group's lobbying power on financial reform has been undermined by its proposed merger with the American Bankers Association.

Within days of the merger announcement, ACB president Paul A. Schosberg wrote House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and other key lawmakers to insist his group will continue to fight for its priorities. Our public policy objectives, reflective of our members' needs and goals, are firmly in place, he wrote late last month. We will betray neither our principles nor our allies.

The ACB and ABA adamantly disagree on the ability of unitary thrifts to merge with commercial companies. ABA officials also said they have no plans to change their legislative strategies.

It's going to be odd, a House Banking Committee staffer said. The ABA in some sense is co-opting the ACB.... It will make it a lot harder for the ACB to say 'These goddamn banks' in arguing its positions.

But others on Capitol Hill said the proposed merger has not undercut thrift lobbyists so far. Both sides are continuing to lobby their positions, a Senate Banking Committee staffer said. I don't think it would have any consequence for the short term. Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley is using high-tech financial services in his effort to defeat Al Gore.

In response to an inquiry by Bill Bradley for President Inc., the Federal Election Commission issued an advisory opinion that campaign committees may obtain federal matching funds for debit and credit card contributions received over the Internet.

The FEC cleared the way earlier this summer with a rule that permits matches for debit and credit card payments up to $250 per contributor -- as with more traditional payment methods.

Previously, only checks or other written instruments were eligible for matching funds. But the FEC said it updated its regulations because credit card usage has expanded rapidly, electronic contributions are as secure as other payment methods with the proper safeguards, and the government wants to promote the growth of the Internet. Longtime American Insurance Association lobbyist David J. Pratt is leaving to run the financial services practice of the Columbus Group, an Arlington, Va.-based consulting firm. Fellow AIA lobbyist Stephen D. Johnson is joining him. The firm's Diane Helyne Zyats rounds out their team.

As a senior vice president, Mr. Pratt said he plans a major expansion of the firm's financial services clients, which already include Fannie Mae and the Financial Accounting Standards Board....

The Troutman Sanders law firm has hired longtime banking lobbyist Mary Clare Fitzgerald as its Washington director of public policy for finance and electronic commerce. She was previously government relations director for Hughes, Hubbard, & Reed law firm....

The Mortgage Bankers Association of America has promoted Eugene Swanzey as acting head of its legislative counsel office.

He succeeds Michael Ferrell, who plans to leave this week with membership chief Brian Chappelle to form a consulting firm serving mortgage lenders.

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