Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are frantically jockeying for favorable positions as Congressional hearings loom over their privileged status as federally chartered corporations.
Washington insiders say the agencies will need a sympathetic audience on June 12, when a House Banking subcommittee is to debate two government reports on the merits of cutting the federal government's ties with the housing finance titans.
Among the efforts by Fannie and Freddie are large pledges - now $40,000 and $50,000 respectively - for a key Republican fund-raising dinner on June 10. The original pledges were increased, apparently at the request of Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse D'Amato, who heads the fund- raising efforts for Republican senatorial candidates.
Fannie and Freddie also have been intensively lobbying key Treasury officials to get the department to modify the hard line it was expected to take in its overdue report on privatization. The report is not likely to be ready in time for the Wednesday hearing.
Though the congressional hearing is not expected to yield immediate curbs on the federal benefits, it will be a forum for critics of the status quo. Among them: Congressional Budget Office Director June O'Neill, whose agency has written a strong critique of the current arrangements.
The pledges by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are for a dinner sponsored by the Republican House and Senate Dinner Committee, according to an internal committee list. The annual event raises money for House and Senate races nationwide.
Much of the attention in the June 12 hearing will center on the Congressional Budget Office's critical report. In its report, the agency targeted high profits at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - formally the Federal National Mortgage Association and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. It estimated that the secondary-market agencies received Federal benefits worth $6.5 billion in 1995, but directed only two-thirds to American homebuyers.
Chief among the federal benefits, the budget office said, is the implicit backing by the federal government of debt issued by Fannie and Freddie. The backing allows the mortgage agencies to borrow cheaply - they pay just a little more than the federal government. In turn, the cheap debt enables the agencies to earn high returns on their mortgage portfolios. It also reduces mortgage rates for homeowners with mortgages up to $207,000, but the budget office report contends the benefit to the public is insufficient.
Even with change unlikely in this election year, critics and supporters of Fannie and Freddie agree that the new crop of government reports is important, because the reports may ultimately fuel efforts to dismantle or limit the privileges the agencies enjoy over purely private competitors.
Meanwhile, the Treasury Department, which was also to have issued its report in time for the June 12 hearing, denied reports that it was holding up its study in response to pressure from Fannie Mae.
John D. Hawke, under secretary for domestic finance, said the reports of pressure were "absolute nonsense."
"Fannie and Freddie have not forced Treasury to do anything," Mr. Hawke said.
But Washington is rife with rumor that in weekend meetings shortly before the scheduled May 15 release of the Treasury report, Fannie and Freddie convinced Deputy Secretary Lawrence Summers to beat a retreat, and that a more friendly draft was now being prepared.
Word is that the report is being handled by Joshua Gotbaum, assistant secretary for economic policy. Mr. Gotbaum, like departing Fannie Mae vice chairman Franklin Raines, is a former Lazard Freres investment banker. Mr. Raines has been nominated to head the Office of Management and Budget.
Mr. Hawke said Mr. Gotbaum had worked on the report for several months, and insisted that prime responsibility for the report continues to rest with him, Mr. Hawke, and the under secretary's deputy, Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions Richard Carnell.
While the effects of the maneuverings at the Treasury Department remain unclear, the specifics of Fannie's and Freddie's recent donations to the Republican Party provide a glimpse of the network of relationships through which influence is exercised in Washington.
According to the Republican House and Senate Dinner Committee list, Fannie Mae first promised $20,000 in response to a request from Robert Bannister, formerly a lobbyist at the National Association of Home Builders. Mr. Bannister was fired earlier this year by the trade group in a flap over mailings opposing the flat tax that were financed by Fannie Mae and other real estate trade groups and sent to Republican primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. The ads angered House Majority Leader Dick Armey, an ardent advocate of the flat tax - paving the way for Mr. Bannister's removal.
Freddie Mac promised $40,000 in response to Mr. Bannister's solicitation on behalf of the dinner's organizers.
From the list, it appears that each agency was subsequently contacted by Sen. D'Amato's office. Freddie pledged $10,000 more, and Fannie another $20,000.
The money raised at the June 10 dinner cannot be earmarked by donors for specific races, even when the contributions are solicited by specific senators or House members.
Barbara A. Rehm contributed to this report.