By Kevin Bogardus - 05/20/13 02:09 PM EDT
Former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) has been named CEO of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), a powerhouse trade group for Wall Street.
Gregg said he plans to use his new platform to champion the message that Wall Street is good for the economy.
“I suspect what I’m going to be doing is what we have talked about, which is reorient ourselves on the issue of how you communicate the importance of this industry to people on Main Street America and their jobs,” Gregg told reporters on a conference call.
He noted that business owners across the country depend on capital from the financial services industry to grow and expand.
“Usually, that person needs credit at a reasonable price. And if they get large enough, they need capital at a reasonable price. And that's where this industry comes in. They produce the capital, and without it, you’re not going to create a whole lot of economic activity,” Gregg said.
Gregg, a prominent fiscal hawk, served three terms in the Senate and has deep experience in government, having also served four terms in the House and two terms as New Hampshire governor. Since leaving Capitol Hill, he’s kept a high profile as co-chairman of Campaign to Fix the Debt, which has led the push for a “grand bargain” to reduce the deficit.
The former senator is also no stranger to Wall Street, having already served as an international adviser to SIFMA member Goldman Sachs.
Gregg was one of the leading supporters in the Senate of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) — the Wall Street bailout that Washington crafted to save the financial sector during the 2008 economic crisis. He defended the bailout on Monday as a necessary intervention that worked.
“If we had allow the dominoes to fall, the entire financial structure of America would have imploded, not only in New York but across America,” Gregg said. “The proof is in the pudding. The financial industry did not fail. Main Street America was not devastated.”
In another personnel move, SIFMA named former Rep. Ken Bentsen (D-Texas) as president. Bentsen was serving as the financial services trade group’s acting president and CEO, and had been considered a leading candidate for the top job.
Gregg said Bentsen would focus on regulations as the two men divvy up their responsibilities at SIFMA.
“Ken is going continue to make sure we are on top of all the regulatory things coming over the transom, which there appears to be one or two,” Gregg joked.
Members of the group cheered the appointments.
“Judd’s experience as both a governor and legislator will be of tremendous value to SIFMA in bridging the gap between the complexities of the financial markets and the positive impact our markets have on every community across America,” said Chet Helck, SIFMA’s chairman and CEO of the Global Private Client Group at Raymond James Financial, in a statement.
SIFMA, which represents financial giants such as Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, lobbies extensively on Capitol Hill and at regulatory agencies, and has been particularly active on the implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
The group spent close to $5.6 million on lobbying in 2012, and has already spent close to $1.45 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2013, an increase of more than 12 percent over the same period last year.
SIFMA’s board will have a formal vote on Friday to approve Gregg as chief executive and Bentsen as president.
Gregg said he plans to remain active with Fix the Debt, even as CEO of SIFMA, and expressed optimism about the chances for a big deficit deal between President Obama and Congress.
“I still believe there’s an opportunity for an agreement here. The president has put some very constructive ideas on the table in the area of entitlement reform,” Gregg said. “As to Fix the Debt, I certainly hope to continue to remain very active in that and plan to. I haven't really taken that up in a formal way. … I think it’s complimentary to my job here at SIFMA.”
Gregg was nominated to be Obama’s Commerce secretary during the president’s first term but withdrew his name. Gregg said that was his mistake, and that the president was very gracious in handling the situation.
“I think I have a pretty good relationship with members of the president's government and have actually a long working relationship with a number of them as a result of them coming up in various parts of the administration,” Gregg said.
Gregg is also a columnist for The Hill.
This story was updated at 1:06 p.m.