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Monday, July 18, 2011

Financial Services Roundtable

Our chapter on interest groups emphasizes that they spend far more on lobbying and related activities than on campaign finance, and that among these activities is targeted philanthropy. They also spend a lot of time persuading decisionmakers on the merits on policy. The Financial Services Roundtable: illustrates these points. The New York Times profiles its leader, former House member and Dallas mayor Steve Bartlett:
Though little known outside Washington and Wall Street, Mr. Bartlett has played a pivotal role with other lobbyists in their fierce and frenetic behind-the-scenes effort that has successfully delayed or watered down many of the major regulatory changes passed by Congress in the aftermath of the financial meltdown.

Wall Street has spared little expense, spending nearly $52 million to woo Washington in the first three months of the year, up 10 percent from the previous quarter, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Mr. Bartlett’s organization, the deep-pocketed Financial Services Roundtable, itself spent $2.5 million in that period, more than any organization focused primarily on the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul law, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.

In recent months, Mr. Bartlett’s team has gone into high gear, sending regulators some 100 letters proposing changes to soften the Dodd-Frank rules and holding dozens of meetings with lawmakers and regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and other federal agencies.

In February, the roundtable sponsored “Financial Services University,” a two-day conference for Congressional staff members, where “visiting professors” gave presentations on Dodd-Frank. A top executive at Visa, the credit card giant, addressed new caps on debit card fees, according to a copy of the agenda. The associate general counsel for Bank of America discussed new mortgage regulations.

Mr. Bartlett, 63, called the event educational. “We are not here to lobby,” he told roughly 200 attendees. “We’re here to tell you what the facts are, and we think you’ll ultimately agree with us.”

The roundtable has taken a similarly direct approach with regulators. In a letter to the S.E.C., it asked the agency to reward whistle-blowers who report fraud internally before going to the government, urging that it “must be a specific factor in determining the amount of any award.” The language bore a striking resemblance to the S.E.C.’s description of the final regulation, which said working with internal-compliance departments was “a factor that can increase the amount of an award.”
Among the philanthropic activities that the Roundtable supports is Operation Hope: