Big banks shake up Washington lobbying shops

By Pete Schroeder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two of Wall Street's largest Washington-based trade groups said on Tuesday that they were merging, as big banks rethink their lobbying strategies under the business-friendly administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The Clearing House Association (TCH) and the Financial Services Roundtable (FSR), which both count the likes of Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase among their members, will combine to form a single group to push policy changes in the nation's capital, they said in a joint statement.

Greg Baer, TCH's president, will serve as CEO of the new group, which has yet to be named. FSR announced in February that its chief, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, would leave the organization this month.

The merger combines TCH's focus on research and regulatory issues with the FSR's experience in lobbying lawmakers, said one person familiar with the deal.

A payments company run by TCH to process transactions across the banking system will remain a separate entity after the merger, which should be completed within 60 days.

Big banks, long-reviled in Washington, have been beefing up and refocusing their external and internal lobbying operations in a bid to capitalize upon Trump's pledge to relax financial rules introduced following the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Wells Fargo announced several new hires to its government relations team in January, including a new head of public policy, Beth Zorc, who previously had been acting general counsel at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In July, JP Morgan Chase named Tim Berry as its new head of government relations. Berry had previously worked as chief of staff for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and as an executive at the media outlet Axios.

Commercial banks spent a record $66.6 million on lobbying in 2017, according to the political contributions database OpenSecrets.

"Everyone's really concentrating their power and their turf," said Paul Merski, an executive vice president at the Independent Community Bankers of America, which represents small banks.

While big banks are hoping regulators picked by Trump will eventually ease rules imposed on them, they have yet to score any major victories, despite over a year with Trump in the White House and Republicans running Congress.

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Michelle Price and Rosalba O'Brien)

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