Home equity lenders, expecting a banner year in 1996, closed out their biggest conference ever with a theme dinner.

The "Out of This World" evening featured silver-robed dancers, a conga line, and a 25-foot flying saucer that flew above the heads of the 700 attendees.

Despite the emphasis on fun, the lenders appeared to come away with determined to get more politically involved. The National Home Equity Mortgage Association's new commitment to lobbying was stressed by speakers throughout the evening, and attendees responded with both enthusiasm and money.

During his acceptance speech, Stanley Zimmerman, incoming president, encouraged attendees to become involved with local grass-roots organizations, get to know their congressional representatives, and volunteer as expert witnesses for association committees.

The group will be forming public relations and legal relations committees this year and will be reestablishing its speakers bureau, Mr. Zimmerman said.

John Hayt, president and chief executive of Equicredit Corp., delivered a similar message in accepting a lifetime membership on the board.

"We need your continued support" for the American Financial Services Association's political action committee, which also lobbies for the home equity group, Mr. Hayt said. "We need to be heard in Washington."

Members of the association showed they had been listening. Donations to the PAC fund raffle, which had been slowly creeping toward its $15,000 goal, poured in after speeches by Mr. Zimmerman and by Mr. Hayt.

After buying fund-raising raffle tickets, several members added, "Make sure you tell John I donated," according to an American Financial Services representative. Final PAC contributions totaled $15,500.

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Alan Turtletaub, founder of Money Store Inc., Sacramento, Calif., also was awarded lifetime board membership.

"Now I'm going to turn my job over to someone else," said Mr. Turtletaub, indicating his son, Mike. "Thanks for everything."

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It wasn't the second half of Mike Meyer's "What is the Internet?" session that was pulling masses of home equity lenders into the Registry Resort's conference hall early Friday morning. No, freshly sunburnt attendees, many in golf shirts, were packing the room for a speech by Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson. By the end of Mr. Meyer's presentation, attendance was double than the opening ceremonies.

"We're here today to talk about being the best," said Mr. Johnson, sporting a double-breasted suit and a down-home demeanor.

Treat your employees like winners, he said, and they'll perform for you. And treat him like a winner, he added, because he "will win with the Miami Dolphins."

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Political commentator Mary Matalin thanked the association for inviting the "Joey Buttafucco and Amy Fisher of politics" to the conference.

The former Bush political operative and her husband, Clinton political adivser James Carville, stressed that the U.S. political climate is particularly volatile during this election.

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