WASHINGTON -- Checks, legs and voter guides.
Those are among the tools credit union trade associations and leagues are using to get their political views across during this election cycle.
In 2007 and 2008, individuals and political action committees affiliated with credit unions have donated $2.9 million to federal candidates, 51% to Democrats and 49% to Republicans, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. That makes credit unions the 67th largest interest group among the 81 tracked by the center.
Since Democrats control both chambers of Congress and are likely to do so next year, most political action committee giving has leaned toward the Democrats. But because credit unions have always forged good relations on both sides of the aisle, the gap between their donations to Democrats and Republicans is smaller than other interest groups
There are 21 credit union-related political action committees. The largest by far is CUNA's, which through Sept. 30 has given $1.8 million this election cycle: $977,250 to Democrats and $906,799 to Republicans. The second biggest is NAFCU's, which has so far contributed $256,580, of that $156,354 has gone to Democrats and $100,226 to Republicans.
Among the other 19, the biggest donor is SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Unions, formerly Orange County Teachers FCU, which so far has given $29,600, $17,800 to Republicans and $11,800 to Democrats. The California-based credit union is in the home county of one of the credit union movement's biggest supporters in Congress, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who has been a major backer of almost all the major regulatory relief legislation.
Two executives of the Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union in Indiana held fundraisers for freshman U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) this summer, which raised a total of $14,000.
"His predecessor [Republican Congressman John Hostettler] was one of a handful of legislators who opposed the Credit Union Membership Access Act (H.R. 1151), and we never felt he would listen to us," said Evansville Teachers FCU President Mike Phipps. "So when Brad was considering a run we met with him 15 months before the election and raised money for him. He not only listens to us but has been a cosponsor of the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act".
Phipps, who hosted a fundraiser this summer that raised $10,700 for Ellsworth, came to Washington for his swearing in last January and hosted a celebratory reception for him.
Credit union executives, volunteers and members have also been active precinct walkers on behalf of their candidates.
In Colorado, more than 100 members of a grassroots advocacy team put together by the Credit Union Association of Colorado have campaigned on behalf of state and federal candidates in 186 precincts throughout the state.
"There's a lot of excitement on the ground, because of the presidential race and we've seen that translated to other races," said Christopher Kemm, the association's grassroots manager.
He said the program, which is designed to have 150,000 contacts with credit union members throughout the state, involves recruiting volunteers and making phone calls to prospective voters during the week and walking the precincts on weekends.
Kemm added that his association tries to meet with every congressional and legislative candidate before deciding on endorsements.
Showing their bipartisan nature, they've endorsed U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, a member of a prominent Democratic family, in his bid for an open U.S. Senate seat. Yet they are also backing the Republican in another race, U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave.
The Indiana Credit Union League has also taken it to the streets.
When U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R) faced a difficult primary challenge, league President John McKenzie went door-to-door with Burton's wife and brother and other credit union members also canvassed on Burton's behalf. Burton won and thanked credit unions during his victory speech.
Other credit unions are targeting mailboxes.
The Credit Union Association of New York is issuing a voters' guide for state legislative races. The guide profiles members of the leadership in both chambers and reveals which lawmakers sponsored or cosponsored five bills relevant to credit unions. The guide also chronicles how often lawmakers have visited credit unions.
"The bottom line is that it's essential for credit unions to support legislators who support credit unions and their more than 4.2 million members [in New York] to ensure the future health and well being of credit unions," said Association President William J. Mellin, in a statement accompanying the release of the guide.