WASHINGTON Hundreds of bankers, auto dealers and Wall Street executives are descending on Congress this week in separate bids to influence the financial reform bill before it can become law.
Amid growing expectations that Democrats and Republicans will strike a deal despite their current standoff, lobbyists said business leaders are hoping to win their own narrow concessions from members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who are eager to tighten oversight of the financial industry before November congressional elections.
About 500 executives from community banks that lend heavily to small businesses and farmers visited Capitol Hill after a policy meeting on Monday and Tuesday hosted by the Independent Community Bankers of America.
Dozens more were expected on Thursday as part of an effort organized by the larger American Bankers Association.
Lawmakers also braced for visits from board members of Wall Street's Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and nearly 100 auto dealers from the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said its members have sent 47,000 letters to lawmakers in the past three weeks to voice opposition to Democratic proposals on consumer financial protection. The chamber also brought 25 corporate treasurers to Washington last week for meetings with Congress.
"What's happening on Capitol Hill is exactly what you'd expect: everyone with an interest in this legislation is vigorously exercising their rights under the First Amendment," said Steve Verdier, the community bankers association's executive vice president for congressional affairs.
Officials from the ABA and the securities lobby group declined to comment on their efforts in Congress.
REFORM'S LIKELY SUCCESS
Lobbyists say it has become increasingly plain that bipartisan legislation will likely succeed in an election-year climate driven by deep voter anger at Wall Street and civil fraud charges against Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
A main focus for Wall Street is scaling back a Democratic proposal to toughen oversight of the $450 billion over-the-counter derivatives market.
Since the end of the healthcare debate, the ranks of reform lobbyists have also swelled to include a range of business interests new to the financial reform debate.
"We are engaged in a full-court press," said Tom Quaadman of the U.S. Chamber Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness.
He said Main Street businesses including community banks, auto dealers and retailers are concerned that their ability to offer credit to customers could be subject to new regulations as an unintended consequence of financial reform.
"We didn't do anything to contribute to the financial meltdown on Wall Street. Why would you include us?" Boston auto dealer Raymond Ciccolo said after meeting Republican Senator Scott Brown and an aide to Democratic Senator John Kerry.
The latest round of lobbying follows a first-quarter political spending spree by Wall Street, in which top banks and securities firms spent millions of dollars to lobby members of Congress while pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars more into the re-election coffers of key lawmakers -- mainly Republicans.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama and the Democrats have stepped up efforts to frame the 2010 elections as a contest against corporate lobbyists.
"The health insurance companies, the Wall Street banks and the special interests who have ruled Washington for too long are already focused on the November congressional elections. They see these elections as a chance to put their allies back in power and undo all we've accomplished," Obama said in a videotaped message emailed to 13 million people this week.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)