Financial Sector Lacking Leaders

Posted October 5, 2007 at 6:21pm

At a time when Congress has the financial services sector under its thumb — with proposed tax increases and probes into lending and credit card practices — three of the industry’s most prominent lobbying associations are scouting for leaders.

And lobbyists and Hill staffers from both parties say they are watching with keen interest to see whether all three slots are filled by Democrats.

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the Financial Services Forum and the Managed Funds Association each are looking for someone to run the organizations and to fend off unwanted attention from Capitol Hill.

Lobbyists and financial services executives say the flux at the top of these organizations comes at a particularly important time for the industry.

“All three of those are really important organizations and those are important roles to fill,” said former Rep. Steve Bartlett (R-Texas), the longtime chief executive of yet another financial services group, the Financial Services Roundtable, which also represents CEOs of major financial institutions. “The leadership can make a very significant difference on the U.S. economy and the financial markets,” said Bartlett, who added that he plans on staying put.

SIFMA, which appears farthest along in the hunt for a top executive, has retained the search firm Spencer Stuart to find a replacement for Marc Lackritz, who will retire by year’s end. Even though Lackritz is a Democrat, lobbyists say the group still is working to overcome a Republican image it cultivated during the GOP’s rule of Congress.

Several sources said SIFMA wants to appoint its new leader by the group’s November meeting. But one well-placed source said that may be wishful thinking. “They’re still actively looking,” this source said. “They’re still reaching out to people, in the early stages.”

Of the three groups, SIFMA spends the most money on lobbying — $2.6 million for the first six months of this year.

Several sources said an array of names have come up for all three jobs, including former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, although some Financial Services Forum members already have dismissed Card as overly Republican for the current political environment.

Industry lobbyists say all three jobs are looking for someone with former-Member gravitas or impeccable Wall Street credentials. Democratic Securities and Exchange Commissioner Annette Nazareth has publicly dismissed the idea of becoming a lobbyist, but that doesn’t keep her name off the wish list.

Two GOPers on some lobbyists’ wish lists are Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), who seems more popular with Democrats than his own party, and former Rep. Rob Portman (Ohio), the former head of the Office of Management and Budget.

Former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), whose contract with Patton Boggs reportedly expires at year’s end, also is considered an ideal candidate.

Financial services executives and lobbyists say the turbulence at SIFMA is perhaps the most troubling. SIFMA, the combination of a merger between the Securities Industry Association and Bond Market Association, initially appointed co-leaders in Lackritz and Micah Green, who has since left the organization.

“You look back to the formation of this organization, the deal was supposed to create the premier trade association representing the totality of the financial services industry,” said one person familiar with the group.

In an e-mail, SIFMA spokesman Travis Larson wrote, “We are searching for someone who has deep industry/market experience as well as substantive knowledge and experience in the policy and regulatory process. The ideal candidate will bring a strong strategic sense of where the industry is going, as well as experience managing complex organizations and excellent leadership skills.”

The SIFMA search, according to two people familiar with the group, may end up with a name well-known on Wall Street but not on Capitol Hill.

Larson said Lackritz plans to teach and write a book about meeting and falling in love with his wife and working for Congress on the Watergate affair.

The Managed Funds Association, which represents the embattled hedge fund community, has maintained a low profile since its inception in the early 1990s. Longtime MFA President John Gaine, a Democrat, said he is not leaving the organization but declined to comment further. Two sources familiar with MFA said that even though Gaine has no plans of leaving the group, MFA is looking for someone to run the place day-to-day, though the title and job description have not yet been determined.

A spokeswoman for MFA said the association plans to build its infrastructure and to grow larger, but had no more details. Hedge funds are under particular attack from Congressional Democrats who have proposed changing the tax rates on the profits these companies turn on investments.

The Managed Funds Association retains lobbyists from Patton Boggs, Williams & Jensen, the Nickles Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers, according to lobbying disclosures. It spent $300,000 on lobbying last year.

The Financial Services Forum’s chief executive, Don Evans, the former Commerce secretary and longtime friend of President Bush, has said he plans to return to Texas full-time in the coming months. Since Evans’ departure is not imminent, the group has not yet launched a formal search.

The forum, whose president is former Bush Treasury official Rob Nichols, is a Republican-dominated organization and lobbyists say it would be a smart move to hire a Democrat at the top. But GOP lobbyists point out that it would have to be a high-profile Democrat who also supports free trade.

Evans, who commutes from Texas, comes to the forum’s Washington, D.C., office only about once a month, and even less recently, according to the group’s spokesman, Taylor Griffin.

The forum, Griffin said, is composed of CEOs of 20 of the largest banks and financial institutions and focuses on big-picture policy issues such as free trade and open markets, especially with China. The forum CEOs will be in town this week for a semi-annual meeting.

“There are a lot of trade associations, like the American Bankers Association, that are following every single detail of regulations,” Griffin said. “That means the Financial Services Forum does not need to be the organization that is dealing with those more in-the- weeds sorts of things. We instead focus on big, broad policy priorities.”

The forum in the first half of this year reported spending about $420,000 on lobbying and farmed out lobbying work to Bryan Cave, Elmendorf Strategies and Public Strategies.