WASHINGTON - An influential advocacy group for low-income Americans is urging the Clinton transition team to beef up enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act.

In a lengthy paper prepared for the President-elect, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now argues that the law is an "immensely powerful tool" that has not been fully utilized by bank regulators.

To revitalize the law, Acorn says the agencies should "conduct more rigorous evaluations of bank performance" and should give the public more opportunity to participate in the process. Examiners should give more weight to lending performance and less to noncredit activities such as charitable contributions.

Trade Groups Also Weighing In

The Acorn paper is likely to serve as a counterweight to a letter being prepared by the five bank trade groups for delivery to Gov. Clinton this week. The bank groups will urge the President-elect to consider regulatory relief, particularly in the area of the Community Reinvestment Act.

Both camps have been heartened by Gov. Clinton's comments on the issue. During the campaign, the Arkansas Democrat spoke repeatedly about the need for community development and a revitalization of the CRA.

However, he also railed against regulations that inhibited bank lending and said toward the end of the campaign that the CRA should be overhauled to stress results rather than paperwork.

Both documents are likely to be filtered through the subgroups that have been created to work on banking issues. Those groups are being staffed by some people bankers would be comfortable with, as well as some likely to spark concern.

One group, dealing with banking and thrift "structural" issues, is headed by former Carter administration official Orin Kramer and H. Rodgin Cohen, one of the nation's best-known bank lawyers.

Mr. Kramer, who was associate director of domestic policy in the White House, runs an investment advisory business in Fort Lee, N.J. Mr. Cohen is a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell.

Team to Look at RTC, FDIC

Also working on transition issues is Cantwell F. Muckenfuss, a Carter-era bank regulator, and Eugene Ludwig, a partner with Covington & Burling. Both men were reported to be working on issues involving the Resolution Trust Corp. and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

However, community development and CRA issues are being handled by Christopher Edley, a Harvard law School professor who served as issues director in the Dukakis campaign. Groups like Acorn believe they that will get a sympathetic hearing from Mr. Edley.

The 11-point program outlined in the Acorn paper also calls for disclosure of small-business lending patterns on a census tract basis by race, gender, and income, and for requirements that banks offer inexpensive transaction accounts to the poor.

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