Banks Bulk Up

Posted November 7, 2003 at 5:46pm

Since Congress began scrutinizing quasi-governmental entities earlier this year, much has been said about the well-oiled lobbying and public relations machine run by mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Meanwhile, another group of federally chartered companies has ramped up its own lobbying operations to guard against excess new federal regulations. [IMGCAP(1)]

In the last year, the nation’s dozen Federal Home Loan Banks have boosted their budgets in Washington, hired new K Street firms and even sponsored out-of-town seminars for key Congressional aides.

At issue is a decision this summer by House Financial Services Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) and Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) to take a look at these banks as part of their review of proposed new regulations for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Both Republicans are working on proposals to revamp the way the govern- ment regulates all federally chartered corporations, called government-sponsored enterprises.

So far this year, the 12 banks in the Federal Home Loan Bank system — which loan money to regular banks and thrifts — have hired a half-dozen new lobbying shops, including Piper Rudnick; Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock; O’Connor & Hannan; Bergner Bockorny Castagnetti Hawkins & Brain; and the Federalist Group.

The banks also have increased their reliance on the law firm Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson.

Newly released lobbying records show that all 12 Federal Home Loan Banks pay the firm $40,000 every six months for a total of nearly $1 million a year.

At the beginning of 2002, only five of the banks had the firm on the payroll.

Meanwhile, the industry’s trade association, the Council of Federal Home Loan Banks, has hired a few new lobbyists, including Phillip Bechtel, a former staffer on the Senate Banking panel.

John von Seggern, the president of the trade group, said the association has not increased its budget and has no plans to try to match the public relations effort of Fannie and Freddie.

Still, he acknowledged that the Federal Home Loan Banks are keeping a close eye on Washington.

“The fact is that in any type of business, you have business risk and policy risk,” von Seggern said. “We have more issues going on than we regularly do.”

In order to manage their political risk, the banks have turned to some well-worn strategies in Washington.

At the end of the August recess, for example, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston paid thousands of dollars for key Congressional staffers to travel to Boston for a two-day workshop on issues affecting the industry.

The seminar, which included four Oxley aides, covered topics such as “Introduction to Federal Home Loan Bank System” and “Benefits of Federal Home Loan Bank Membership.”

According to forms filed with the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, the trip included a dinner with representatives of the Federal Home Loan Banking System and a discussion of regulatory and legislative topics affecting the industry.

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston shelled out about $1,000 per staffer to pay for the trip, according to the forms.

Conflict-of-Interest Allegations Against Stevens Debunked. A watchdog group alleging unethical lobbying ties between Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and the Boeing Co. apparently didn’t do all its homework before filing a complaint last month with the Senate Ethics Committee.

“Recent public reports indicate that you have taken credit for personally inserting language authorizing the Boeing lease deal into the defense appropriations bill — after the bill had passed the House and Senate — during closed negotiations between the conferees,” the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington charged in a letter to Stevens late last month.

In addition to lashing out at campaign contributions Stevens received from Boeing employees, CREW’s complaint was partially based on a recent — but inaccurate — report in The Washington Post saying that Stevens had inserted a so-called “virgin birth” provision after the House and Senate passed a Defense appropriations measure in 2001.

In fact, Stevens inserted the language before the Appropriations panel approved it. The Senate, after debating the provision on the floor, approved the measure by voice vote. The Post clarified the error on Nov. 4.

In their attacks on Stevens, CREW also cited the Senator’s wife’s alleged Boeing lobbying activities. But lobbying disclosure documents show that his wife, Catherine, has never lobbied for Boeing, and her firm — Mayer Brown, Rowe & Maw — hasn’t been involved with the aerospace giant for three years.

According to documents, the firm has not reported financial activity tied to Boeing since 2000, when the firm and the aerospace giant were both part of a lobbying coalition on unrelated legislation.

An official at the firm confirmed that Catherine Stevens joined the shop in February 2001, after the lobbying coalition with Boeing ceased activity. However, the firm still files semiannual reports because of intricacies in the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.

Like other Senate spouses who are lobbyists, Stevens’ wife “doesn’t lobby this office,” said Courtney Schikora, a spokeswoman for the Senator.

Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, said she apologizes if there are mistakes in their charges, “but it doesn’t change my position” about Boeing campaign contributions to Stevens.

“People think everyone in Washington is for sale because it looks like it,” she charged, adding that she doesn’t have much confidence in the Ethics panel taking decisive action on the Stevens complaint.

SBC Adds Wattage. SBC Communications has hired former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) to lobby on behalf of the telecommunications giant on Capitol Hill.

Watts will help the company as it works to strip a host of regulations on the local phone industry. He retired from Congress at the end of last year and is currently subject to a one-year ban on lobbying his former colleagues.

Federalist Group’s New Clients. The Federalist Group continues to appeal to major corporations with his close ties to the Republican leaders in the House and Senate.

Most recently, the all-GOP lobbying shop signed up to work on telecommunications issues for SBC Communications, mutual fund and retiree health issues for Fidelity Investments, electricity grid issues for Hawkeye Systems, banking issues for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle and intellectual property rights for Sony.

United Rentals Retains Firms. United Rentals, the nation’s largest tool-rental company, has hired Todd Boulanger of Greenberg Traurig and Jim Hirni of Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal to help them with their federal contracting and lobbying work.

The company says the government can save money by renting — rather than purchasing — heavy construction equipment for major infrastructure projects.

Greenberg Traurig also signed up Orlando’s Rohwedder Inc.

San Diego Heads to D.C. The city of San Diego has hired top appropriations shop Patton Boggs to help the firm get some key projects from this year’s spending bills, according to lobbying disclosure forms on PoliticalMoneyLine.com.

Meanwhile, the firm also signed up to lobby for the Financial Services Roundtable on postal reform legislation.

Larson Dodd Lands Clients. The lobbying shop of Larson Dodd has been hired by several new clients, including drug maker Wyeth to work on Medicare issues, EPI Pharmaceuticals for tax legislation and the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities for appropriations work.