Steve Bartlett, the Republican chief executive of the Financial Services Roundtable, has launched an unprecedented fundraising effort to steer money to the presidential campaign of long-shot candidate Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). In the process, Bartlett — whose group is hosting a fundraiser for Dodd this evening at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C. — has done more than shake money from his membership tree; he has upset many of his members, according to five member-company sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
These members, as well as another handful of lobbyists who represent the roundtable’s members, say Bartlett has taken an unusual step by permitting the Dodd campaign to contact his member executives directly, with Bartlett getting credit for the donations that come in. Bartlett, they contend, is taking too heavy-handed an approach to the effort.
Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, is a key Capitol Hill player for Bartlett’s sector, and the industry has donated generously to Dodd’s coffers already. The Banking Committee is at the center of some of the hottest issues roundtable member companies face, including subprime lending policy and other mortgage legislation as well as credit card fees.
Still, the member company sources said the pressure from Bartlett has ruffled feathers inside the group, which is holding its fall meeting this week at the Ritz.
“A trade association is designed to be a buffer,” said one executive with a roundtable member company. “Steve Bartlett gets all the credit, and the [executives] get the opportunity to turn down someone who will still be the chair of the Senate Banking Committee.”
A roundtable spokeswoman, Keosha Burns, said Bartlett was unavailable for comment. She also declined to comment. Bartlett, who represented a Texas district in the House and later served as mayor of Dallas, became the roundtable’s president in 1999.
John Endean, president of the American Business Conference, said that urging financial services companies to give to Dodd is a no-lose proposition. “If Dodd stays in the Senate, he’s going to be on the committee,” he said. “I’m not at all hostile to what [Bartlett] is doing. The issue is how he manages his relationship with his members.”
A second member-company representative said that “this is not something we expect from our trade association … handing over their membership and then taking credit for it.”
All of the financial services executives and lobbyists interviewed pointed out that their frustration was with Bartlett and not with the Dodd campaign. A Dodd spokeswoman said she wasn’t familiar with the event and did not call back with additional comment.
“If we are to contribute, it wouldn’t be because the trade association” organized it, said another lobbyist.
A trade association executive with another group said that Bartlett’s idea was in the right place because of Dodd’s support for the business community’s legislative agenda. “Having his voice as a viable voice on the campaign trail is a good thing,” the executive said.
Another trade association representative speculated that the roundtable members were put off because Bartlett would be the one getting the credit for the donations. “The heads of associations, that’s part of your strategy — you want to do those fundraising events so the person says that industry is very active and very supportive of me,” he said. “That’s just good government relations.”