Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty has a new job as one of Wall Street's top lobbyists.
The Financial Services Roundtable announced today that Pawlenty will lead the group starting in November. Pawlenty is stepping down as co-chairman of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign to lead the Roundtable, which represents the country's 100 largest financial firms.
Although Pawlenty doesn't have a background in banking or financial regulation, the organization was impressed by his government service, said Scott Talbott, senior vice president for government affairs for the Roundable.
"His leadership as governor on a bipartisan basis was very attractive because bipartisanship is needed to be successful in Washington," Talbott said.
Some Minnesota Democrats likely would fault Pawlenty on his ability to reach bipartisan agreements. But the Financial Services Roundtable likely picked him for his political expertise and connections, said Ed Mierzwinski, an expert on banking issues for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
"Generally the heads of these associations are hired more for star power and political reasons than necessarily their ability to negotiate a mortgage form or a derivatives contract," Mierzwinski said.
Although Pawlenty's short-lived presidential bid flamed out last year, it cemented his ties to Romney. It also put the former governor on the short list for vice president for a second time and raised his national profile.
The big issue that Wall Street and the Roundtable have to contend with these days is implementing the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, which is designed to prevent banks from becoming so big that taxpayers will have to bail them out if they fail.
Dodd-Frank prohibits banks from owning or operating hedge funds and creates new regulations for risky financial derivatives. It also established a consumer protection bureau designed to prevent banks from making loans to consumers that the consumers will be unable to repay back.
As many of its provisions are still being worked out by federal regulators, Pawlenty's job will be to soften the landing for Wall Street, said Mierzwinski, who favors tougher regulations on the financial services industry.
"I think their entire goal before the law and their goal since the law was enacted has been to delay, defang and defund the public protection regulators," Mierzwinski said.
To win the job, Pawlenty may have had to make some amends with the financial industry for tough criticism he delivered while a presidential candidate.
"The truth message to Wall Street, 'is get your snout out of the trough like everybody else,' " he told Bloomberg Television during his presidential campaign. "If I'm president, we're not going to have any more bailouts, carveouts or special deals."
A spokesman said Pawlenty was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
The Financial Services Roundtable and other banking industry lobbying groups supported the bank rescue plans and have spent millions lobbying for exemptions and special treatment from the Dodd-Frank law.
The Roundtable is officially nonpartisan, so to take the job, Pawlenty also announced today that he is stepping down as co-chairman of the Romney campaign.
His decision to leave comes at a time when Romney has had a stretch of bad publicity over his remarks and is falling behind President Barack Obama in some polls.
That doesn't mean Pawlenty's departure is a sign of chaos in the Romney camp, Carlton College political scientist Steven Schier said.
"Tim Pawlenty is making a decision about his own circumstances and where his future lies," Schier said. "It's rare that you get an opportunity like this."
Through a former aide, Pawlenty also ruled out running for any sort of office in 2014 now that he's taken this job.
That decision, Schier said, leaves the Republican field of candidates for statewide races wide open.
"In fact, the Republican bench is pretty empty right now in terms of major individuals who might run for the Senate against Al Franken, for example, or run for governor against Mark Dayton," Schier said.
Pawlenty's will earn $1.8 million a year in his new job, according to the news organization Politico. That might put him in a good position to be a generous donor to whoever does decide to enter those races.