Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to head bank lobbying group

WASHINGTON — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a onetime Republican presidential candidate who was considered a finalist to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, has been named the head of a leading bank lobbying group.

Pawlenty, 51, will be the new chief executive of the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington organization that represents 100 of the largest banking and financial services companies in the country. Among its members are Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co.

A veteran politician, Pawlenty is poised to become a leading voice for an industry whose reputation has been hit hard by the financial crisis.

“Tim’s leadership, vision and ability to find common ground make him the right choice to represent the broad membership of the Financial Services Roundtable,” the group’s chairman, Tom Wilson, chief executive of Allstate Corp., said Thursday. “He understands that while policymakers sincerely desire to improve economic opportunities for all Americans, they also have different political philosophies.”

Pawlenty was governor of Minnesota from 2003 to 2011 and built a reputation as a fiscal conservative. He sought the Republican presidential nomination but dropped out of the race in August 2011 after finishing third in a key straw poll in Iowa.

An evangelical Christian with a blue-collar background — his father was a truck driver — Pawlenty reportedly was one of the top contenders as Romney’s vice presidential choice. Romney opted for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Pawlenty said he was excited about taking on a new challenge.

“Few industries have more impact on the entire economy — and on the lives of average Americans — than financial services,” he said. “I realize there is still work to be done to continue to earn customers’ confidence.”

Pawlenty succeeds Steve Bartlett, a former Republican congressman from Texas who had headed the group since 1999. He announced his retirement this year; Pawlenty will take over Nov. 1.

The group would not say what Pawlenty’s salary would be. But the job is one of the highest paying in Washington. Bartlett’s total annual compensation was $1.8 million.

The Financial Services Roundtable has worked to limit the impact on the industry of some provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

The group said that because it is a bipartisan organization, Pawlenty would step down as a national co-chairman of Romney’s campaign. Romney said he regretted the departure of his “dear friend,” but that Pawlenty’s “new position advancing the integrity of our financial system is vital to the future of our country.”

Pawlenty probably would have been a contender for a Cabinet post were Romney to win the White House. But to land the new job, Pawlenty had to agree he would not take a position in a Romney administration, a spokeswoman for the Financial Services Roundtable said.

Still, his strong Republican ties would be a major asset to the group under a possible Romney administration. At the same time, a second Obama administration could be cool to Pawlenty, who has been highly critical of the president’s policies, particularly healthcare reform.

In a prime-time address at last month’s Republican National Convention, Pawlenty said, “President Obama isn’t as bad as people say, he’s actually worse.”