House Speaker Newt Gingrich was none too pleased that American Bankers Association chief lobbyist Edward L. Yingling slammed the financial reform bill the day before it was released.
In a March 9 ABA memo, Mr. Yingling advised members to oppose the legislation because it "tilts strongly against banks and in favor of the securities and insurance industries."
He also instructed members to tell lawmakers that bankers "will be outraged" if financial reform and legislation affecting credit union membership are linked. Bankers should mention that they are "extremely upset" Rep. Gingrich decided to co-sponsor the bill easing credit union membership restrictions, he added.
Sources said Rep. Gingrich summoned Mr. Yingling to Capitol Hill and delivered a thorough tongue-lashing. Mr. Yingling confirmed that Rep. Gingrich and House Republican Conference Chairman John A. Boehner called him in for a meeting about the memo two days after its release. However, he denied that Rep. Gingrich yelled at him.
"All of the leadership-they were upset with the letter," Mr. Yingling admitted. "They told me right up front they wish it had not been sent."
The next day, the ABA issued a toned-down statement emphasizing the positive aspects of the bill.
Whether the run-in will hurt the banking industry's political leverage with Rep. Gingrich remains to be seen. But Mr. Yingling denied there would be any negative fallout. "It turned into a very, very positive meeting," he said. "You never like to upset the leadership. I think we have a solid working relationship."
Lobbying efforts intensified on all fronts last week after the financial reform bill was unveiled and the House Banking Committee held a hearing on the credit union controversy.
Banking groups are reaching out to old friends in Washington, such as White House Chief of Staff Erskine B. Bowles, a former investment banker in Charlotte, N.C.
Thad Woodard, president of the North Carolina Bankers Association, asked Mr. Bowles in a letter last week for the Clinton administration's help in preventing hasty legislation to reverse the Supreme Court ruling that occupation-based credit unions must share a single common bond.
"There is ample time to look into the broader issues of credit unions' special tax treatment and exemption from" the Community Reinvestment Act, wrote Mr. Woodard.
The thrift industry's main trade group does not make much in the way of political contributions and has not fared too well in the financial reform debate. Coincidence?
America's Community Bankers' political action committee raised $135,000 in hard money in 1997, up from $108,000 in 1996. Mike Crowley Jr., president of Mutual Savings Bank in Milwaukee and the group's PAC chairman, noted the ABA donated almost 10 times that in the last election cycle.
He scolded thrift executives attending the recent ACB government affairs conference because only 8% of ACB members contributed to the PAC last year. "We do need to be more competitive in this area," Mr. Crowley said. Without stronger fund-raising, "we don't have nearly as good of a chance to make ACB's case."
Maybe members are already starting to get religion. The group collected more than $25,000 from members at a March 2 reception, he said.
After 11 years as chief lobbyist for the National Association of Realtors, Stephen D. Driesler is leaving April 1 to become a consultant. The group's search for a successor is expected to take 60 to 90 days.