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On Borrowed Time At the opening of the 110th Congress, Democratic majorities seemed to have the will and the numbers to finally take on the credit card industry over its unpopular consumer loan practices. Then the relevant committees got bogged down on other matters — first with a student loan scandal, then with the mortgage market meltdown. That doesn’t mean lobbying has stopped. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations takes the issue back up on Tuesday, holding its second hearing on allegedly abusive lending practices, this time with a focus on interest rate increases. “Every time I go see someone, I hear they’ve just met with Capital One, Chase, or Bank of America,” says Linda Sherry, the legislative affairs director of Consumer Action, a group that supports consumer rights. She’s spent most of her time lobbying the offices of authors and sponsors of related legislation, such as Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.). Sherry claims her group has delivered messages from 18,000 people to Capitol Hill in the past 14 months. That still can’t match the lobbying clout of the credit industry. “They’ve got a lot more feet on the ground than we do,” Sherry admits. (Among the many outside firms working for the industry are Sidley Austin, Morrison & Foerster, and Ogilvy Government Relations.) While credit cards are far from their only concern, the major industry players are running the opposition from their in-house lobbying shops and the American Bankers Association. Citigroup’s in-house shop spent $4.4 million in the first half of the year, up $1 million from its prior filing. Bank of America, Visa USA, JP Morgan Chase, and American Express spent between $1 million and $3 million each, in-house. Add on nearly $3 million more from the bankers association, and it’s quite a formidable effort. Tuesday’s hearing should provide a look at how the fight’s shaping up. “It sounds like the committee is going to focus on anecdotes as a way to suggest policy,” says Ken Clayton, the director of credit card policy for the bankers association. While the association is taking the current bills seriously, he says, it’s focusing on the Senate’s Banking and Finance committees as the probable originators of legislation. Richard Hohlt, a lobbyist who has advised JP Morgan Chase on credit card matters, doesn’t expect the issue to really get traction before late January. “Congress, in the limited time they’ve got left, has certain priorities, such as �Are we going to fund the government and the Department of Defense or not?’” he says. — Jeff Horwitz
List Making The National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the American Society of Association Executives want to know whether new lobbying and ethics rules require them to disclose their membership list — and won’t rule out a court fight if they do. In a letter sent to the secretary of the Senate last week, the three trade associations requested guidance before the new law goes into effect on the first of the year. Language in the new law calls for the disclosure of any member who contributes more than $5,000 per quarter to lobbying activities and “actively participates in the planning, supervision or control” of lobbying. In the letter, the associations assert that the language could cover everyone, including members who sit on policy subcommittees, and could violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of association. “We need to determine whether Congress really intended what it seems to have wrought, if you will,” says Jay Timmons, senior vice president of policy and government relations at NAM. The provision “doesn’t give us a very clear road map to know what we need to disclose,” says Steven Law, the chief legal officer for the Chamber. The law carries criminal penalties for groups that violate it. Both Law and Timmons confirm that their organizations may sue to block membership disclosures. — Carrie Levine
Pass the Ammo When the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Washington, D.C.’s gun ban, it stepped into the Second Amendment fight for the first time in 70 years and temporarily upstaged one of Washington’s classic lobbying battles. Both the National Rifle Association and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence are sidelined in the case, save for supporting briefs. But with a decision expected to come in the heat of the presidential election, there’s likely to be a payoff for both groups. “Our supporters tend to increase their support when they believe there’s hope for reform,” says Dennis Hennigan, general counsel of the Brady Campaign. “If it comes down the wrong way, it’s now a national issue,” says Chris Cox, director of the NRA’s Institute of Legislative Affairs. Hennigan agrees on that point. “We want to emphasize that these are issues that should be decided in the legislative arena,” he says. — Jeff Horwitz

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