World and Nation

Off Wall Street, companies worry about financial bill

WASHINGTON – Mars, the maker of M&M’s and Snickers, wants to make sure it can continue dabbling in the derivatives market to protect the price of sugar and chocolate for its candies.

Harley-Davidson is worried that its dealer-financed loans to bikers will fall victim to new federal financing regulations. And eBay is concerned about possible restrictions on PayPal, a subsidiary, in moving money in the Internet marketplace.

Far afield from Wall Street, the intense debate over the overhaul of financial regulations by Congress is attracting some unlikely but powerful players. More than 130 companies from the manufacturing, retail and service industries have retained high-powered lobbyists to weigh in on, and often oppose, the regulatory system being debated this week in Washington, according to an analysis of lobbying records by The New York Times.

The companies bear little resemblance to Goldman Sachs and the other Wall Street financial businesses that have become the main targets of the legislation, and the lobbying push by other industries shows just how broadly the legislation could affect American businesses.

It also illustrates what some critics say is legislation so loosely drawn that it may inadvertently cover a host of companies that are involved in lending or moving money, even if they operate far from Wall Street and had little to do with the crisis. Some industries, like payday lenders, fear that the financial overhaul may be a backdoor way for Congress to regulate them, something they have successfully fought for years.

Indeed, Steve Adamske, communications director of the House Financial Services Committee, acknowledges that some House legislation would regulate payday lenders, who make short-term, high-interest loans to people who promise to pay in full with their next check.

“There is a fair amount of caution any time the federal government proposes new oversight,” said Christopher Colwell, a lobbyist for Check N’ Go, a payday lender. “We are trying to determine what impacts these proposals will have on business, intentionally or unintentionally.”

While the legislation’s supporters in Congress insist that most nonfinancial companies have little to worry about, many of these businesses say they are deeply concerned that the sweeping provisions in the 1,400-page congressional bills, particularly the regulation of the derivatives market, the creation of a consumer financial protection board and rules on corporate government, could draw them in and affect their bottom lines.

For instance, auto dealers from 35 states are converging on Washington this week to meet with their senators’ offices starting on Tuesday to seek an exemption from legislation that would treat them as financial lending institutions subject to new federal regulations.

“I don’t think the level of concern could be any higher,” David Hyatt, vice president for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said Monday. “There’s a sense of urgency. And we’ve got to raise awareness about why this doesn’t make sense and why it’s anti-consumer.”