Tale of Two Leagues: Va. Jumps Into Election Fray; N.J. Sits It Out
"The race is of great interest to us, but we are staying below the radar screen. Given the political landscape of the state, it doesn't make sense to get involved," said New Jersey Credit League President/CEO Paul Gentile.
Several hundred miles south, the Virginia Credit Union League was an early backer of GOP nominee Robert McDonnell and has given money to his campaign and through its regional offices, many credit union employees are volunteering on behalf of McDonnell and other candidates.
New Jersey has a tumultuous political environment and features a closely contested race between Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, Republican and former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie and independent candidate Chris Daggett.
Corzine is quite unpopular according to the polls, and the race has been close in part because Daggett, a former Republican, has taken support away from Christie. The political environment has been tainted with corruption. Earlier this year, three mayors and two state assemblymen were arrested for having participated in a money-laundering scheme.
Gentile said given that climate, the league is focusing on regulatory efforts rather than the campaign. Though the league briefed candidates on issues of importance to credit unions and the league was a sponsor of a business group's dinner that featured the first joint appearance between with Corzine and Christie following the June primary.
A top priority of the league is a bill pending in the legislature to expand the definition of acceptable financial institutions for municipal deposits to include credit unions.
The league doesn't have a political action committee but has recommended to members which state legislators' fund raising events they should attend, according to Gentile.
In Virginia, McDonnell, who strongly supported credit union issues while a legislator and as attorney general, has been ahead of Democratic nominee Delegate Creigh Deeds for most of the campaign.
League President Rick Pillow said when endorsing McDonnell that he "has a record of support on important credit union issues, including consumer protection in cases of identity theft. He has also supported consumers' right to choose a member-owned, not-for-profit credit union for their banking needs by ensuring parity in the rules and regulations governing state and federal credit unions."
The league's political action committee gave McDonnell's campaign $5,000, but much of the help has come in the form of volunteer power.
Bob Nagel, the consumer and business banking manager at Partners Financial Federal Credit Union in Richmond, is typical of the credit union foot soldiers there. He has campaigned with, staffed phone banks for and done a range of other activities for Republican Delegate R. Lee Ware, who represents the Richmond suburbs and other candidates up and down the GOP ticket.
"It's really a lot of fun and keeps our issues in front of elected officials. It doesn't always translate into a policy outcome, but they will return your phone calls,'' Nagel told Credit Union Times.
The league doesn't make an endorsement in most legislative races. But Nagel said having credit union employees helping candidates on both sides of the aisle ensures that the credit unions' support for keeping their tax-exempt status and having parity with state-chartered credit unions will be well-known in Richmond, regardless of which party is in control.