"Senator Gramm Apologizes for Extorting Campaign Contributions from Financial Services Industry PACs," blared the headline of the April 1 press release.

Struck with guilt, the statement read, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm had decided to return thousands of dollars in campaign donations from financial services firms because he had concluded they are tantamount to the bribery payments which he has accused community groups of extracting from banks.

"Because of my recent focus on the issue of extortion and because I have received sizable contributions from the PACs of companies that have an interest in legislation that comes in front of the Banking Committee, I now understand that this kind of behavior should be illegal," the Texas Republican was quoted.

A springtime conversion? No, just an April Fools' Day prank.

The spoof-which resembled a typical press release and included the name and phone number of Senate Banking's press secretary-was the handiwork of Hubert Van Tol, the president of Bank Watchers in Sparta, Wis.

Mr. Van Tol said his fake press releases have been an annual rite for about 15 years. Only once has a newspaper printed one of his jokes, which he uses to make a political statement.

Sen. Gramm's spokeswoman had no reaction except to say, "It was April Fools'." That heartened Mr. Van Tol. "Down underneath there somewhere, some of them must have a sense of humor."

Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby is not done interrogating Donna Tanoue about the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s co-sponsorship of a recent community development conference.

Senate Banking's No. 2 Republican fired off his second public missive to the FDIC chairman last week, asking Ms. Tanoue to better explain why the agency spent more than $20,000 to print and mail a conference brochure for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a group he said was devoted to "economic justice."

An FDIC spokesman said the agency is preparing a response. In a March 25 letter, Ms. Tanoue said the FDIC is duty-bound to make sure the 6,000 banks it regulates meet their Community Reinvestment Act and other fair-lending requirements. Bringing lenders and community groups together serves that purpose, she wrote.

A source said Sen. Shelby is responding to concerns from bankers, who argue the FDIC should not spend insurance fund money to support groups that "shake down" banks for juicy CRA commitments.

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