WASHINGTON -- If money is the mother's milk of politics, then credit unions are in no danger of suffering from a calcium deficiency.
The political action committees of the two major trade associations have given almost $1.2 million so far--$1.02 million by CUNA's PAC and $176,983 by NAFCU's--and the campaign cycle hasn't even gotten to the heavy giving stage.
The comparison of political money to a dairy product, first made by former California Treasurer Jesse Unruh in the 1970s, still stands. Since last Jan. 1, the beginning of the current election cycle, candidates for Congress have raised $490 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington research organization.
During this period, individuals and PACs affiliated with credit unions have donated $1.6 million to congressional candidates, 55% of that money went to Democrats, 45% to Republicans.
The PACs affiliated with CUNA and NAFCU tilted their donations towards House Democrats, which reflects that party's control of that chamber. Even though Democrats also have a majority in the Senate, the big credit union committees favored Republicans there, where most of this year's contested elections feature GOP incumbents.
Both the committees tend to give the lion's share of their contributions to incumbents, which is line with the trend among political action committees. Both PACS also almost never give money to both candidates in a race. That's a different policy than the one followed by many trade associations, which seek to minimize their risk by giving to both the Democratic and GOP nominees in a race.
"We take a hard look at who are friends are in general, and which incumbents might be in trouble," said CUNA Political Director Trey Hawkins, when asked how they pick where to place their money.
CUNA's PAC--the Credit Union Legislative Action Council--has given $522,150 to House Democrats and $345,189 to House Republicans. On the Senate side, it has given $79,500 to Republicans and $72,500 to Democrats.
Among those who have received contributions are all the top members of Democratic and Republican House leadership and the chairman and ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee and almost all of its subcommittee chairs and ranking members.
None of those lawmakers face a serious re-election challenge (House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ranking Republican Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) were both unopposed in 2006, but all control the fate of legislation near and dear to CUNA, such as credit union regulatory relief.
Also, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), whose panel has jurisdiction over credit unions' tax-exempt status, received $10,000 from the CUNA's PAC, even though he was re-elected with 94% of the vote last time. The senior Republican on the panel, Rep. Jim McCrery of Louisiana, who won with 57% of the vote in 2006, received $2,000.
On the Senate side, in addition to giving to key members of the party and the leadership of the Banking and Finance committees, the PAC has also contributed to the two incumbents thought to be most vulnerable this November. It contributed $2,000 to Sen. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.), who is being challenged again by former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a primary sponsor of the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act, who will face state Treasurer John Kennedy, received $2,000.
Hawkins, whose PAC is ranked 16th among the 4,234 federal PACs s this cycle, said they are on track to contribute about the same as they did during the 2006 campaign cycle, when they gave $2.6 million.
They also take sides in races for open seats. That strategy has had mixed results. Last week, their candidate in Tuesday's election in Mississippi's 1st Congressional District, Republican Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, lost. Though they backed Republican Steve Scalise and Democrat Don Cazayoux, who earlier this month won special elections for the U.S. House in the 1st and 6th Districts of Louisiana, respectively.
Like families with less disposable income, because NAFCU's committee (NAFCU/PAC) has a smaller budget, it is more selective in how it spends money.
Only two of the top House Democratic or Republican leaders (House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman James Clyburn of South Carolina) have received $1,000 and $2,500, respectively, from it. The PAC gave $8,500 to Financial Services Committee Chairman Frank and $5,000 to ranking committee Republican Bachus and most of the House Financial Services Committee's subcommittee chairs and ranking members. Like its CUNA counterpart, it has also given money to Rangel. But NAFCU/PAC has not donated to McCrery, the senior Republican on the Ways and Means Committee.
On the Senate side, NAFCU/PAC contributed to key members of the party and committee leadership and also gave $1,500 to Sununu and $1,000 to Landrieu.
"We focus on those individuals most important to us--both the leaders and the members who are co-sponsors of CURIA and CURRA," said NAFCU Director of Political Affairs Dillon Shea.
He added that the PAC's contribution has steadily increased over the last several cycles and they plan to give more than the $357,475 that they contributed during the 2006 election.
Shea said that NAFCU raised $250,000 last year, the PAC's best to date.
And the association did it with the help of peacocks.
One of their key fund-raising events was a golf tournament held during their annual meeting last summer in Hawaii. For $175, golfers could play in the state's Makaha Valley that Hawaii's former kings used for recreation and where "the peacocks seen and heard throughout the valley were a gift from King Kalakaua," according to a promotional brochure.
CUNA and NAFCU both plan to sponsor events at this summer's national political conventions though Hawkins and Shea said they had not finalized what they will be.
Both PACS also use nonfinancial contributions to influence the political process.
CUNA runs political training schools, to instruct first-time candidates how to plan and execute campaigns.
"It's a long-term investment. It gives candidates exposure to credit unions--though we don't spend a lot of time talking about them during the meetings--and shows we are politically sophisticated. We also develop relationships with people early on in their political careers," Hawkins said.
So far this cycle they have sponsored schools in New Mexico, Ohio and West Virginia.
NAFCU works with its members to encourage employees and credit union members.
"We do a lot in this area on an ad hoc basis," Shea said.
The top givers among the other credit union political action committees that have given money to congressional campaigns this cycle are: Orange County (Calif.) Teachers Credit Union (now SchoolsFirst Credit Union), $45,550; Wescom Credit Union in Pasadena, Calif., $7,900; Affinity Federal Credit Union in Basking Ridge, N.J., $7,900.