K Street Files: Credit Unions Fly In Help for ‘Hike the Hill’

Posted June 8, 2010 at 6:04pm

Credit unions this week are continuing to press financial regulatory reform conferees to withdraw an interchange fee provision in the bill.

That’s despite Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) voicing his support for the amendment, sponsored by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), as recently as Monday night.

The Credit Union National Association is ramping up its last-minute push by flying 1,000 credit union activists into town for today’s National Hike the Hill lobby day. The in-person effort to remove the amendment follows an aggressive push over the past two weeks for CUNA’s members to contact Congress on the “swipe fee” issue. CUNA spokesman Pat Keefe said he expected the number of contacts — including e-mails, phone calls and face-to-face visits — to pass the quarter-million mark by Tuesday.

The National Association of Federal Credit Unions is also staying on the offensive. Its members are doing thousands of calls, e-mails and letters against the interchange fee amendment.

“We want the provision stricken as it’s a major change to our nation’s electronic payment system and has not been properly vetted by Congress, [it] didn’t have a hearing in the Senate, nor did it pass out of a House” committee, NAFCU lobbyist Dan Berger wrote in an e-mail.

The Durbin measure would allow the Federal Reserve to regulate the interchange fees that banks and card companies charge merchants to process credit and debit card transactions. It also would allow merchants to offer discounts to customers based on their payment method.

Reversal of Strategies

The National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association is beefing up its Washington, D.C., operation, adding two lobbying firms — Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and Golin Harris — to its roster. The reason: The reverse mortgage lending industry believes it is misunderstood on Capitol Hill.

“A lot of people involved in setting policy for [the industry] don’t really understand it,” NRMLA President Peter Bell said. “They have knee-jerk reactions to things that have occurred in other mortgage lending and extrapolate this might be similar to what happened in subprime, which is truly a mistaken notion.”

Reverse mortgages are offered to homeowners over age 61 and allow them to convert some of their home equity into cash without selling the property.

The association brought its members, including Bank of America, MetLife, Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank, to Washington for its 2010 policy conference this week to try to persuade lawmakers to appropriate $250 million in the Housing and Urban Development Department’s 2011 budget.

Without the funding, Bell said, the future of his industry is uncertain because larger banks may opt out of providing the financial tool to customers because the number of people who would qualify for the loans would be dramatically smaller without the federal funds.

Fundraiser Etiquette

Common decorum among protest groups in Washington, D.C., used to dictate that most private fundraisers were off-limits. But Congressional watchdog group Common Cause is changing that. It is planning a series of protests starting Thursday.

In light of the BP oil spill, the group, along with Public Campaign, is planning to protest outside a Capitol Hill fundraiser for Rep. Gregg Harper.

“Even when there’s a crisis, a Member can’t drop everything in Washington,” Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle said. “The idea is to highlight how much time Members of Congress and all of Washington spends to feed this campaign finance system.”

The Mississippi Republican’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. His district is not part of the Gulf Coast region that has been hit by the oil spill.

Still, Boyle said the group will hold signs, plans to videotape people going into the fundraiser and hopes to ask Harper whether he thinks he should be back in his state dealing with the crisis instead of fundraising in D.C.

Common Cause is advocating for Congress to address campaign finance reform. The group is pushing for public financing for Congressional campaigns, and it plans to stage similar demonstrations at other Members’ events.

K Street Moves

• The Personal Care Products Council has snapped up Thomas Myers of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s environment, technology and regulatory affairs division. Myers will join the council later this month as its associate general counsel.

Myers replaces Frances Wu, who, according to a press statement released by the PCPC, left to “pursue other interests.” In addition, the council has promoted Farah Ahmed to associate general counsel.

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