WASHINGTON - An alliance of consumer groups has launched a campaign for higher deposit insurance premiums.

The Financial Democracy Campaign, an umbrella organization for activist groups with total membership in the millions, says banks should draw against their recently improved earnings so that taxpayers won't have to bail out the Bank Insurance Fund.

The taxpayer bailout of the savings and loan fund was enough, the group asserts.

Bombarding Hove

Campaigners are being asked to bombard Andrew C. Hove Jr., acting chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., with mail and phone calls urging higher premium rates to take effect in January.

In September, the FDIC board voted to raise the average bank premium for next year to 25.4 cents per $100 of domestic deposits, from the current 23 cents. The FDIC scaled back a previously proposed 28-cent rate and, in a new risk-based system, left the healthiest banks at the 23-cent level.

At the time of that decision, Mr. Hove promised to review it in November.

Phone Calls and Postcards

Jim Hightower, a former Texas state official who is chairman of the Financial Democracy Campaign, said the organization has arranged for some members to make toll-free long-distance calls to Mr. Hove's office every Monday until mid-November.

The group has also distributed millions of postcards addressed to Mr. Hove that ask for higher premiums.

The Financial Democracy Campaign represents consumer, religious, and agricultural groups as well as several trade unions, including the two-million-member National Education Association. Ralph Nader's Public Citizen is also in the coalition.

"We're trying to provide a counterweight to the one-sided chorus the FDIC hears from the banking industry and the administration," said Tom Schlesinger, co-director of the campaign.

In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Hove said the industry's record earnings "argue against a higher premium because the premium we've set now appears like it will meet the statutory requirement."

Congress instructed the FDIC to rebuild the insurance fund so that there are $1.25 in reserves for every $100 in deposits by 2006. The bank fund was $5.5 billion in the red on June 30.

Mr. Hove also noted that the banking industry has $250 billion of equity. The equity and earnings strength "separate banking from the S&L deal," he said.

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