State coins popular as booster of PACs
INDIANAPOLIS - Collector coins-particularly those commemorative quarters saluting the 50 states-are now a popular new vehicle for raising political action funds for credit unions. In perhaps an unintended offshoot from Sept. 11, underscored by heightened public fervor to demonstrate patriotistism, the market for the coins lately has shown steady growth. Sales of the collector boxes containing the coins have been selling well in nearly a dozen states under League guidance. CUNA estimates 250 CUs are participating so far. The "States Quarter Program" has actually been under way for three years with coin sets distributed to CUs-and banks-through Grafton, Wisc.-based MPI Coin, which acquires them from the Denver and Philadelphia Mints. Under the government's 10-year program, a series of five quarter dollars is issued each year from 1999 through 2008 celebrating each of the 50 states. The coins are issued in the sequence that the states became part of the U.S. and the coin packaging contains a state seal, a flag and a brief history of the state, seen as a popular way of educating young people on U.S. history. The quarters are minted every 10 weeks and then taken out of production. One of the coins most in demand after Sept. 11 has been the New York quarter, she said. Funds raised from the sale of the coins goes to state PACs as well as CUNA's Credit Union Legislative Action Council in Washington. Karen Kincer, CUNA's political director and liaison for CULAC, said the program "is really in its infancy" but is being picked up by a growing number of state Leagues that are "enthusiastic about the program." Exact numbers on how many coins have sold through the CUs and how much has been raised for CULAC were not available. The basic coin package containing two coins sells at $3.50 retail ($2.50 wholesale), but the first sets (covering Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey) now sell in some places at $6.00. Their value has climbed since the first coin issuance. By far the most active CU promotion of the coins has been in this state where the Indiana Credit Union League reports it has raised more than $100,000 through some 86 participating CUs. The League has been averaging $20,000 raised per each coin promoted. Profits from sale of the coins are divided between the state CU Political Action Committee and CULAC, said Millie Cox, vice president of government affairs. The coin program as a mechanism for political fund raising, said Cox, was started by Mary Ash, president of the $16 million asset Avondale Federal Credit Union in Muncie who considered the CU's promotion effective enough to bring to the League's attention. "We got some junk mail about the coins and I thought `gee, I'll bet my grandson would like to collect those coins,' and so I asked one of my tellers if hers would, too and we both agreed we should submit the order," said Ash. The CU, she said, has long been interested in supporting the industry "and fighting the bankers," and so "we thought that it would work with profits going to ICUPAC" the Indiana PAC. In Arizona, the state League said 20 CUs have joined the States Quarter Program. If they sell all their coins in inventory, "CULAC will receive $36,000 from Arizona to use for the upcoming election," said Pat Bodnar, vice president of public affairs. As one of the biggest producers, Motorola CU-West in Scottsdale, said it only started selling them in July and by September the sales had grown to $5,871, said Wygle. "I know Pat Bodnar fell off her chair when we sent in that check." The CU has recently expanded sales to its Texas branches. Wygle said top administrators at Motorola CU West, like other CUs in the state have "come under pressure" from their boards to step up political involvement and fund raising "and this is working well for us." The Colorado League said it also has raised $36, 000 for CULAC and its statewide PAC. CU members who buy the coins are told in disclosure forms that the profits go to PACs, "but I don't think that's the reason they are buying the coins, they simply like them," said Jane Willard, vice president of governmental affairs.