Michael T. Kinsella epitomizes the aides Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato keeps at his side: tight-lipped and inaccessible.

Chief of staff to Sen. D'Amato since 1984, Mr. Kinsella is the Senate Banking Committee chairman's top personal aide and one of his key advisers on banking legislation.

Mr. Kinsella, along with Senate Banking Committee staff director Howard Menell, is credited with pushing Sen. D'Amato to introduce financial reform legislation that would allow banks to merge with nonfinancial firms.

Though many banks are wary of the approach, securities and diversified financial services firms-many of which have nonfinancial operations-back Sen. D'Amato's bill. Both aides worked in those industries before taking their current jobs. Mr. Kinsella is a former assistant vice president and legislative counsel for the Securities Industry Association. Mr. Menell once worked as a lobbyist for American Express.

Sen. D'Amato introduced an identical bill two years ago, but has said little on the subject and many observers question whether he is serious about passing legislation. By keeping his plans under wraps, Sen. D'Amato and his staff have frustrated the industry.

With almost single-minded devotion, Mr. Kinsella is dedicated to making the New York Republican look good back home, say sources who deal with the staffer.

That strategy has led to Sen. D'Amato's often rocky relationship with New York's powerful banking industry. For instance, in 1991 Sen. D'Amato sent bank stocks tumbling when he proposed capping credit card rates. Recently he irked the industry again by sponsoring legislation to ban ATM fees.

Despite the strained relations, banks are a top source of campaign donations to Sen. D'Amato, the Senate's leading fund-raiser. In the last two years, commercial banks have donated $112,500 to his campaign fund, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"Kinsella makes everyone nervous about access, and they know they better do anything they can to get his attention," one source says.

In character with his closed-door style, Mr. Kinsella declined to be interviewed for this story. In fact, he keeps such a tight reign on his personal information, Mr. Kinsella did not submit a biography to the Congressional Staff Directoy.

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