John Currie on Monday was named head of government relations for the recently merged First Chicago NBD Corp.

Mr. Currie, 48, was NBD Corp.'s top lobbyist before the Detroit-based bank holding company joined with First Chicago in November.

First Chicago didn't have an internal lobbying team before the merger; outside lobbyist Susan Gordy represented it. She will stay on-board to lobby on state banking issues. NBD's outside lobbyist Mary Clare Fitzgerald will take over in Washington.

Mr. Currie said his mission now is to build the institution's visibility in Washington and at the Illinois statehouse, in Springfield.

A top issue for his team, he said, will be pushing for legislation allowing tax-free conversions of common trusts into mutual funds. First Chicago and NBD both had large common trust portfolios.

Mr. Currie joined NBD in October, after two years as president of Michigan First, a nonprofit corporation created to recruit businesses to the state. Before that, he spent 25 years as a lobbyist for Ameritech.

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California bank and thrift trade groups took a shot recently at breaking the impasse to legislation aimed at capitalizing the thrift deposit insurance fund.

The Western League of Savings Institutions and the California Bankers Association floated a formula that would cut banks' share of payments on bonds used to bail out the thrift industry in the late 1980s.

The California groups suggested making thrifts contribute to Financing Corp. bonds at a higher rate until the industry charters and insurance funds are merged. Current plans would make banks assume the bulk of the $800 million annual Fico payments.

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But trade groups outside the Golden State were cool to the idea. "It was an attempt to say, 'Here's another way to do it,'" said Lou Nevins, Western League president. "But the hoped-for negotiations didn't result."

Banks, led by the American Bankers Association, are not ready to give up their fight against assuming any Fico burden. On the other hand, thrifts, led by America's Community Bankers, weren't willing to strike a deal that would leave them with higher costs than banks.

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Delaware-based MBNA America Bank was the largest "bundler" of political contributions in the last congressional election, according to "Open Secrets," a new book prepared by the Center for Responsive Politics.

By bundling donations from political action committees, executives, and their spouses, organizations can donate funds far in excess of limits faced by PACs or individuals. Bundling allowed MBNA to donate more than $434,000 to just five candidates in 1994.

MBNA's biggest contributions went to three Republicans who landed key positions when their party took over Congress: Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth Jr. of Delaware, $143,339; Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York, $133,970; and Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware, $88,450. Rep. Castle is now chairman of House Banking's domestic and international monetary policy committee.

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