WASHINGTON -- CUNA President/CEO Dan Mica is torn between sentimentality and progress concerning the last Governmental Affairs Conference to be held at the Washington Hilton.
"This is our last year in the Hilton. It's the end of an era, it's the beginning of an era," he said. Mica pointed out how the GAC evolved over the last 30-plus years from a few hundred attendees to the approximately 4,000 participants it has hosted in the last few years. The CUNA Board plans to pass a resolution commending the Hilton for housing the event over the last three decades. It will be framed and presented to the hotel's senior management during the last general session. Visual mementos will run on the closed circuit TV and memorabilia will be placed around the conference area.
While 4,000 credit union executives and volunteers converging on Capitol Hill sends a strong signal to Congress, 10,000 would be even better, according to Mica. With the move next year to the Washington Convention Center, that is his goal though he has not set a time frame to reach that in.
"The subtle message with 4,000 people--and trying to get 10,000--is that we're strong believers in what we do," Mica said. "I think the GAC drives that home in multiple ways." He pointed out that the bankers only get CEOs and lobbyists up on the Hill to champion their cause.
"Ten years ago I said credit unions were a mile wide and an inch deep. Well, now I'd say we are a mile wide and a quarter mile deep," Mica said of his metaphor that is now well known in credit union circles. "We need to be a mile wide and a mile deep."
The Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act could be a good test case this Congress for credit unions' political might. The American Bankers Association is already running an ad in a Capitol Hill paper opposing it before it is even introduced. CUNA is hopeful for a bill by Tuesday of the GAC; Congress was in recess last week for President's Day.
Mica, a former Democratic member of Congress from Florida, explained that when he first came to CUNA a decade ago credit unions only came out of the woodwork when they were in crisis. "It went from occasionally showing up under fire to day in and day out," he recalled. Now, he pointed to CUNA's Hike the Hills when most states visit with their members of Congress in Washington, D.C. at least once a year, Project Zip Code, which had identified 61 million of the approximately 88 million credit union members, and Credit Union House, credit unions' home away from home and beacon right on Capitol Hill; the Capitol building can be seen from the terrace.
CUNA's Credit Union Legislative Action Committee expanded from $600,000 10 years ago to $3.5 million during the 2005-2006 election cycle. It was the 10th largest federal PAC in the United States last year.
And, Mica highlighted, the average contribution per person is $22 demonstrating the number of contributors behind it. "Our PAC would be the poster child for the right way to handle political contributions," he said.
Mica has been on the Hill quite a bit himself lately. "I've been touching base with key friends and supporters," he explained, asking them to tell the bankers to "knock it off." He added, "I've made the heftiest round of visits in four or five years and I will continue to do that after the GAC." Mica said that CUNA has heard of an anti-credit union bill from bankers though nothing has happened yet.
CUNA's lobbying tactics are also evolving over time, little by little turning slightly anti-banker, culminating last year in stopping a provision eliminating thrifts' business lending cap from the regulatory relief bill.
Mica promised to get more innovative in CUNA's political advocacy. CUNA just this year initiated the "Little Guy" campaign, representing whom credit unions are serving. The aim is to change the conversation on Capitol Hill. "The Little Guy represents credit union members, Mr. and Mrs. America who participate in our economy and deserve every break they can get," Mica stated.
"I think you'll see the Little Guy all over at GAC," he said. There will be a Little Guy booth, a video, cardboard cutouts, ads and other representations of the Little Guy.
This year will be an "educational year" in Congress with about 60 new members as well as re-educating the returning ones. The banks try to portray credit unions as the top 100 or so, but it is important to let Congress know there are 8,800 credit unions, all in one movement. --firstname.lastname@example.org