Five banking groups blanketed Congress with 535 letters last week in an effort to stave off the powerful insurance industry lobby.

The insurers are hoping to persuade Congress to overturn a recent court ruling allowing banks to sell insurance nationwide from towns with fewer than 5,000 people. At least one senator has already publicly endorsed the insurance agents' agenda.

In a three-page letter dated Aug. 10, Sen. Christopher Dodd urged Senate Banking Committee chairman Donald Riegle, D-Mich., to close the "town-of-5,000 loophole."

"I believe policy changes in this area are properly the province of Congress, not the regulators," wrote Mr. Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, which is home to many large insurance companies.

As word of the Dodd letter spread, bankers started a letterwriting campaign of their own. Every senator and congressman received a letter last week from five bank trade associations.

"We urge you to oppose those insurance interests who seek to reverse these court decisions," the letter said.

"The banking industry views this as a matter of utmost significance; one that it will defend strongly."

In addition to the American Bankers Association, signers included the Association of Banks in Insurance, the Association of Reserve City Bankers, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, and the Consumer Bankers Association.

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