market competitors, but when it comes to contributing to Republican lawmakers, they've got banks beat hands down. An analysis of the latest Federal Election Commission filings by the advocacy group Common Cause found that insurance companies and trade groups gave the GOP over nine times as much "soft money" as the banking industry during the first half of 1995. What's more, the sum total of the banking industry's contribution came from a single institution: BankAmerica Corp. BofA wrote a check to Republicans for $78,400 - peanuts compared to the $731,708 that the insurance industry weighed in with. While election laws mandate that this type of contribution can't be targeted at specific candidates, soft money - donations from corporations or individuals for party-building activities and administrative costs - can be as plentiful as a donor's pockets are deep. Donations to particular campaigns are limited to $2,000 from individuals and $10,000 from political action committees per election cycle. Common Cause's list was topped by tobacco giant Philip Morris Cos., which tilted the scales at a whopping $729,749 to the GOP. The biggest insurance contributor, Reliance Group Holdings Inc., ranked eighth, with $170,000 in donations. Things were a little more even on the Democratic side. Louis DeNaples, chairman of First National Community Bank, Dunmore, Pa., was the sole contributor from the banking industry, while Bernard Rapoport, chairman of American Income Life Insurance Co., provided the only soft money to Democrats from his industry. Both sent in $50,000. So why doesn't the banking industry contribute more soft money? "PAC contributions are totally above board and regulated," said Alex Maroulis-Cronmiller, PAC director for the Independent Bankers Association of America. "And we like to know our money is going to a certain person."

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