Top (Smoking) Gun
Tobacco company consultant J. Howard Beales 3d, the Bush administration's reported choice to head the consumer protection division of the Federal Trade Commission, has consumer activists "queasy" and "apprehensive," given his record as a critic of government red tape and his defense of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s use of the "Joe Camel" cartoon figure for marketing.
But financial services executives are hoping Mr. Beales, who worked in the consumer protection agency under former President Reagan, might tone down the FTC's pursuit of predatory lenders.
In March, the FTC sued Associates First Capital Corp. of Irving, Tex., alleging "systematic and widespread abusive lending practices." The agency charged that Associates - a subprime lending subsidiary of Citigroup Inc., which also was named as a defendant - had violated the FTC Act through deceptive marketing practices that induced people to refinance debt into home loans with high interest rates, fees, and credit life insurance costs.
A veteran industry executive said he doubted the Republican appointees could do much to slow or stop the Associates lawsuit, now that the Justice Department has filed it, but he predicted a less rigorous pursuit of lenders by the FTC. "I think the Associates case has a life of its own now," he said. "But going forward, predatory lending enforcement may be less important."
LaFalce Picks Aide
Rep. John J. LaFalce of New York, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, has tapped former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse D'Amato's staff director, Howard Menell, to be his "jack of all trades."
Mr. Menell said Friday that he "will help Congressman LaFalce and the Democrats set an agenda for the broader jurisdiction they just acquired" when the former House Banking Committee was given jurisdiction over securities and insurance issues.
After Sen. D'Amato, a New York Republican, was defeated in 1998 by Charles E. Schumer, Mr. Menell went to work as a lawyer in the Department of Housing and Urban Development's office of multifamily housing assistance restructuring.
Originally a securities lawyer, Mr. Menell began his congressional career in the 1970s as an aide to former Senate Banking Chairman William Proxmire, D-Wis.
Gary Gensler threw a welcome party last week for Peter Fisher, introducing the Treasury's new under secretary for domestic finance to dozens of Washington's leading bank policy thinkers.
Mr. Gensler held the same post in the Clinton administration and said a former Reagan-era Treasury official, Tom Healey, threw a similar party for him. "It's a nice tradition," Mr. Gensler said.
Held Thursday in Mr. Gensler's home in Chevy Chase, Md., the cocktail buffet drew lawmakers such as Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Tex., regulators such as Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Roger Ferguson, former regulators such as former Comptroller of the Currency Gene Ludwig, and soon-to-be regulators such as Harvey Pitt, President Bush's pick to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.
No doubt honored by the impressive turnout, Mr. Fisher had to wish one other politico had shown.
If Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., had been there, maybe the former New York Fed official could have persuaded the North Carolina Republican to let his Senate confirmation proceed. Sen. Helms has delayed confirmation of Mr. Fisher and several other Treasury appointees to win a debate with the White House over textile trade. Though frustrated, Mr. Fisher was good-humored about his role as a political pawn, joking with guests about the definition of "wholly formed fabric" - the snag the senator is insisting be ironed out.
A BIT Surprising
It wasn't quite Superman joining forces with arch-nemesis Lex Luthor, but more than a few eyebrows were raised last week when a credit union group made a pact with a major banking trade organization to focus on emerging electronic financial services issues.
The Credit Union National Association joined BITS - the technology group of the Financial Services Roundtable - which includes members such as Bank of America Corp., State Farm Mutual Insurance Cos., and First Union Corp.
It was a surprise because credit unions and banks are not known for their ability to play nicely and share well with each other.