Industry policy wonks will be listening carefully to the final presidential candidate debate tomorrow to hear if Texas Gov. George W. Bush will go 3-for-3 in sounding like a banking expert.

When he faced off with Vice President Gore in last week’s debate, Gov. Bush could have been mistaken for a regulator during an exchange on the merits of the International Monetary Fund. He cautioned bankers around the world to “evaluate risks themselves,” “make sure the return is good,” and not to make bad loans.

“The International Monetary Fund has got a role in the world,” Gov. Bush said, “but I don’t want to see the IMF out there as a way to say to world bankers, ‘If you make a bad loan, we’ll bail you out.’ It needs to be available for emergency situations. … I don’t think the IMF ought to be a stop-loss for people who ought to be able to evaluate risks themselves.”

In the first debate, bankers were all ears when moderator Jim Lehrer asked the candidates: “There could be a crisis in the financial area. … There could be a failure of a major financial institution. What is your general attitude toward government intervention in such events?”

Gov. Bush said he would do what all recent leaders seem to do: turn to everyone’s favorite central banker. “First and foremost,” he said, “I would get in touch with the Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to find out all the facts and all the circumstances.” Next, Gov. Bush said, he would draft his Treasury secretary to contact “financial centers” around the world, consult with key lawmakers, and “come up with a game plan to deal with it.”

Those curious as to what Mr. Gore would do will have to keep on wondering. The Vice President got sidetracked talking about fighting fires and floods in Texas. Then he talked about working with Mr. Greenspan and Citigroup executive and former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin on the financial crises in Mexico, Asia, and Europe.

He wrapped up without going anywhere near the question by saying that he cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to “put into place a new economic plan that has helped us to make some progress — 22 million new jobs and the greatest prosperity ever.”


Challengers attempting to oust House Banking Committee incumbents are finding that they need a lot of money — and a lot of time, particularly in the case of the Republican trying to upset Rep. John LaFalce, the top Democrat on the committee.Rep. LaFalce’s 34-year-old opponent, Brett Sommer, had to quit his evening job as a waiter at T.G.I. Friday’s because he needs extra time to try wrest control of the Buffalo seat Rep. LaFalce has held since 1974, the Buffalo News reported.

Mr. Sommers, who teaches history at a Catholic high school in the town of Tonawanda, N.Y., was waiting tables to make ends meet until he threw his hat into the ring in June.

It appears, though, that he could still use the extra tips. By the end of the summer Mr. Sommers had raised $6,909 for his campaign, while Rep. LaFalce had brought in $538,250.

Mr. Sommers took a shot at Rep. LaFalce’s ties to the banking industry when he announced his candidacy in July. “We have a congressman who sits on the Banking Committee and exists to take campaign contributions from the banks,” Mr. Sommers was quoted by the Buffalo News as saying.

Other top House Banking members also outpaced their challengers in fund-raising. House Banking Chairman Jim Leach had raised $292,857 as of June 30. His opponent, Democrat Bob Simpson, had taken in $17,591.

Rep. Marge Roukema of New Jersey, who hopes to become the next Banking Committee chairwoman if Republicans control the House next year, had raised $773,313 by the end of June and spent $742,617 in a grueling primary fight. Her Democratic challenger, Linda Mercurio, had raised $20,665.

Rep. Roukema’s Republican opposition for committee chairmanship is Rep. Richard Baker of Louisiana, who does not have an opponent in the November election. Rep. Baker had $767,648 in his coffers.


Lobbyists be warned: House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach is in no mood for jokes.No, it’s not the session-ending crush of work that has wrecked the Iowa Republican’s sense of humor. It’s a slip in the shower that cracked several of his ribs.

“It hurts to laugh,” Rep. Leach said. “Last week it hurt to breathe.”


Maybe the bank regulators were right after all.Last week, SunTrust Banks Inc. announced that nonperforming assets increased by $100 million in the third quarter. Call it a cruel twist of fate, but that’s exactly the amount the Securities and Exchange Commission forced the Atlanta banking company to take out of loan-loss reserves and add back to earnings in 1998.

The SEC required SunTrust to restate 1994-1996 earnings before it approved the company’s acquisition of Crestar Financial Corp. The move was part of the agency’s broader crackdown on so-called “earnings management” — ploys that companies use, such as adding unnecessarily to loan-loss reserves, to smooth out their earnings.

Bank regulators were appalled, labeling the SEC’s decision a horrible signal to send to the rest of the industry — especially at a time when bank regulators are warning banks to prepare for an economic slowdown.


The funeral of Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., was held Friday in St. Paul. Many prominent politicians were expected to attend, including Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and between 30 and 50 members of Congress. The House was adjourned Friday so lawmakers could attend.Before leaving, lawmakers adopted legislation renaming the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Rep. Vento wrote the law, which was the first coordinated federal initiative directed toward helping the homeless.

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