After the speech, Congress voted on a bill sponsored by Mr. Gillmor and Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) to increase the regulation of industrial loan companies, which are state-chartered corporations through which a Wal-Mart or a Home Depot could own a bank.
The spread of industrial loan companies threatens to erase the traditional separation between commercial businesses and banks, endangering the American economy, Mr. Gillmor warned. "We are currently in the golden age of banking," he said. "I would hate to see the type of hit to the deposit insurance fund and to taxpayers should Enron have had an industrial bank prior to their collapse."
But while railing against Wal-Mart getting into the banking business for the past year, Mr. Gillmor quietly sought and won approval to form a bank of his own - the Panther Community Bank in Florida, 1,230 miles away from his Ohio congressional district.
Mr. Gillmor, the heir to an Ohio bank, sees no conflict of interest. Neither does the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
Nor do the independent federal regulators who routinely testify before Mr. Gillmor, the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. In fact, they approved his Florida bank. The rules governing congressional ethics explain how Mr. Gillmor can safely organize a new bank without undermining the public interest. They also permit him to live in a $1 million house in suburban Columbus titled to a campaign contributor and Washington lobbyist.
And according to his spokesman, Mr. Gillmor "always follows" the rules.
Mary Boyle, a spokesman for Common Cause, a nonprofit watchdog group, said last week that Mr. Gillmor receiving clearance to legislate on banking matters while he himself is a banker is more of a comment on Congress than on him.
"This doesn't pass the sniff test," Ms. Boyle said.
The House passed Mr. Gillmor's bill 371-16 Monday, with 15 Republicans and only one Democrat opposed. If it becomes law, institutions such as Panther Community Bank will likely profit from less competition, said Bill Nixon, a Washington lobbyist opposing the bill.
"To shut down such a vital part of the industry, while at the same time moving forward to open up his own community bank does raise questions," Mr. Nixon said. "Will he benefit from this erosion of services in the industrial loan companies? Yes, he will. Is it his intent? I don't know."
There are 22 Wal-Mart stores within an hour's drive of Mr. Gillmor's Old Fort, Ohio, bank, and 15 Wal-Marts within a hour's drive of Panther Bank in Florida.
Wal-Mart and Home Depot officials declined comment.
A letter from the House committee of official conduct cleared Mr. Gillmor of any potential conflicts of interest, because the bill applies to an entire sector of the financial services industry rather than his personal investments. The letter reiterates a decision in 1989 that allowed the then-freshman congressman to vote on banking bills.
Records show Mr. Gillmor received partial control of Old Fort Bank in Seneca County, about 60 miles southeast of Toledo, from his now-deceased father, Paul M. Gillmor, who ran a trucking firm in the Tiffin area. The congressman is worth between $6.2 million and $27.8 million, according to the financial disclosure he is required to file with Congress.
Old Fort Bank made $3.26 million last year, according to federal filings. It paid out $2 million in dividends to its shareholders, putting Mr. Gillmor's take at roughly $540,000, about three times his congressional salary.
Financial disclosure rules also allowed the congressman to title and mortgage his new golf course mansion in Dublin, Ohio, to a holding company. His name appears on no public records associated with the property.
The congressman must report the establishment of a trust, but he is under no obligation to reveal the transfer of assets to Zenith Holding and Trading Co. - a 78-year-old subsidiary of Vorys, Sater, Seymour, and Pease, a law firm and lobbyist in Columbus and Washington.
Mr. Gillmor said the arrangement is legitimate because he pays the taxes on the property, the construction mortgage the firm received on his behalf, and $4,953 in legal fees for the firm to acquire the lot back in 2004.
The 68-year old congressman elected to use the firm because he "is doing some estate planning and chose to hold the title to his house in a holding company while he was advised on the best way by which to take title," his office said last week.
Because of federal oversight of the financial industry, the organization of Panther Community Bank is more transparent than the congressman's real estate deal. Mr. Gillmor and his sister, Dianne Krumsee, are among the initial directors and investors of the new bank, according to federal records.
Started to provide the fast-growing city of Lehigh Acres, Fla., with a hometown bank, Panther must raise at least $14.3 million during the next year, with each investment capped at $850,000, said its president, Karen Makowski.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency granted conditional approval to Panther in February after background checks on its organizers. The agency's official licensing manual outlines conflicts of interest only as they pertain to executives involved with multiple banks.
The Federal Depository Insurance Corporation decided to insure Panther on April 26. Spokesman David Barr said the decision conformed to standard practices. The agency examines a bank's confidential business plan and makes sure that it has "good solid capital and not smoke and mirrors."
A day before the FDIC gave Mr. Gillmor's Panther Community Bank its federal insurance, Edward Leary, the Utah commissioner of financial services, appeared before Mr. Gillmor's committee. His testimony contradicted the opinions presented by officials from the Office of the Comptroller and FDIC, both of whom favor greater regulation of industrial loan companies.
Mr. Leary said that industrial loan companies were historically a way for local businesses to award mortgages or automobile loans to people with limited access to traditional banks.
"I do not see it much differently than the majority of community banks that are primarily owned by businesspeople in the community, whether it's the lumber operator, the gas station owner, or whatever," Mr. Leary said. "So they bring with them a specific commercial expertise."
"I think we just have a different philosophy," Mr. Gillmor responded.
That philosophy earned the congressman a "Main Street Hero" award from the Independent Community Bankers of America, a Washington trade group. Passing Mr. Gillmor's bill is the group's highest priority, said Ron Ence, the ICBA's vice president of congressional affairs.
Industrial loan companies could be an access point for national businesses to enter banking, a fact that drew bipartisan support for Mr. Gillmor's bill. Wal-Mart recently withdrew a 2005 application to create an industrial loan company, which would have processed the retailer's credit card transactions.
"If a Wal-Mart or Home Depot got into banking, they could do the same thing to community banks that they did to lumber yards or gas stations," Mr. Ence said.
Legislators such as Mr. Gillmor understand the complexities of banking regulation, Mr. Ence continued, and should be applauded for lending their "expertise" to Congress. "This is a way of life; it's not a conflict of interest," he said. "Congressman Gillmor is a man of integrity."
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