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Departing Business Roundtable chief leaves White House relations up in the air

In the last week, two leaders of major business groups in Washington have announced they're leaving. First there was Edward Yingling, president of the American Bankers Association, who said he'll retire at the end of this year. Then Tuesday, John Castellani, president and chief executive of the Business Roundtable, announced that he's leaving the BRT for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA.

It's a natural stopping point for both men given that financial regulatory reform is near the finish. But Castellani's departure comes at a sensitive moment for relations between the BRT and the White House. Until now, the BRT has closely allied itself with the Obama administration -- for instance, having CEO members enjoy meals with the president to discuss policy issues -- only to emerge empty-handed on some key issues.

Castellani told me recently the real breaking point came during debate over the financial regulatory bill when Democrats pushed for "proxy access" authority for the SEC, making it easier for shareholders to run for board seats at publicly traded companies. The derivatives debate also disappointed BRT.

Tension between the BRT and the White House came out in the open last month when BRT chairman and Verizon chief executive Ivan Seidenberg surprised many with a speech that accused the president and Democratic lawmakers of pursuing policies that harm job creation.

Castellani distinguished his recent tenure by offering himself as someone who would sit at the table with the White House and cooperate. That strategy, for whatever reason, has only had limited success.

As one banking lobbyist told me: "In the end, what did it get him? Nothing. They got dinner with the president."

By Jia Lynn Yang  |  July 14, 2010; 11:44 AM ET
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