<p>WASHINGTON – CUNA's leadership kicked off the first day of its 2002 Governmental Affairs Conference alternating between praising credit unions and attacking their critics. Barry Jolette, CUNA's Chairman of the Board, strongly defended the results of the association's Renaissance Commission and CUNA President Dan Mica suggested that banks surreptitiously funded the National Community Reinvestment Coalition's recent critical study of credit unions' efforts serving low income people. Mica reported to the audience feedback he said he had been getting from some federal legislators and their staffs that the message credit union members had begun bringing to Capitol Hill had begun to become hazy and unclear. Our message is becoming unfocused, Mica said, and credit unions are in danger of having someone else define their message for them, he added. Mica pointed to four examples that, he said, were "dark clouds" on a horizon that he described as becoming almost pastoral for credit unions after the legislative and court fights over 1151. There was the NCRC study that, he told the attendees, he didn't believe had been funded "independently." He also cited a previous letter circulated by the American Bankers Association to other Washington associations urging them to work to limit credit unions' tax exemption for the good of their members; banker objections to CUNA meeting with the IRS; and a report from the Woodstock Institute alleging that credit unions pick and choose their members from fields of membership. Speaking later about the alleged non-independent funding of the NCRC study Mica said, "we have had indications that there was funding from folks who were not our friends," in putting the study together. Later CUNA sources confirmed that Mica was alleging banking funding of the study. Jolette, Chairman of CUNA's Boards of Directors first sounded a defensive theme when he warned the attendees that "nothing is permanent in Washington" and that the "lobbying has picked up again." Against that backdrop he defended CUNA's Renaissance Commission efforts, praising the Commission for fostering "big ideas" which, he said, the CUNA Board had accepted and turned over to the Governmental Affairs Committee to turn into "possible, plausible and realistic" goals. Jolette said some of those goals had been included in the House Financial Services Committee's Regulatory Relief proposal, and he said those results showed that Renaissance Commission critics who predicted the Renaissance program would not result in anything concrete were "dead wrong." He urged the audience to work hard for credit union "unity," noting that with 2% of the market credit unions could not afford to have splits when talking to regulators and legislators. Jolette praised the audience for being one of the most resilient that the conference hotel had seen, coming back at the highest rate of any group after the September 11 attacks. Jolette told the story of the rock musician Bono, lead singer of the Irish band U2 who is known to be a strong supporter of debt relief for developing nations. Bono had succeeded in winning over such notable opponents as Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to his point of view on the issue, because of his persistence. Credit unions need similar persistence, Jolette said, and urged that credit unions keep coming back and that they bring friends to help lobby. But patriotism, not defensiveness, got the GAC ball rolling on the first day. During the morning program sacrificial giving by the New York credit unions, along with the losses suffered by credit unions in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, were remembered and praised, but that was a just a prelude to the attention-grabbing presentation to come. When attendees arrived at the meeting a somewhat disconcerting haze hung over the hall in clouds to greet them. Two small haze-making machines hissed intermittently from either side of the front stage, making the haze, and seemed at times almost to compete with some early speakers. But after a military color guard had presented the colors and a military band led the audience in "The Star-Spangled Banner", the reason for the haze became clear. While Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare For the Common Man" shook the room, green lights sprang out from the room corners over the heads of the crowd, becoming lively in the smoke. The lights were timed with the crashing cymbals and drums of the Copeland composition. As the Copeland faded a screen scrolled down, on which were illustrated in neon outlines scenes set to "America the Beautiful" and Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be An American." The effect of the presentation on the crowd was sharp and poignant and a few sniffles from several points could be heard. A roaring wave of applause sprang from the crowd when the presentation ended.</p>

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