GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- Arguing grass-roots advocacy needs a stronger boost, CUNA is revving up its campaign schools at the state league level, signing up several new groups to conduct more of the educational seminars on fundraising and campaign organizing targeted toward office-seekers.
"We are hopeful that our newest efforts will pay big dividends in the long haul when these individuals, whether running for the county commission, the state senate or City Council, will remember credit unions as helping them out at a crucial moment in their political career," explained Richard Gose, senior vice president of political affairs.
The campaign-school concept of winning new political friends has been a CUNA staple for years, crafted by Gose and other members of CUNA's governmental affairs unit, who maintain office-seekers will retain support and loyalty to CUs in the future.
"I can say those CUNA schools helped me tremendously in learning what I needed to know in running my successful campaign," said West Virginia's Secretary of State Betty Ireland, a 2003 graduate who is winding up a four-year term in 2008 but indeed "is planning to run for higher office."
A Republican and the first woman to hold the office, Ireland declined a reporter's query about which likely West Virginia office she might seek perhaps starting in 2009. "I am not about to tell you," Ireland declared.
Officials of CUNA and the West Virginia Credit Union League, which co-hosted the 2003 school, pointed to Ireland's possible ascendancy as an ideal testimonial for CUNA and state leagues devoting their manpower and resources to the campaign schools.
In Montana, the Montana Credit Union Network again joined by CUNA's Gose and Trey Hawkins, CUNA's political director, conducted a whirlwind series of the schools in February hitting four cities: Great Falls, Billings, Bozeman, and Missoula.
Expressing gratitude that CUNA staffers could make the trip to Montana cities, MCUN officials said also that they were particularly pleased at media coverage of the daylong seminars which drew 125 office seekers, many giving testimonials of the worthiness of the sessions. Beth Satre, director of communications/public relations for the MCUN, credits success of the schools, which in Montana are called "academies," to cooperation of Montana Rural Electric Co-Ops which along with chamber groups helped sponsor and promote the sessions.
The all-day sessions, viewed as non-partisan, cost $35 and included a large manual and lunch, with materials covering campaign organization, communication, plan writing, election and campaign finance laws and fundraising.
Satre said the "academies," a name given to them by the Rural Co-Op group, "do take a lot of staff time to put on and sometimes it's hard to see the payoff." But this year's series worked well, said Satre, paying tribute to the co-op trade group for taking care of many of the arrangements.
Gose said a new series of campaign schools are now on tap in April for at least two more leagues, Ohio and New Mexico, with a session slated April 7 in Columbus and April 29 in Albuquerque.
"Every state is a little different but we have found the schools are a time-tested method of getting people involved and getting them to keep an open mind about credit unions," said Gose.
With the election cycles and campaigns getting longer, said Gose, the need for such schools is becoming paramount.
Ireland, the West Virginia secretary of state, told Credit Union Times she was astonished to learn that a CU trade group would be holding such campaign seminars.
"I like the idea of it being so low-key and nonpartisan and though I did see the brochures about credit unions," there was no heavy-handed push to join a CU, she said.
Ireland said she learned about the campaign school sponsored by the West Virginia league "after I saw an item in the newspaper and I think the cost was $25 for the day, which seemed pretty reasonable."
To Ireland, "it was all pretty refreshing and very rewarding" particularly, she said, considering where she is today in getting elected to a high state office.