A top banking regulator, a senior aide, and a Baton Rouge congressman were caught-their hands covered in grease and filth.

Louisiana's latest political scandal? Hardly. Just three public servants doing a good deed.

In Baton Rouge for a forum hosted by Bank One Louisiana, Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig, aide Bill Grant, and Rep. Richard Baker found it necessary to do a little highway cleanup.

The men, zipping down Interstate 10, narrowly averted disaster when a car in front of them went airborne after hitting a stray truck tire.

The car continued safely down the highway, but the tire landed in Rep. Baker's lane, forcing him to stop his Jeep Cherokee. As a line of cars lengthened be-hind them, the trio-in ties and suit jackets-stepped into the muggy heat and lifted the big wheel off the road.

Recognizing they'd soon be gripping and grinning with nearly 100 bankers, they tried wiping their soiled hands on grass at the roadside. Proving that good deeds sometimes are rewarded-or at least appreciated-a tow truck driver pulled alongside and tossed them a roll of paper towels.

At the forum Rep. Baker insisted that his desire to allow mergers between banks and nonfinancial firms does not pose a threat to community banks.

"Rather than being seen as the Darth Vader of community banking, I hope people will take another look at what really is being done in terms of marketing products," he said. "The ability for community banks to survive into the future will be by virtue of product diversity."

The Republican lawmaker recently came under attack from small-bank advocates in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report. The newspaper quoted Independent Bankers Association of America executive vice president Kenneth A. Guenther as describing Rep. Baker as "the most dangerous member of the House Banking Committee."

The biweekly Baton Rouge publication used a little Louisiana flavor to describe the committee's financial reform bill, calling it a "legislative gumbo of ingredients both savory and distasteful to bankers and other players."

The Financial Accounting Standards Board took some more flak over its accounting proposals last week.

A group of bankers complained to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt and FASB Chairman Edmund L. Jenkins about the controversial derivatives accounting plan. The 13 chief executives, including KeyCorp's Robert W. Gillespie and L.M. Baker of Wachovia Corp., urged FASB to reissue the proposal for comment.

The plan would "mislead investors about the impact of basic risk management strategies and lead to incorrect valuations on equity investments in banks," they wrote in the Aug. 20 letter.

The letter echoes one sent in July by senior executives from 22 major companies, including 14 banks.

Mr. Jenkins has repeatedly said the agency plans to proceed with the accounting rules.

Former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Ricki Helfer has found a new job. She was appointed Wednesday to a two-year term on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange's board of governors.

She won't be the only banking expert on the 21-member board. Richard C. Breeden, former SEC chairman and the Bush administration's point man on the 1989 thrift bailout law, was appointed to a three-year term. u

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