr. Smith said.

The two card associations reported losses of $8.5 billion last year due to bankruptcy filings, $2.5 billion of which they attributed to fraudulent claims.


Bank lobbyists, there's no need to call your senators-they'll probably be calling you. Seven Banking Committee members are up for reelection in 1998-some of them among the Senate's most aggressive fund-raisers and others among the most desperate for cash.

Three panel members, including Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato, rank among the senators with the biggest war chests, while two others are on the low end of the fund-raising scale.

Sen. D'Amato, already the Senate's No. 1 fund-raiser with $6.8 million on hand at yearend, figures to redouble his efforts in an attempt to turn around dismal poll numbers. Fellow panelist Richard Shelby, R-Ala., is a distant second at $2.9 million. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, the panel's second-ranking Democrat, is fourth on the fund-raising list, behind Sen. John Breaux, D-La.

Sen. Dodd, as general chairman of Democratic National Committee, has been busy the last two years raising cash for others. But he still managed to bring in $1.3 million for his own coffers.

Other committee members face a cash crunch. Sen. Robert Bennett, who largely financed his own 1992 campaign, had only $48,727 on hand as of December. And the Utah Republican's campaign still owed him $1.8 million.

Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., had only $24,464 on hand and $413,276 in debt.


Rep. Bill McCollum, the Banking Committee's vice chairman, last week ended weeks of speculation by announcing he would not run for the Senate seat held by Democrat Bob Graham. The Florida Republican, chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, said he wanted to focus instead on legislation to fight drugs and juvenile crime. . . . The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency plans to hire a deputy for Carolyn Z. McFarlane, director for congressional relations. Agency officials have not yet decided who will fill the newly created position. . . . Kate Coler last week joined the American Bankers Association's agricultural lobbying team. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ms. Coler previously was legislative director for Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa. She also served on the staff of Rep. Thomas Ewing, R-Ill.

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