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Industry Eyes Low, or No, Profile at 2008 Conventions

With the two presidential candidates casting lobbyists, and much of the industry, in a negative light, they are taking a cautious approach to the convention revelry and keeping a lower profile.

The rules of the game have changed since the last conventions, in Boston and New York in 2004. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which went into effect in January, prohibits lobbyists and entities that employ or retain them from holding events honoring specific members of Congress during the conventions.

At the last presidential conventions, for instance, industry groups footed the bill for fetes honoring former Senate and House banking chairmen-Sen. Richard Shelby at Central Park's Boathouse and Rep. Michael Oxley at the Rainbow Room overlooking Rockefeller Center. In Boston, industry groups sponsored a brunch for the House Financial Services Committee's top Democrat, Rep. Barney Frank, and a party overlooking Boston Harbor for fellow committee member Rep. Paul Kanjorski.

Lawyers said there are ways to work within and around the confines of the rules, including holding a party for a specific member of Congress the weekend before the convention starts.

Ethics lawyers said their phones are ringing off the hook as clients try to navigate the new rules. In some cases, they are suggesting clients obtain written approvals of events from the House and Senate ethics committees.

Still, members can attend events honoring issues, rather than individuals, paid for by lobbyists as long as they fall into one of 26 exceptions. The two most widely used are the reception exception, where hors d'oeuvres not constituting a meal are allowed, and the "widely attended event" exception, which requires attendance by more than 25 guests not employed by Congress.

Despite a generally more muted approach, the industry is finding a way to make its presence felt.

MasterCard Inc., Visa Inc., U.S. Bancorp, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and a slew of other major financial corporations plan to contribute to the festivities in some way. The Financial Services Roundtable is hosting financial literacy brunches for Democrats in Denver Aug. 25-28 and for Republications in Minneapolis-St. Paul Sept. 1-4, the site of the conventions. As with brunches in the past, financial services lawmakers will be among those invited.

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