Aiming to pump up its political muscle, Visa U.S.A. has hired a veteran lobbyist, Mark MacCarthy, whose roots are in Democratic politics.
Mr. MacCarthy, who joined the credit card association last week as senior vice president for public policy, will work alongside longtime Visa lobbyist Lamar Smith, who has strong ties to Republican lawmakers, according to Visa spokesman Kelly Presta.
Mr. MacCarthy had worked for the Wexler Group, a Washington government-affairs firm founded by Anne Wexler, a former aide to President Jimmy Carter. At the Wexler Group, he worked with Visa for four years, primarily on electronic commerce and privacy issues.
Visa is under extraordinary legal and political pressure. It will face off with the Department of Justice in an antitrust trial scheduled to begin next Monday in U.S. District Court in New York.
The government has accused Visa and MasterCard International of hampering competition in the credit card industry. On May 25, Visa defended itself before a Senate subcommittee hearing on the very issues raised in the antitrust case.
Visa has publicly accused American Express Co. and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. of using their influence to bring about the Senate hearing and the lawsuit.
Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, who called for the hearing, reportedly did so in part because American Express and Morgan Stanley are big employers in his state.
Amex chairman and CEO Harvey Golub and his counterpart at Morgan Stanley, Philip Purcell, spoke at the hearing and asked the panel to consider legislation to loosen what they called Visa's "monopolistic" hold on the card industry.
In an interview Mr. MacCarthy said his role at Visa will be to make sure the antitrust issue "is resolved in a court of law and not at the political level."
"Visa does want to beef up its Washington operation in general," he added, "but in particular, they do want to be a bit more aggressive in the area of the Department of Justice lawsuit in response to the efforts of Amex and others."
During the Carter administration, Mr. MacCarthy was an economist at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He has also been a staff member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where he handled communications policy and other issues for Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., at that time the committee's chairman.
Though the antitrust issue is on the front burner for Visa, Mr. MacCarthy said he will also focus on consumer privacy and electronic commerce legislation.
The card industry "should be cooperating in Washington," Mr. MacCarthy said. "Obviously in the DOJ case, that is not possible, but in the areas of electronic commerce and privacy we all have a lot in common."
Mr. MacCarthy reports to Paul Allen, executive vice president and general counsel, who is spearheading Visa's defense in the antitrust trial.
MasterCard said it is not hiring lobbyists. "We have a strong team there now," said spokesman David Ruth.