‘Owning the place’ isn’t enough


A few years ago, with the economy still very much in crisis mode, many congressional Democrats moved to pass bankruptcy reform provisions such as “cramdown” measures. When it failed, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was incredibly frustrated, and was willing to say so in unusually candid terms.

“[T]he banks – hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created – are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill,” Durbin said on a radio show. “And they frankly own the place.”

By most measures, the bankers’ influence has only intensified, especially with Republican gains in the 2010 midterms. But American Banker reports that the banking industry isn’t quite satisfied with their power over policymakers, and have taken steps to become even an stronger influence in Washington.

Frustrated by a lack of political power and fed up with blindly donating to politicians who consistently vote against the industry’s interests, a handful of leaders are determined to shake things up.

They have formed the industry’s first SuperPAC – dubbed Friends of Traditional Banking – that is designed to target the industry’s enemies and support its friends in Congress.

“It comes back to the old philosophy of walking softly and carrying a big stick,” says Howard Headlee, the president and chief executive officer of the Utah Bankers Association. “But we’ve got no big stick. And we should. We have the capacity to have one, we just aren’t organized.” […]

“Congress isn’t afraid of bankers,” adds Roger Beverage, the president and CEO of the Oklahoma Bankers Association. “They don’t think we’ll do anything to kick them out of office. We are trying to change that perception.”

As far as I can tell, this isn’t a parody or an attempt at satire. Bankers seriously seem to believe they lack sufficient influence on Capitol Hill, so they’re creating a super PAC to correct their perceived “lack of political power.”

Howard Headlee added this new banking super PAC is working around the industry’s trade groups, including the American Bankers Association and the Independent Community Bankers of America. Why? “I don’t think they want to have any kind of control over this because we may piss some people off inside the Beltway,” he said. “We fully intend to.”

Capitol Hill

'Owning the place' isn't enough