As credit unions hunker down in defense of their federal tax exemption, the industry does have one thing in its favor. There are no known enemies among leadership on the House Ways and Means or Senate Finance Committees.
In fact, committee leaders have spoken in support of the credit union tax exemption, and some have also co-sponsored industry bills.
“They have a history of being friends,” said NAFCU Vice President of Legislative Affairs Brad Thaler of those who will shape tax reform during the 113th Congress.
All tax reform must originate in the House Ways and Means Committee, which means all credit union eyes are on two congressmen from Michigan, Chairman Dave Camp, a Republican, and Democratic Ranking Member Sandy Levin.
Dave Adams, president/CEO of the Michigan Credit Union League, said going back to the CURIA days, Camp has always been aggressively lobbied by community bankers. Yet he not only co-sponsored the failed 2008 reform effort, but he’s also voiced support for increasing the member business lending cap and signed on as a co-sponsor last year for H.R. 3461, the exam reform bill. Most importantly, he’s put into writing his support for the credit union tax exemption.
“Camp is one of the conservative lawmakers in our delegation who has made a point to tell banks he is willing to help them but not at the expense of credit unions,” Adams said.
How did Michigan credit unions develop that kind of loyalty? Adams said Michigan credit unions are great examples of grassroots lobbying done right, participating in the congressman’s fundraising golf outing, turning up for events in Michigan’s 4th District and in Washington, and supporting his re-election campaigns despite the fact that he’s never faced stiff opposition.
“He knows he has strong respect from credit unions, and we’ve been so active in building and maintaining that relationship, it’s become solid,” Adams said.
In fact, Camp has a good relationship with credit unions in his district, he’s been known to call credit union officials to get their views on issues, Adams said.
“I can’t emphasize strong enough how important the whole lobby effort is,” Adams noted. “If we had to change his perception of credit unions in a matter of months, that would be a very difficult task. But the fact that we have more than 15 years of cumulative experience in grassroots lobbying means that relationship is already in place.”
That’s good news for credit unions not just in this Congress but for years to come, as Adams said Camp is expected to retain his chairmanship for some time unless the Democrats are able to regain control of the House.
And even if they do, credit unions would be well-served with Camp’s Democratic replacement, Ranking Member Sandy Levin. The representative from Michigan’s 9th District is the brother of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. Adams said together, the Levin brothers have considerable influence over the Democratic Party and the Obama administration, and through grassroots efforts, credit unions have gained their favor as well. Carl Levin was one of only 21 senators who signed on as a co-sponsor of member business lending legislation last year.
“I really think [Sandy] Levin’s support for credit unions and our tax-exempt status is strong,” Adams said.
The view from Washington is just as rosy. CUNA Senior Vice President of Legislative Affairs Ryan Donovan said both Camp and Levin have been strong supporters of credit unions through their tenure in the House.
“Both have had very positive things to say about credit union tax status historically, and we have had very strong working relationships with them and their staff,” Donovan said.
NAFCU’s Thaler added that during a congressional hearing in 2005 that addressed credit union tax exemption, Camp spoke out in support of keeping credit unions tax-free.
“Clearly, he is someone who has been a friend to credit unions and has been supportive over the years,” Thaler said. “I don’t want to try to predict the future, but his support is important, he’s been a good friend over the years, and I don’t see any reason why that would change.”
Levin has a similar friendly history with credit unions, Thaler said, and added that both Camp and Levin recognize the role credit unions played in supporting Michigan’s auto industry by making auto loans in tough times.
Not only do credit unions have friends in Ways & Means leadership, Thaler said the industry counts many friends among the committee members, too.