In a recent column (CU Times, May 2), publisher Mike Welch invited further explanation of the reasons and purposes behind Credit Union House. I’d like to take Mike up on that invitation and explain a little more about Credit Union House, where it came from, what it is and will be, and how we see it being an integral part of the credit union movement’s future. The concept of Credit Union House first took shape during the lobbying campaign on behalf of H.R. 1151. At first, our efforts presented many logistical hurdles as we worked to coordinate and maximize the impact of leagues, credit unions and members in the halls of Congress. As we became more sophisticated in our efforts, the need to have a gathering site for information sharing, debriefings, strategy meetings and temporary office facilities was obvious. Thus was born a strategy center in a hotel meeting room adjacent to Capitol Hill. A Permanent Home for Credit Unions The success of this model combined with my experiences as a Congressman with Florida House-an “embassy” for the Florida business and Congressional delegation near Capitol Hill-resulted in my articulating a vision for “Credit Union House on Capitol Hill” at the AACUL Winter Meetings in 1998. I described a place that would serve as a meeting/work facility, dedicated to credit union movement interests, issues, education and history. I called it a permanent credit union presence in our nation’s Capitol that signaled our intent to be an innovative and proactive advocate to protect, defend and strengthen our movement. I believed it could become credit unions’ “home away from home in Washington.” The concept really grabbed the attention of league leaders present at that meeting. In fact, the next day, Mike Mercer, AACUL’s Chairman and President of the Georgia Credit Union Affiliates, made it the first order of action at that day’s business meeting to appoint a feasibility committee to study how to make Credit Union House a reality. Carroll Beach, President of the Colorado and Wyoming Credit Union Leagues, immediately volunteered to take on the Chairmanship of this Committee. Now it was up to leagues. CUNA alone did not have the resources to take on a project of this magnitude. If it were to get done, leagues would have to do the “heavy lifting,” particularly in the area of fundraising. And, just as they have each and every time I have asked, they pulled through – and in a big way. Almost immediately, six leagues formed a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) and began organizing, as well as contributing to, the financing of the project. Within a year, 27 other leagues had joined them as supporters of Credit Union House. Currently, 47 state leagues and AACUL make up the members of the LLC. Additional funding for the project will also come from individuals and groups within the movement. For instance, CUNA Mutual Group is underwriting the cost of the Audio Visual equipment. There are many ways in which credit unions and credit union members can help support Credit Union House. They can support by purchasing a brick to help build the facility, by becoming an annual contributor, or even giving a one-time contribution for a capital sponsorship. CUNA has hired a manager for Credit Union House who is already on board, and we are in the process of searching for an administrative assistant. In addition, there is the potential to augment the full-time staff with assistance from retired credit unionists residing in the area or “interns” from credit unions that could divide their time between the House and volunteering on the Hill. Now it’s Here As Carroll Beach has stated: “Credit Union House exemplifies the cooperative ideal. It also provides an opportunity for our members, when they go to D.C., to better understand the issues that credit unions face and really get involved in the political process. I am truly excited about the future prospects for our lobbying efforts as a result of this endeavor.” When it opens this fall, Credit Union House will bring to reality our vision and hard work. We will have a permanent staging area in close proximity to the Capitol where CUNA, league, and credit union officials can meet to discuss strategies, plan Hill meetings, and share feedback from visits of the day during critical legislative times. It will also be a central point for education seminars, timely distribution of materials and logistical coordination that will be superior to anything currently in the credit union movement. It will provide our three-tiered system with a real competitive advantage. Outside of lobbying on specific issues, Credit Union House will be a place for both leagues and credit unions to hold dinners or receptions for their elected representatives, conduct planning sessions, or hold other types of meetings. It will also serve as a place for our friends on Capitol Hill to conduct offsite retreats and other activities. And Credit Union House will also be an “oasis” on Capitol Hill where credit union visitors, members and friends can stop by for general information, directions-or a friendly face. While there, they will also view credit union historical documents, photographs, and receive material on issues of the day. We hope many members who may not originally intend to raise issues will become grassroots lobbyists both while in Washington and thereafter. The Long Run In February 1998 when the Supreme Court ruled against credit unions, threatening our movement’s future, we faced the daunting task of persuading Congress to overrule the court, as well as fight off the well-heeled lobbying of the banking industry. We had to start from scratch, building the programs, coordinating our efforts and delivering our message. That we were able to achieve a law overturning the Court’s decision was monumental-not only legislatively, but as a turning point in credit union activism. We will not have that opportunity again. Congress and our competitors know us, know what we are capable of, and know our resolve. We can’t go back now and hide in the corner, hoping we will be forgotten about-because even if Congress and bankers did do that, the marketplace and our members would not stop demanding new products, new services and innovation from us. Our future lies in the ability to shape our own place in the economy, define who we are and how we run our businesses to legislators and regulators-in our own voice. “Advocacy has been at the root of our success as a movement,” says Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island League President and current AACUL Chairman Dan Egan. “The vision of Credit Union House becoming a reality will help to strengthen our cause. Credit Union House is unlike anything else on Capitol Hill, because it is an expression of the cooperative idea. it is a perfect example of our three-tiered system working together.” I couldn’t agree more. I encourage credit union supporters everywhere to visit it during trips to Washington. After all, they are the ones who have made it possible-it’s their home away from home.