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Banks, finance groups dial it down at DNC

Lobbyists host a few discreet events as banks, Dems stress cooperation

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Financial industry leaders and some Democrats in Charlotte have been playing down the pressure points between the two groups this week, though the industry is still taking a low profile at the Democratic National Convention.

Rather than publicly press their political agenda, as other sectors have done, banks have stuck to more palatable topics like financial literacy.

“Companies are still represented,” said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs for the Financial Services Roundtable, one of the industry’s main advocacy groups. “They’ve toned it down just a little bit.”

Congress members and financial industry leaders did gather behind closed doors in Bank of America offices in Charlotte Tuesday morning for a brunch meeting hosted by the Roundtable, though the group declined to provide any names. Public policy executives at Bank of America and Wells Fargo did not respond to requests for comment.

Talbott said the industry’s main priorities are navigating the ongoing implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, and advocating for lower corporate tax rates. But he said the event was less about lobbying than relationship-building.

In public, Wells Fargo and Visa each lent their names to panels discussing the importance of teaching students about money.

In the second-largest financial center after New York, banks were the target of the first major protest of the Charlotte convention on Sunday. And over the past year, Democrats – including President Barack Obama – have criticized big banks, particularly for fees instituted as a response to new federal regulations.

The Democratic Party also, for the first time, decided not to accept corporate contributions to pay for its convention.

Obama’s challenger, Republican Mitt Romney, has captured more Wall Street political donations by a significant margin.

The American Bankers Association took a pass on the convention, spokesman Jeff Sigmund said. The North Carolina Bankers Association also said it wouldn’t be playing a role.

But rather than blame tensions between Democrats and the industry, Talbott said companies have stayed home to work and help customers.

John Rogers, CEO of Chicago-based Ariel Investments and a major Democratic fundraiser and donor, rejected any notion that the Democratic Party is anti-bank.

“The president understands that having a strong financial system is critical to this economic recovery,” Rogers said. He said financial companies were staying away this week because of the restriction on being sponsors of the convention.

Visa’s financial literacy event was attended by N.C. State Treasurer Janet Cowell and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat.

Hagan, whose first term expires in two years, was introduced by Visa lobbyist Kristin Solheim, who praised the senator and said she looked forward to her re-election in 2014.

Speaking to the Observer after the event, Hagan, who sits on the Senate banking committee, said she was committed to keeping financial industry jobs in the state.

“North Carolina is a financial state,” she said. “It’s very important for North Carolina from a jobs perspective.”

She also said she wants to make sure the “financial system is working for everybody, including the middle class,” but said she was frustrated by the partisan fighting on financial issues.

And Obama chief economic advisor Alan Krueger passed on the chance to criticize big banks at a small-business owners caucus meeting. An audience member asked why the president is not supporting the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall – the law that separated commercial and investment banking which was repealed by Congress and Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Krueger instead put the blame for the financial crisis on regulators failing to identify risks, irresponsible behavior and a buildup of risk in less-regulated areas, like complex mortgage securities. “It’s hard to pinpoint one piece of legislation that caused it,” Krueger said.

Dunn: 704-358-5235
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