WASHINGTON - In his first press conference since being named head of the Financial Services Roundtable, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he would seek a "refinement" of the Dodd-Frank Act, but also added that banks need to do more to regulate themselves.
The one-time Republican presidential hopeful, who is stepping down as co-chair of Mitt Romney's campaign, said he was asked while interviewing for the Roundtable job about how financial institutions can regain the public's trust.
"I said, 'Stop doing stupid things,'" Pawlenty said while sitting in the Roundtable's Washington offices.
"These are large organizations with tens of thousands of employees in many cases. There is always going to be some individual doing something that's off track. That's human nature. But the obligation and the opportunity of the organizations is to put controls in place and a culture in place that minimizes the likelihood of that, but does it voluntarily."
Still, Pawlenty warned that too much regulation can be just as bad.
"We need regulation, but we don't want it to go so far and overreach that it stifles investment and economic growth and job growth," he said.
Pawlenty shocked most of the national media on Thursday by agreeing to lead the Roundtable, where he will start Nov. 1. Until very recently, he had been seen as Romney's likely choice as vice president (Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan instead). But Pawlenty was also a probable cabinet pick in a potential Romney administration. Pawlenty said in accepting the Roundtable position he had pledged not take any job in the new administration should Romney win.
It was also a surprising pick for the Roundtable, which has been led by former GOP Rep. Steve Bartlett for more than a decade. Despite his vast political connections, Pawlenty has little experiences with financial services matters.
The choice was similar to the American Bankers Association's decision two years ago to hire Frank Keating, a former Oklahoma governor, after its president retired. Keating formerly led an insurance trade group, but was not overly familiar with banking issues.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Pawlenty said he would "probably" formally register as a lobbyist, but said it was too early to get into the weeds of financial services issues.
He said his overarching goal will be to try and help the industry regain the public's trust as memories of the financial crisis begin to fade.
With financial institutions having a vital role in the economic recovery, Pawlenty called the Roundtable a "premier voice and premier perspective on those issues on behalf of those organizations."
"Obviously, the best way that this industry can continue to restore its reputation is to have its members do responsible investing into businesses and communities in a way that yields positive economic results and economic growth and the addition of jobs," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty compared the financial crisis to an "avalanche."
"There was a series of events that were very dramatic and large . in terms of magnitude and fallout and impact," he said. "As that gets increasingly in the rearview mirror, there is progress that's been made in terms of restoring the reputation and credibility of the financial services industry in this country, but more work needs to be done. The Roundtable is at a really important point of forging that dialogue and making sure that that progress continues on behalf of the members."
Trying to stay clear of detailed policy positions, Pawlenty said, "The organization's position on Dodd-Frank is that it needs refinement.
"They recognize that it's a law that's been put on the books, it's a law that was put on the books in the wake of a crisis and with good intent. But as it gets implemented, there are some challenges around vagueness and duplication of effort and oversight that properly brings the Roundtable to say, 'It needs to be refined, it needs to be clarified.' Directionally, that's the approach that we'll take."
Asked whether large banks should be broken up - a view articulated again Wednesday by Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board member Thomas Hoenig - Pawlenty said the Roundtable's members were focused on their roles in the current structure.
"Today is not the day to go into policy," he said. "From our members' perspective, I think the focus is on making sure that in their current form that they're responsible and healthy and vibrant and a positive contributor to the economy and to job growth in the country in their current form and the current framework."
Pawlenty also said he promised not to be partisan in representing the Roundtable, even though he believes Romney's "vision and policies for America are directionally correct."
"But in my new role as the head of the Roundtable, I need to take a bipartisan responsibility seriously, so as it relates to the national co-chair title, I've relinquished and resigned that title with the Romney campaign," he said.
The governor of Minnesota from 2003 to 2011, before which he served in the state's legislature for 10 years, Pawlenty said his experience running the state and his political background will help him in his new position.
"I have an understanding that there is a little bit of politics in Washington D.C.," he said.
Pawlenty commended the job Bartlett has done, and stressed that he does not view his joining the Roundtable as "fixing a problem" at the organization.
"It's a matter of how do we take it to the next level and take it to the next stage," he said. "Organizations have to continue to evolve and change or they get left behind. ... I'll spend the next month thinking about those issues and during my early weeks and months in the position. Then we'll chart a course to build on the success of the organization, but we'll definitely try to raise the bar and make sure that we have a clear vision about how we can take it to the next level."