WASHINGTON – Fourteen months into his tenure as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, former Minnesota governor and erstwhile Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty appears to be shaking up his senior staff.
In November, the senior vice president of public policy left the trade association, along with the group’s top banking lobbyist. Early in 2014, the group’s veteran general counsel plans to leave.
Meanwhile, Pawlenty has promoted Eric Hoplin, a former deputy chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, to be executive director of one of the nation’s most powerful advocacy organizations.
“Many CEOs come in and bring in their own bench strength,” said Jeffrey Macher, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Business and Public Policy. The number of high-level departures “is a signal that everyone is at risk.”
The round table, known as FSR, represents the interests of banking, insurance, asset management, finance and credit card companies. Pawlenty took over the group six weeks before the 2012 presidential election. He gave up a high-ranking post in Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign to take the FSR job, where his predecessor was paid $1.8 million in 2011.
In the first nine months of 2013 — on Pawlenty’s watch — FSR spent $4.76 million lobbying members of Congress, the administration and regulatory agencies, records show.
Now two of the biggest players in that lobbying effort are gone and a third is headed for the door.
Out is Scott Talbott, FSR’s senior vice president of public policy, a job that paid $530,532 in 2011, according to IRS records. One of Washington’s best-known and best-connected lobbyists, Talbott said he is now consulting and considering other options. He declined to discuss details of his departure from the trade association that he joined in January 1994.
“After 20 years, it was time for a new challenge,” he said in a brief interview.
In response to a request for comment from Pawlenty, a spokeswoman said she would speak for the former governor.
FSR communications director Alison Hawkins said consultants determined that “some changes were necessary” in the group’s government relations efforts. She did not specify what kind of changes.
Brian Tate, FSR’s vice president of banking and securities, left around the same time Talbott did. Hawkins said Tate got another job. She called the timing of his departure with Talbott’s coincidental.
Tate, who came to the round table in November 2009, did not respond to a request for comment. He now works as government relations director for the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association.
The round table’s general counsel, Richard Whiting, will leave in February after 30 years with the group. The IRS listed Whiting’s compensation in 2011 at $825,521. He reports directly to the FSR board and not to Pawlenty. In an interview, he said his decision to leave “was totally my own.”
“The other ones were more of an outgrowth of a strategic plan with a new CEO,” he explained.
Poised to take control as FSR’s executive director is 35-year-old St. Olaf College and Augsburg College graduate Eric Hoplin. From 2005-2007 he served as deputy chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, when Pawlenty was governor. Hoplin still has ties to the conservative political group Young America’s Foundation.
Pawlenty brought Hoplin to FSR as vice president for communications and organizational strategy in March 2013 from the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.
Pawlenty is not worried that three of FSR’s top jobs have come open so close together, Hawkins said. Pawlenty, she noted, believes organizational changes will make FSR more effective.
The trade group will now concentrate more on areas where its members share interests — areas such as lending/leasing, risk management, asset management and payments, Hawkins said.
Help-wanted ads on the FSR website list three senior government affairs posts — “head of government affairs,” “senior GA [government affairs] leader for asset management” and “GA director (non-mortgage lending & leasing, payments).”
Whiting said Pawlenty is operating on “guidance from membership” and from the board. “The board thought we were good, and we could be better,” he said.
The risk is in losing influence with people in positions to advance your interests. “Whoever the lobbyist is the person who owns the relationship,” Macher said. “There is the potential to lose those relationships and the confidence of your clients.”