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'Government bears a lot of the cost,' S.C. banker says

President Barak Obama called out bankers in recent days, referring to some as "fat cats" and demanding they lend more.

The State asked chief executives of four South Carolina-based banks on Monday for reaction to the president's comments.

Thomas Hood at Charleston's First Financial said the president should avoid broad accusations.

"He's off base," said Hood, whose bank accepted a $65 million federal loan last year. "The government is famous for pointing fingers, wanting to find somebody to blame."

Hood said he felt government regulators could have done more, especially after he met with Federal Reserve officials in recent years who did not seem interested in fixing lending standards.

"The government bears a lot of the cost," he said.

Lynn Harton of Greenville's The South Financial Group, which accepted $347 million in federal bailout loans, did not have time for an interview, a spokeswoman said.

Efforts to reach leaders at two Columbia banks - Jim Apple at First Citizens and Robert Hill at SCBT - were unsuccessful. First Citizens declined a federal bailout loan, while SCBT repaid its $64.8 million loan this spring.

Hood said just a few banks created problems. "You had 20 companies who went out there and made bad products."

He said his bank has avoided the excessive bonuses that have drawn criticism from Washington. Hood's base salary is the lowest among the state's eight largest banks.

Hood acknowledged that "people are upset with the idea that banks are not lending," but he noted First Financial has more loans on its books than a year ago.

The bank has concentrated on single-family home loans. Hood said First Financial has not seen much loan interest from businesses, which are avoiding extra debt until sales rise.

Hood said he thinks the government can do more to educate consumers about finances to avoid future trouble. Meanwhile, First Financial is holding foreclosure-prevention clinics.

"We know people are hurting," he said.

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