"Utterly without merit" is how Visa lobbyist Lamar Smith characterized an Aug. 13 article in The Wall Street Journal that described the credit card giant as a pip-squeak in Washington.

Mr. Smith said the newspaper was fed "misinformation" by an "uninformed" executive at a large money-center bank. "The Wall Street Journal talked to the wrong person," he said. "Most in the industry are well aware of our lobbying efforts."

According to the newspaper, Visa's lackluster lobbying bears much of the blame for a federal excise tax on frequent-flier miles and a failure to get pro-industry initiatives written into proposed changes to bankruptcy law.

Visa's "tiny" Washington government relations shop-one lobbyist and one public affairs person-was cited as a major reason for the company's ineffectiveness. But Mr. Smith dismissed the argument, pointing out that the company has retained Smith-Free Group, a powerhouse firm headed by former Comptroller of the Currency James C. Free, to lobby on bankruptcy changes. Visa also hired Edward Gillespie of Policy Impact Communications, another big firm, to lobby on the frequent-flier tax.

Visa spokesman Kelly Presta said the company does plan to add "one or two" lobbyists to its Washington staff and is interviewing candidates. However, Visa's member banks are happy with the current lobbying team, he said. "Lamar runs a lean shop, but he also employs the most capable team of outside lobbyists," Mr. Presta said.

Three days after trading verbal blows, two trade groups put on a happy face and pretended the whole mess never happened.

On Aug. 14 the American Bankers Association and the Financial Institutions Insurance Association announced they would team to bring more attention to state laws expanding bank insurance powers.

But only days earlier the groups had swapped barbs over negotiations with the House Commerce Committee on insurance provisions in financial reform legislation.

In an Aug. 11 press release the insurance group's chairman, Richard D. Starr, charged that an ABA document distributed to Commerce Committee staffers describing various state laws was riddled with "blatant misstatements ... that squander bankers' opportunities" to educate lawmakers and their staffs.

The next day ABA announced it would set up an affiliate to lobby on insurance matters-a possible competitor to the insurance group. Quizzed on Mr. Starr's complaints, ABA chief lobbyist Edward L. Yingling characterized them as "sour grapes from a fringe trade group."

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