The tab for recapitalizing the thrift insurance fund could have been steeper for most thrifts if Congress had heeded last minute pleas from some big institutions.

A pack of lobbyists tried to save their clients millions of the dollars by cutting their share of the $4.5 billion assessment on deposits insured by the Savings Association Insurance Fund.

If any institution received a special break, then the other owners of thrift deposits would pay more than the already steep price tag - 65.7 cents per $100 in deposits.

For instance, one proposal floated by Chicago-based Household International Inc. would have exempted $5 billion in deposits from the thrift fund fix completely, according to the Treasury Department.

That would have forced the rest of the industry to contribute an additional $34 million to the capitalization. For a $500 million asset thrift, that would have cost an extra $25,000 - for a total assessment of 66.2 cents per $100 of deposits.

Household and other institutions came close to winning special deals. The Chicago-based company had long complained that the rescue unfairly socks it with a tab on deposits it no longer owns because the assessment is based upon deposits held on March 31, 1995. Lobbyist Denis O'Toole wanted lawmakers to exempt Household from payment on thrift deposits it contracted to sell prior to that date.

Mr. O'Toole was only hours away from winning a $20 million cut in Household's tab for the thrift insurance fund rescue. But shortly before the House's Sept. 28 vote, the Treasury Department demanded that the provision be removed from the bill. Treasury officials contend they wanted to scrub out all special favors.

A member of the Republican congressional staff involved in the negotiations said the Treasury Department lined up against the provision following protests from H.F. Ahmanson & Co. and Golden West Financial Corp. According to sources, officials at the companies' thrifts, Home Savings of America and World Savings and Loan, were miffed that lawmaker had already rejected their own special deals.

"The administration was fine with the Household provision until the California thrifts complained," the staff member said.

The Treasury Department subsequently pushed to erase two other exemptions written for specific institutions, sources said. One would have given a 20% reduction on the assessment owed from a thrift owned by Raymond James & Associates, the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based brokerage firm.

Another would have exempted Los Angeles-based Brentwood Bank of California from the assessment. Brentwood had already paid hefty fees to transfer deposits from the thrift fund to the Bank Insurance Fund after March 1995. Fees related to the move already cost Brentwood more than its tab for the thrift fund fix.

A member of House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach's staff said lawmakers sympathized with many of the institutions that pleaded for a break. Because the assessment date was not announced until June 1995, many thrifts that had contracted to sell deposits during the previous two months were saddled with assessment on funds that were no longer theirs, he said.

"There is some unfairness because of the March 31 date," he said. "A lot of institutions got caught."

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