NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Since Peter Matthews, the son and cousin of Massachusetts' mayors, took the helm of Merrimack Valley Federal Credit Union, political action has become a priority.
When Matthews was as young as six, he was out knocking on doors with his father who was then running for city council and won. He subsequently was elected as mayor of Newburyport for six years, reinvigorating the downtrodden area. Matthews' cousin also served as mayor of that town for 10 years. "The thing I learned from my dad and my cousin is you can get things done but you've got to stand up. You've got to have some vision."
In 1991, Matthews started individual meetings with federal and local lawmakers, including Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.); the credit union also has good relations with Representatives Marty Meehan (D) and John F. Tierney (D), according to Matthews.
A few years later, the credit union began hosting meetings and inviting the legislators. It also expanded its message to encompass all credit unions. By 2002, Merrimack Valley hired Vice President of Communications John MacDonald and began inviting all of the local credit unions as well as the local media. "We're trying to show what credit unions are doing, not just Merrimack Valley," MacDonald explained.
On Legislative Day now, official greeters meet everyone at the doorway and local radio and television outlets attend to grab interviews with the attending politicians and their staffs. After everyone is introduced, MacDonald explained, they get down to business. "We invite all the politicians to get up and speak to the crowd. We try to keep it an informational session," he said.
Matthews added that the credit union provides attendees with its Legislative Day booklet that includes statistics on each of the area credit unions and the charitable work they do in their communities, as well as member endorsements. The rest of the time is available for networking between the credit union officials and their politicians. Each year the credit union forks out about $3,650 on the event.
Aside from one-on-one networking time, policymakers know what Merrimack Valley FCU is up to because they serve as guests on the credit union's bilingual financial literacy radio shows throughout the year. Matthews explained that it is crucial to "know what they are interested in and align that with what you and credit unions are doing."
This political activity culminated in the Merrimack Valley headquarters' groundbreaking event. Much like his father before him, Matthews--along with the credit union's board and management--determined to break ground on new headquarters in the economically depressed Lawrence area. Officials from all parts of the government spoke at the event from local SBA Director Charles Summers to Lawrence Mayor Michael J. Sullivan to Congressman Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) and many state legislators. A separate branch will also be located there.
Matthews noted that the administration of the last five years has been working to revitalize Lawrence and the location of the new headquarters for Merrimack Valley FCU was an old mill with no roof, truly an "eyesore." "Now, it's really starting to take shape and take form," he said.
It is hard to quantify the difference Merrimack Valley's efforts have made, Matthews said, but like any good boy scout, it is important to be prepared and get your message out there because the bankers certainly are.
Matthews travels to other groups to speak about political action. "It's not telling people what to do. It's telling people what can be done," he emphasized. Relationship building along the way is key so when you do have to ask for something, the foundation has already been laid. Merrimack Valley helps out the Massachusetts league political action committee and the Credit Union Legislative Action Committee of CUNA. However, Matthews makes many of his political contributions personally in addition to attending events and the credit union prefers to work locally. "I think locally is more effective for us," he said. Letting local officials know what you are involved in, Matthews added, "I think that's most powerful." He also noted that the credit union sends representatives to CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference regularly and meets with their federal lawmakers in their home districts. Credit union officials also attend fundraisers and town hall meetings. Matthews also pointed out one relationship can influence many, whether a state official ends up in Washington, or legislators converse with each other on issues pertaining to credit unions. While money is important, the politician's son understands the value of the constituents. "I feel it's had a significant impact in this way because the members have been involved so long, they're very aware about credit unions to the point they're not shy about getting up at other functions and talking about credit unions," Matthews said. He said that Merrimack Valley participates in Project Zip Code so it can identify the number of credit union members in lawmakers' districts. For political naysayers, Matthews stated, "You may not like it but that is the system we have." The bankers are using it to their advantage, so, "We really don't have a choice. You have to be involved." MacDonald added that he would like to see some sort of political mentoring program started among credit unions. --firstname.lastname@example.org