Bankers Roundtable lobbyists Anthony T. Cluff and Alfred Pollard angered many members of the big-bank trade group last week by soft-pedaling its opposition to House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach's Glass- Steagall reform bill.

At the Roundtable's annual meeting in Phoenix April 13-14, most members made it clear they opposed Rep. Leach's bill because it would restrict bank insurance sales. Still, Mr. Pollard and Mr. Cluff danced around the ugly truth in an April 16 letter to the Iowa Republican by offering a bland commitment to "continue working" with him on insurance rules banks could accept.

Try again, Roundtable members told their lobbyists.

Instead of going back to Rep. Leach, two days later Mr. Cluff shot a strongly worded to letter to House Majority Leader Dick Armey. This time he blasted Rep. Leach's bill, calling it "a step backward for consumers and the ability of banks to meet customer needs." Mr. Cluff vowed that the Roundtable would oppose the bill if bank insurance sales weren't better protected.

While admitting Tuesday that some Roundtable members were frustrated by the mild tone of the first letter, Mr. Cluff said the forceful message to Rep. Armey was sent simply to make the Texas Republican aware that no compromise had yet been reached.

Sources said Rep. Leach was incensed that the more strongly worded letter had been sent behind his back. But Monday, he shrugged it off as an "overstated" attempt at "political positioning."

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Banks are big engines on the political gravy train.

Six bank political action committees ranked among the 50 largest corporate contributors to political campaigns in 1995, according to the Federal Election Commission. Leading the way was Banc One Corp., which handed out $508,975. The Columbus, Ohio-based company placed seventh in contributions among all corporate PACs.

NationsBank was second among banks with contributions of $321,528, followed by Barnett Banks Inc., $299,449; Chemical Banking Corp., $279,585; Chase Manhattan Corp., $211,557; and Citicorp, $209,993.

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The extension of the Senate Whitewater Committee is a hopeful sign for moving banking legislation, said industry lobbyists.

For starters, its chairman, Alfonse M. D'Amato, won't shift the investigation to the banking committee, which he also heads. In addition, the Whitewater committee will expire June 14, which leaves some time for Sen. D'Amato to change gears and get back to banking issues before Congress breaks for election campaigning in September.

Two big banking items still on Sen. D'Amato's agenda: getting his regulatory relief bill to a vote on the Senate floor and holding hearings on combining the bank and thrift charters.

"There was a sigh of relief that the committee will be getting back to business," said Paul A. Schosberg, president of America's Community Bankers, the thrift trade group.

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