The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching an advertising campaign of at least $2 million aimed at defeating a central plank of the Obama administration's financial-regulation overhaul.
But there won't be any mention of banks or Wall Street or insurance companies.
The first ads running in Washington-area newspapers feature a picture of a butcher with the line: "Virtually every business that extends credit to American consumers would be affected -- even the local butcher and the credit he extends to his customers."
The ads are aimed at the administration's proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which would tightly regulate consumer products including mortgages and credit cards. It would have the power to ban certain practices and require financial firms to offer loans with simple terms and clear disclosure.
The Chamber's goal is twofold: move the spotlight off the unpopular commercial banks and mortgage lenders that are the target of the legislation and muster a roster of more sympathetic opponents.
"We want to go beyond the usual suspects to show how overreaching this is," said Amanda Engstrom, a senior vice president at the Chamber who created the lobbying and advertising campaign.
The lobbying push comes as Congress returns to work after a monthlong recess. While most attention on Capitol Hill will be on health care, lawmakers on the financial-services panels will continue to forge ahead on legislation in response to the financial collapse. Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.), the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, plans to begin holding votes on his panel's parts of the legislation, including the consumer agency, later this month.
Asked about the butcher ad, Steve Adamske, a spokesman for Mr. Frank, called the campaign "scare tactics from the likes of big business."
Industry lobbyists have seized on language in Mr. Frank's Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act they say gives the agency broad powers over anyone who is involved in offering credit. That would include even retailers that offer gift cards.
One section of the legislation says the agency would have jurisdiction over "any person who engages directly or indirectly" in offering a financial product to consumers.
The legislation is in its infancy, so its precise implications are unclear. Lawmakers begin hearings this month to flesh out the proposal and determine its consequences.
Kirstin Brost, a spokeswoman for Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D., Conn.), said the industry is wasting its money by attacking the new consumer-protection agency. "The public doesn't believe that there was too much consumer protection," she said.
The agency is a centerpiece of a much broader series of proposals, and one that has become a big target for opponents. Banks argue it would reduce the number of choices they could offer and make it much harder for consumers to obtain credit. They also say it would raise the cost of doing business by adding another layer of regulation.
The business lobby intends to expand its campaign to include nationwide TV and radio ads later this month. Its lobbying push could feature other small-business owners, such as accountants, landlords and event planners. The organization has a Web site -- StoptheCFPA.com -- that allows individuals to send emails to Congress opposing the legislation.
One of the business owners contacted by the Chamber is Terri Mathews, owner of Gumbeaux Events Productions in Shreveport, La.. "While it sounded good to have restrictions on large financial institutions, I didn't realize at first how they could come in and tell me how I can extend credit," she said. Ms. Mathews said she plans to call Louisiana's lawmakers to relay her concerns.