The Mortgage Bankers Association’s top lobbyist, Kurt Pfotenhauer, is leaving the position he’s held for more than five years to run a 100-year-old trade association representing title insurance companies, title agents, abstracters, title searchers and attorneys.

Pfotenhauer will become chief executive officer of the American Land Title Association on Jan. 7, the association announced today.

Taking over for Pfotenhauer as senior vice president of government affairs for the Mortgage Bankers Association is Steve O’Connor, formerly senior vice president of public policy, the MBA said.

The MBA announced seven other promotions in the government affairs department, including the appointment of Erick Gustafson as senior vice president of legislative and political affairs. Gustafson will oversee political outreach, including MBA’s campaign spending through its Political Action Committee (PAC).

Pfotenhauer — who before joining the MBA in May 2002 served as chief of staff for Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. — lobbied on behalf of mortgage bankers on a number of issues, including proposed changes to the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). The proposed changes, which included simplifying the good-faith estimate form and allowing the sale of guaranteed-price bundled packages of mortgages and mortgage-related services, were opposed by the industry and eventually withdrawn in 2004 (see Inman News story).

The Hill magazine has named Pfotenhauer one of Washington, D.C.’s top lobbyists for the last two years, noting in May that “Pfotenhauer and his crack lobbying team, led by Erick Gustafson, will be busy managing the fallout from the subprime mortgage meltdown this year.”

It has indeed been a busy year for Pfotenhauer, as the MBA has taken positions on a number of Congressional bills that would impose new restrictions on lenders, such as HR 3915, the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act, and HR 3609, the Emergency Home Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act.

In addition to overseeing policy formation lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill, Pfotenhauer managed the MBA’s relationships with industry allies, consumer groups, policymakers, and mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Pfotenhauer’s background makes him “a natural fit” to head up ALTA, said the association’s president, Gary Kermott, vice chairman of First American Title Insurance Co. “His proven management and leadership skills will help us expand our membership base, increase revenues, enhance member services and strengthen our advocacy efforts,” Kermott said in a statement.

The title insurance industry has come under fire from state and federal regulators, who say title insurance has been marketed to real estate professionals who can provide referrals instead of consumers, fostering an anticompetitive environment.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on the problem in April, and the states that have fined title insurers in recent months over such allegations include Florida, Washington, California and Minnesota. California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has rolled back until 2011 his predecessor’s plan to cap title insurance rates, but says he expects the industry to introduce reforms before then.

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