Without a fistful of campaign donations or a high-powered trade group behind him, small-businessman David W. Akers nearly brought the House Banking Committee to its knees over the privacy issue this month.
Angered that Bank of America did not need his permission to share credit card account and application data with affiliates, Mr. Akers sent the bank a scathing letter and forwarded copies to his congressmen.
Based on the Seattle resident's letter, Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., proposed an amendment March 10 to the financial reform bill that would have let customers stop their banks from disclosing information on their accounts. The proposal sparked a tense debate and led to an alternative that would require insurance company affiliates to keep medical information confidential. Banks would also have to disclose privacy policies including how customer data will be used.
Mr. Akers wrote a Bank of America post office box after being notified his information might be shared with affiliates and given a chance to opt out.
"Dear sir, you may not share outside information regarding the above account," Mr. Akers wrote. "It is incredible that I have to write a letter telling you that you may not share information about my private financial and consumption patterns. It is even more outrageous that a bunch of sleazy marketeers can buy off federal legislators to allow such disgraceful practices. You all should be ashamed of yourselves."
Mr. Akers described the committee's action as better than the status quo, but he said banks should have to get prior consent before disclosing his information despite the cost to them. "The bottom line is I don't like being bought and sold in the marketplace," he said.
The American Bankers Association is endorsing the financial reform bill promoted by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm.
In letters sent over the past week, R. Scott Jones, the ABA's president, urged senators to adopt the legislation quickly and defended its controversial community reinvestment provisions. The Gramm bill would shield from protest any merging banks with "satisfactory" or better Community Reinvestment Act ratings for three consecutive years. Mr. Jones noted that community groups still could file a protest based on "substantial" new information since a bank's latest CRA exam.
"There are examples of institutions which have worked hard to achieve an outstanding rating, only to see an application for an acquisition held up because of a protest by third parties," wrote Mr. Jones, who is also chairman and chief executive of Goodhue County National Bank in Red Wing, Minn. "The delays and legal fees in some of these protests are substantial."
Exempting small, rural banks and thrifts from the CRA would exclude less than 3% of industry assets while freeing institutions that already serve their communities from costly red tape, he said. The exemption would "help provide the ability for these institutions to compete and will help provide balance to the overall legislation."
The ABA still wants the Senate to ban commercial companies from buying unitary thrifts. The group will not officially weigh in on the House Banking bill until the Commerce Committee signals when and how it will change the legislation.
BankAmerica Corp. has rounded out its lobbying team since its Sept. 30 merger with NationsBank Corp. Mark Leggett directs the group from Charlotte, N.C. Rex Wackerlie is the top lobbyist in the Washington office, which has hired Jeanne-Marie Murphy, a lobbyist who has represented Beneficial Corp. and credit unions.
Meanwhile, the Credit Union National Association has hired Karen Ward to manage its political action committee and John Dimos as a Senate lobbyist.